I attended a reunion of former Gulf Breeze High School athletes last Saturday.
Anyone who's attended one of these things knows it's an event when a bunch of 40- or 50-something guys get together and lie about how good — or in my case how bad — they we were when most of us had more hair and less belly.
One of these events' highlights is seeing former coaches. The men who coached me when I was a teen are now in their 60s and 70s. Sadly, two of those coaches, Mike Walker and Jerry Henderson, who affected so many lives, are no longer with us.
Only two former Gulf Breeze coaches made the reunion this year. Sylvan Ladner, who started as an assistant coach and math teacher at Gulf Breeze in the fall of 1974 and retired as GBHS principal a few years ago, was there. And Buddy Smith, the second baseball coach in GBHS history and an assistant football coach, also attended.
Almost 40 years after we played our last games for these coaches, we still rushed to see them and, in some small way, receive a word of approval.
There were no threats of extra wind sprints or some other discipline, but inside every man, no matter how old, is an insecure teenage boy who needs his coaches' affirmation.
My dad had the greatest influence of any male role model in my life. Next to Dad, the biggest influence on me as a youth was a youth pastor, followed by my Gulf Breeze High School coaches.
Jim Smith was my head football coach. Mike Walker and Greg Presnell were my defensive line and offensive line coaches. I never played directly under Sylvan Ladner, but I had him for a couple of classes and he's a coach I'd still (attempt to) run through a brick wall for.
Robert Freeman, Pace's longtime athletic director, was my track coach at Gulf Breeze. Kenny Owens, who retired a few years ago as Central High School's principal in Milton, was an assistant coach and my middle school gym teacher.
As I think of the role each of these men played on my life, I'm deeply indebted for their time and sacrifice in helping mold me from a boy into a man.
The men and women who dedicate their lives to teaching and coaching high school students and athletes are a special breed. They sacrifice their time coaching for a pay supplement that averages out to less than minimum wage. But year in and year out, they show up teaching, training and coaching young people.
These men and women love the games they coach, but they love the young people more. It is my privilege to know so many of the fine coaches we have in this area. I know they care deeply for those young men and women entrusted to their care.
At one time I thought about teaching and coaching. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I made the wrong career decision and should have followed that teaching and coaching thought.
It would have been nice to repay my coaches by passing along the lessons of sports and life they taught me so many years ago.
I've come to realize the best way I can repay my coaches is by continuing to give my all and finding that "want to" deep down inside of me when the only thing I want to do is quit.
I can repay my coaches by being a man of honor and passing along my love for the games they taught me and the lessons of life found in those games.
I will always be proud to be a Gulf Breeze Dolphin and part of that pride comes from having had the honor of playing for Jim Smith, Buddy Smith, Sylvan Ladner, Greg Presnell, Kenny Owens, Robert Freeman, Jerry Henderson and Mike Walker.
These men gave of their lives to shape my life and for that I will always be grateful.
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.