Being a Football Coach Didn’t Prepare Me For March

I’ve been a high school football coach for 22 years. For 10 years before that, I spent most of my time chasing a football dream, playing for as long as I could. For most of my life, football has made making decisions easy. There is a right way and a wrong way and while I don’t always pick the correct decision, most of the time my black and white view on life has been “easy.”

Football has a unique way of leading young men and old men to the correct answer and The Way. Be On Time. Work Hard. Trust The Process. Phrases that look good capitalized on t-shirts have guided my life. For 32 of my 44 years, I have been able to live my life this way. This changed in mid-March of 2020.

In fact, it was March 13. In a cruel little twist of irony, my birthday is March 13 and that’s the last day of normal I had, even though it wasn’t normal. That was the day that COVID-19 hit Idaho and the last day of school for the rest of the year.

It was a weird day, between students wishing me happy birthday and worrying about this issue that I didn’t know much about and didn’t want to investigate. Usually — as a high school English teacher — when I don’t know something about something, I read about it until I understand that something.

That doesn’t work with this situation. It was impossible to focus on Vocab quizzes and attendance on that Friday. The students were starting to ask the really hard questions phrased as simple ones, a combination of joking, sarcasm, and reality that teenagers use when they are nervous: “Are you scared of Corona Virus, Mr. White? Can I go to the bathroom if I promise to wash my hands REALLY well?” I joked back but the feeling of uneasiness was palpable all day long.

Unknown to me, my wife (who is also a teacher) was also feeling uneasy on this Friday. Lynette stopped at Wal-Mart on the way home and did the grocery shopping for the week on Friday instead of our usual Sunday morning trip. She bought a little extra than usual and was amazed by the empty shelves she saw.

Back to decisions. I keep running into issues I don’t know the answer to and have never considered. Should I go to the store? Should I fill all the rigs up with gas? Should I have went and got a haircut before the places closed? What’s with the toilet paper?! Do people know something about the personal hygiene future that I don’t? As my wife and I have settled into our new normal, we keep asking each other these questions that aren’t black and white.

My daughter did Driver’s Ed this week before the state was ordered to stay at home. She has been looking forward to this and I almost didn’t let her do it. Was that the right decision? How many people will be in the car? Do you clean/wipe down the Driver’s Ed car? Is anybody sick that you have been around? I hate feeling like the over-protective Dad asking all the dumb questions, but are they dumb questions?

My emotions have swung 180 degrees, from first seeing memes about the Corona Virus and knowing that if I lived through Y2K, I can live through this, to worrying about if I should have a beer with my friend Tom in the garage. My wife is immunosuppressed, so I can’t have her get this. But do I really need to wipe down my Amazon packages with bleach, like I have seen on The Today Show and social media? Is it really overwhelming or preparing to overwhelm our medical system?

Luckily, my sister is an ER doctor in a small town in Oregon, so I can trust her answers in this area. She assures me it is real, it is here, and it will kill people. She assures me that this isn’t just Government trying to control us, as so many Facebook Warriors chant.

I joked to my daughter, Tennyson, about Corona Break 2020. She corrected me that it was the Corona-Cation to the young and hip. I share the COVID-19 memes to my kids trying to make them laugh and feel a little more comfortable with all this.

My son, Brock, had hip surgery on Feb. 28 and faces a six-month recovery. Do I let him go to rehab? Are rehab facilities essential and still open for him? Do I let my son go fishing with his friends? Do I let my kids go see their friends? Both my kids are at their mom’s house for Spring Break, which brings up the BIGGEST question: at the end of this week, do they come back and stay with me? Do I bring their potential infection into the house to potentially get my wife sick?

In case I needed more than just personal decision doubt, next week I can add some professional decision doubt. Our school district tells me that we will start online learning for K-12 next week. District leaders have been scrambling for the last two weeks to try and invent something that they’ve never needed and never considered before. More decisions- how will I teach online? Will I actually be recording myself teaching something or just posting assignments to a web site? I’m not great with technology, so how do I do this? Can I stay in my sweat pants? There are just so many decisions that I don’t know the answer to.

For most of my adult life, my biggest decisions hinged around Can I go to the bathroom? Should we blitz or play coverage on 3rd down? Can I turn the essay in late? Should we go for it on 4th down or punt the ball? Ignorance is bliss.

In retrospect, a lot of those decisions don’t really matter how I answer. That’s the beauty of being a football coach: you make a big decision every 25 seconds on a Friday night. You use all the information you have available, you do the very best you can, and if it doesn’t work — no big deal! You make another decision, 25 seconds later, sometimes exactly the opposite decision than you just made. And then you do it again and again and again. You hope, at the end of the game, that your 200 decisions, 25 seconds apart, work out in some sort of weird sum positive that makes you look smarter rather than dumber and puts more points on one side of a scoreboard than the other.

Now, I keep running into these decisions that I just don’t know. For most of my life, I’ve always known the right answer but this isn’t as easy as Right and Wrong on a t-shirt.

And it isn’t just me. As I talk to my friends on the phone — most of them very confident professionals — we end up in a conversation that mirrors this essay: lots of questions and not a lot of solid answers. I’ve been preparing to defeat the aliens or Russians in some sort of Pre-Apocalyptic showdown my entire life, but I have no idea how to fight this invisible enemy with the lights on, the Direct TV delivering the news, and satellite radio in the Jeep.

Written by: NathanWhite