He was a giant of a man, as I recall. A giant.
Okay, well maybe not physically, in the ways that people often think a “giant” might be. In fact, in terms of his physical appearance, he was fairly average in height and build.
But that voice that echoed through the high school hallway down by the locker rooms or shouted plays from the bench or side line was deep and loud. He was quick to raise it with the boys he taught in Phy Ed or coached who didn’t listen to his directions. His favorite expression, when dealing with such boys was “Bean Head.” Sometimes that was preceded by an expletive. I read in his obituary that, as a young man, he’d served in the Navy. This, more than anything else, would explain why he spent all of those years trying to pound discipline into the young men he taught. He made it his mission to turn them into people who were not Bean Heads.
It was the mid 1970’s, a time when teachers could still call a student a (insert expletive) Bean Head. Back then, if a boy came home and told his father that his teacher or coach had called him a Bean Head in front of his friends, the father would most likely have shrugged and said, “Gus is absolutely right. You ARE a Bean Head. So stop acting like one.” This is because nobody’s parents had time for fragile egos in those days.
Gus coached junior high girls basketball the first year that girls playing basketball competitively became a reality, thanks to Title 9. This was decades before feeder programs, clinics, and camps had little girls learning the basics of the game in elementary school, the way they do now. As the coach, it was his job to teach a bunch of hormonal teen girls the fundamentals of a sport we’d, up to that point, spent our childhoods only watching from the bleachers unless you count the games of HORSE or PIG we played with our brothers.
Gus had coached a lot of boys, but we were a whole new ball game. We had a lot to learn that first year. A few of us were naturals. The rest of us tried to make up in enthusiasm what we lacked in basic skills. Some of us only lasted a season before we went on to activities that involved less running and sweating. I was in that third group, but it was nice to have the choice. Many of the women I know from that first team went on to raise daughters who have grown up taking for granted the fact that they could choose to be basketball, volleyball, softball, and soccer players. Really good ones. We’ve come a long way when it comes to girls and athletics, haven’t we?
A giant of a man with a whistle and a bark that was worse than his bite helped make that happen for a group of pep club girls and cheerleaders in a small town in the 1970’s. We are better people, stronger women, for having been coached by him. I hope he knew that.
Rest in Peace, Gus.