Wisdom comes to us by way of an unknown author who muses, “What a teacher writes on the blackboard of a life can never be erased.” This is certainly true for my life as I recall the continuing impact of many teachers, among them my Junior High P.E. Coach Jerry Austin. Remembering his influence has been an exercise of joy, as I join with those who mourn his recent passing.
Junior High School is an awkward time for everyone. But for me it was especially tough. With little to no athletic ability and even less personal charisma, I was that shy quiet kid that didn’t fit in with hardly anyone. But I’m thankful as I reflect on those experiences to remember Coach Jerry Austin, and the way that he made those years a pleasant memory. As I look back on the seventh through ninth grades at Gosnell Junior High School, Coach Austin played a huge role in my development as a student and without a doubt influenced my life in a positive way. It is hard for me to think of him without remembering him in tandem with Coach Adrian Davis. Both of them loom large in my recollections.
One of the remembrances that came immediately to mind was random and somewhat juvenile, but also funny, and is illustrative of how Coach Austin and Davis made an incredible comedic team. It was the lunch hour and while standing in line with the other kids, we were all hungry and anxious to get to the front of the line. On most days, Coaches Austin and Davis would utilize their faculty privileges and cut to the front of the line. One of the kids behind me shouted, “Hey no cuts” repeatedly, eventually we all joined in shouting, “yeah! No cutting!” to which both coaches responded creatively by utilizing the food that was just served them. They turned to us and made it clear with their best theatrical mime artistry and humor that could only be appreciated by pubescent boys, that they weren’t all that concerned about our objections. I’ll leave the details to your imagination, but it was corndog day. This is but one example of how much Jerry Austin enjoyed serving as a teacher and coach. Anytime someone can do their job and have fun doing it, is a testimony to the inner joy that spills over into all they pursue. Jerry Austin was certainly a joyful soul.
He was a joyful soul who tenderly applied instruction, discipline, and even tolerated shenanigans from time to time, even sometimes joining in a few of his own. For instance, to compensate for my shy demeanor, I often engaged in fantasy scenarios that I would play out in real life. It was an awkward attempt to be liked and make friends, although, as it is often with nerds like me, it backfired. Most of the kids found me to be annoyingly obnoxious and looking back it is hard to disagree with them. But Coach Austin playfully indulged my imagination. My Junior High alter ego was a cross between James Bond and G.I. Joe, his name was Richard Douglas Adventure or Mr. Adventure for short. I would go around and tell kids this was my name, and that my mission was to represent everything “America, God, and Apple Pie.” As you might imagine not everyone enjoyed my illusions of grandeur. Most of the time I managed to avoid a wedgie, but rarely could I steer clear of laughter and ridicule.
Occasionally Mr. Adventure would go incognito and ask for a cigarette from one of the “cool kids” and then proceed to tear it up in front of them with the message “The Surgeon General has warned smoking can cause cancer!” Subsequently I was thrown into the football lockers, and with the gate closed tightly shut, I was left to contemplate my feeble attempts to save the lives of these smokers. And while the response may have been justified, it was anything but comfortable. Coach Austin would repeatedly come to my rescue, “Adventure,” he indulged me, “these kids don’t understand your righteous cause!” In addition to this encouragement, Coach Austin wasn’t afraid to apply discipline to motivate me when necessary. After all, an undercover super soldier couldn’t be expected to remember everything, especially the burden of being required to actually change clothes for P.E.
I was notorious for not dressing out, and as a result, the residual odors of the humid Delta and my mediocre athleticism would linger all afternoon. Coach Austin gave me ample warnings, but one day his patience ran out. I was invited to join him in his office where he promptly applied the corrective board to my rebellious rear end. My memory never lapsed after that day, as miraculously I remembered my gym clothes without fail. Turns out, even Rick Adventure wasn’t beyond the need for inspiration from time to time. Coach Austin was happy to provide it.
Coach Austin was one of those teachers who was willing to try. In a day and age where many have difficulty sustaining meaningful effort for any length of time, he engaged every day in large and small, but always substantial ways. Serving in the class room, on the side lines, or in the role of an administrator, Coach Austin was an example to all of us of Gosnell Pirate pride and excellence. Even though physically I was nothing special and had zero athletic ability, I never felt less than accepted around Coach Austin, indeed he made a point to validate my existence in ways that went beyond simply doing his job. He cared, and in a world where simply caring is increasingly in short supply, Coach Austin provided this kind of love with a surplus.
It is with a full heart of love and gratitude that I lend my voice to the chorus of those athletes, students, friends, colleagues, and family who are saddened at the loss of this wonderful man. My life will always be better for having been influenced by this excellent teacher and coach at a critical time in my development. Now every time I reminisce about the wild imaginations of my youth, It is with joy that I will recall that Coach Austin was a teacher who understood the importance and necessity of occasionally suspending disbelief for the greater good of investing in the self-esteem of awkward shy kids, like me. His words of encouragement and acceptance are forever etched into my life.
Thank you, Coach Austin.
Scot Loyd a.k.a. Mr. Adventure