by Dave Kenson
“Well I’m Older Now but Still Running Against the Wind”
I represent that remark, or rather those lyrics from the great Bob Seger. For those of you who have read my previous articles and thought, “Who is this guy and where did he get these damn fool ideas?”, then this article will provide some answers. A very small number of people know me well. Many are acquainted with me from my time as a coach. But they don’t understand that being a coach was what I did, and not who I am. This brings up the first new fact to learn about me: I have no use for labels. The problem with labeling a person, thing, or idea is that it defines them by what the labeler believes or wants the label to mean. As the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, put it, “Once you label me you negate me”. Alright, so what are some of the other DFI (damn fool ideas) generated by my mind? Well, let’s start at the beginning, or rather, before the beginning!
An idea that I stole from Wayne Dyer is that we choose our mission in life before we are born. Once our mission is determined, parents and other role models (good and bad) are selected to help us become the person to carry out this mission. I’m not necessarily talking about an occupation, but a mission filled with passion. Sadly, cultural conditioning robs many of their passion and, therefore, their mission so they then settle for a “job”.
I was born, to quote The Who, with a plastic spoon in my mouth, to two miserable parents. Don’t get me wrong, they were not abusive in any way. They just weren’t happy. They were children of the Depression. They both quit school in the eighth grade to go to work. They did without. They didn’t have the things that they wanted. As a result, they lived their entire lives believing that acquiring things would make them happy. It never did. They worked hard to become middle class. When they purchased some new thing (car, home, clothing), it brought some temporary excitement, but never lasting happiness or peace of mind. The lesson I learned from them and others of their generation was that happiness comes from within. It’s a choice – a decision. And so, my mission predetermined, but received later, was to teach, mostly by demonstration, how to be happy and have peace of mind.
I believe that my parents must have thought that there was a mix-up in the maternity ward. I had thoughts that were foreign to them; a totally different philosophy of life. My future would be shaped more by my teachers and coaches than by my parents. My father would just sort of shake his head in disbelief. My mother reportedly called me crazy and I always took it as a compliment. But normal was not something that I saw as a goal. I knew, even then, that crazy was not defined as “insane”. Crazy was just a different way of thinking and living. To call me a free thinker would have been an understatement. I understood that school was a game, but an important game, so I played by the rules (mostly).
In our high school, many of the teachers had hall passes which were large pieces of wood with their names painted on it. As a senior I was ahead of schedule on my required classes for graduation. Instead of study halls, I reported to the gym for two periods each day. Most of the time I worked on the skills of whatever sport was in season. On occasion the urge to wander would strike. My grandfather was a sign painter. I convinced him to take a piece of wood and paint my name on it. Now, it was a very large high school with well over 2,000 students. The teachers did not know all the students or even all the other teachers. I would walk the halls with my own hall pass and never get questioned about what I was doing.
During my time in school (Jr. High, High School and College) four things happened that would shape my ideas about my teaching and coaching in the future. I had a Civics teacher who actually enjoyed teaching and made class not only informative, but fun. I learned that work, contrary to my father’s belief, didn’t have to be a miserable event. I also heard about John Wooden. He was the basketball coach at UCLA and was on the way to winning ten NCAA championships in twelve years. I read everything that I could get my hands on about him and by him. I was surprised to learn that, contrary to prevailing ideas about coaching, he never talked about winning. His method, which I tried to copy, was all about fundamentals, execution of the small details and individual, as well as team, growth.
After my freshman year, the Varsity basketball coach told me that I could be the first sophomore to make the varsity team, but I would have to show that I was up to the competition. He told me that once a week I was to go to the Navy Park (an old gym in Cleveland) and play against college competition. There was also a journeyman pro working out there named Gene “Bumper” Tormohlen. He was a tough center/power forward for the St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks. Playing against him was like going to war, but he liked me and taught me a lot. I learned that playing against better competition, while painful, helped you grow.
My last important encounter was having Homer Rice as my college football coach. He taught positive thinking and the mental side of playing and coaching. Later I became very interested in studying the mind, how it works and how we can use it to have happiness, peace of mind and ultimately success. I tried my best to incorporate these ideas into my life’s work to help others be happy. I have never believed that once we reach a certain age that “silly” should no longer be a part of our lives. Why can’t adults be lighthearted and have fun? Why does maturity mean you have to be serious all the time? I would suggest that when you are, you have grown old. I enjoy funny stories, jokes and one-liners. Because of the one-liners I had an assistant coach who used to call me Shecky Kenson. I loved people like George Carlin, Dr. Irwin Corey, The Smothers Brothers, Ray Stevens, Jim Stafford (I had a conversation and my picture taken with him), Monty Python and Ghoulardi (friends in northern Ohio will remember him).
Another important event happened in the early 90’s. I had to take two classes to renew my teaching license. I found out that the state of Florida would accept classes from Disney University (part of Disney World in Orlando). The first thing that the instructor told us on the first day of class was that Walt Disney’s real goal was to teach children life lessons. He realized, however, that before they would learn they had to be entertained to get their attention. I tried very hard to teach my classes and coach my teams with this in mind.
Finally, I don’t consider myself a writer. I also don’t believe that what I have to say is for a large audience. If one thing that I say helps one person have some happiness and peace of mind, then it is worth it. One of my favorite authors, the late Pat Conroy, said about his autobiographical novels that writing was cathartic. He said he always felt good when he finished, but during the writing he always considered suicide. I now know what he meant. And I know my wife, Grace, who proofreads, types and tries to follow the arrows where I have inserted new sentences, considers murder. In any case, I’m still doing what I do, only in different form. In my eighth decade, I’m still running against the wind.