Building a Legacy/Myth in Independent Schools
Much controversy has taken place recently concerning the placement of Confederate statues. Some citizens argue that opponents of the statues wish to re-write history and destroy legacy and tradition. The others see the statues as symbols that celebrate slavery. It is a fierce and interesting debate to observe, and while I was not present when such statues were erected, I have witnessed another type of legacy or myth built in one independent school, but it is not unique because many independent schools have their revered.
Before I arrived to teach and coach at an all-boys independent school in the suburbs of a large city, I was already puzzled that the best football team in its well-known, athletic league was “not eligible for the team championship.” That team each year finished with a winning season in its highly competitive schedule against other powerful, area teams. The school I began teaching and coaching in during the fall of 1976 was also often undefeated, but it did not play the more powerful team. My coach’s curiosity was answered when, during my first fall on campus, I asked another wrestling coach, and his answer stunned me. He told me, and he was the head junior football coach, that the other league team was too good to play; that, in fact, they hurt some of our own players. Thus, the head coach, who was influential in the league, gathered support and no team played the best team in the league. So, no league games meant no league standing for one of the best football teams in the area. They were determined “too good for the other teams in the league.”
During the ten plus years I coached and taught at that school, I watched the man’s image grow. Past, influential players would speak of his influence on their lives as they spoke of their good and sometimes undefeated teams. A small, but vocal group expanded his feats and achievements. In their eyes he was one of the best coaches ever. He was, in my view, a good coach, but not a great one because great coaches take their teams to play the best teams possible. They do not “pad” the team’s schedule in order to “win” a league banner. A great coach would rather lose to a good or talented team than beat a mediocre one. However, the myth surrounding this coach has grown and grown. Any other coach at the school is held against his yardstick, which, in reality, is more like a ruler than yardstick. As time passed, his feats turned into legend and his status with past players and the institution rose. Soon, the man could not measure up with the myth.
I think such situations matter because any such school is, at best, misleading its community. It is one issue when a group of past players hold in high esteem one of its former coaches, but when that group convinces the school to accept misleading records of the coach, the issue becomes one of institutional error. While the coach’s accomplishments are many, most of his league banners are false because his teams did not play the best team in their own league.
I do not suggest the hanging banners be removed from the school’s gymnasium. However, I would like the school and others who suffer the same ailment, to be honest in what or who they project as outstanding. A little scrutiny goes a long way. Sure, having a legacy of a teacher or coach helps raise money and interest, but if it is not just, then it must be false.