Mr. Pearson

We practiced on a dusty field on the north side of St. Louis at the Herbert Hoover Boys Club. It was the mid ‘70s, and we were a mismatched collection of baseball players, some tall and lanky, like me, and others short and stocky. Some of us were talented. Others, like me, were playing for the fun of it and because it was expected that a 12- and 13-year-old would play some sort of sport. We all imitated the players we idolized on the St. Louis Cardinals, who once played in Sportsman’s Park on the grounds where the boys club now stood.

And Clarence Pearson, a St. Louis public schools gym teacher, held court with this impressionable group. He ruled with an iron fist, a disciplinarian from the old school who also could dole out fatherly advice and life lessons to players whose homes often included a mother and siblings, but sometimes not a father.

Mr. Pearson – he was always known that way – drilled us on fundamentals. Keep your head down on the ball when fielding. Run out infield grounders in case the throw is off line to first base. Always shake the other team players’ hands when the games end. Sportsmanship shows the measure of a player’s character, Mr. Pearson would say.

Although he was our coach, Mr. Pearson would also frequently ask about home or school. If you needed a few dollars to buy something constructive (lunch money, a gift for your mother et al), Mr. Pearson would dig into his pocket to fish out whatever you needed. If you wanted candy, you were better off not asking him for that change.

And, being teen boys, we would often roll our eyes when Mr. Pearson was preaching about etiquette and how to act off the field.

We didn’t realize that Mr. Pearson was giving all of us important life lessons or reinforcing lessons we were already learning at home.

Mr. Pearson, you can rest assured, those lessons stuck.

Mark Russell
Managing Editor, The Memphis Commercial Appeal


Thank you, Coach

For as long as I can remember, sports has been my life’s passion. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, then outside of New York City and finally in St. Louis, I played just anything that involved either a stick or a ball: baseball, hockey, golf, basketball, football and – though having neither a ball nor a stick – running.

But sports was a solitary passion for me. In my backyard in New Jersey, I’d chip golf balls for hours on end, criss-crossing the yard from front to back, side to side, tree to tree … by myself. In my backyard in St. Louis, I’d pitch tennis balls against the brick wall of my garage, aiming for the strike zone I had marked, spinning curveballs to catch the inside corner, or just off the plate or into the dirt. The beauty of pitching against a brick wall was that the ball always came back to me, and I could do it by myself. From that same backyard, I’d tee up golf balls, maybe about a dozen at a time, driving them into the grassless field between my house and Grannemann Elementary School, then trudging out into the field to retrieve them, tee them back up and drive them again … all by myself.

I never played on a team until I played basketball in the seventh grade at St. Ferdinand. For one, my parents thankfully never forced me – a shy kid – into playing on a team. For another, I had moved into seven different houses, in four different cities, from the time I was 4 until the time I was 13, and I never had the opportunity to establish a group of friends on whose team I was invited to play or I wanted to play.

Fast-forward through my 52-year-old life now, past the years of being a father to three kids who have gone through that 4- to 13-year-old time in their lives. Their sports experiences have been much different than mine. Like my parents, I never forced them to play team sports, but each did anyway – mainly soccer, basketball and baseball.

Looking back on my experience and their experience, my wife and I realize how fortunate that all three of them have had wonderful coaches in their lives. My wife and I realize it, but that realization comes from a distance that my kids – now 22, 20 and 16 – haven’t quite yet travelled. Yes, after each season, each said thank you to the coaches, a thank you encouraged by the parents. Over time, that thank you will come with encouragement from their own hearts and minds, as they realize the role those coaches played in their lives, of the lessons those coaches taught them without realizing they were being taught.

This blog is for those coaches. It’s for the stories of kids growing up and realizing they need to say a heartfelt thank you to the men and women who taught them more than how to hit and throw and shoot and run, who taught them life lessons that remain with them today.

Thank you, Coach.