Why, really, would anyone want to coach?
“It’s like asking a rabbi or a priest why they believe in God,” says Marc Skelton. Or Ishmael why he goes whaling with Captain Ahab.
“Each November, I reread the opening paragraph from Moby-Dick,” Skelton (M.A. ’06) writes in Pounding the Rock: Basketball Dreams and Real Life in a Bronx High School (Doubleday 2019). As with Ishmael’s seasonal desire to knock people’s hats off, he adds, “November is when I need to be in the gym running practices, screaming about abstract intangibles and invisible stats, or preparing my team to knock off someone’s head from a pulpit.”
In 2006, Skelton took over the woeful Panthers of tiny Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, 0-18 the previous year and 80-point losers in his first game. Pounding the Rock describes a transformation that has since brought the team repeated Public School Athletic League Class B championships and a New York State Federation Tournament of Champions title. But the book is also about hope in one of America’s poorest communities.
November is when I need to be in the gym running practices, screaming about abstract intangibles and invisible stats, or preparing my team to knock off someone’s head from a pulpit.
Skelton tells Panther teams about their school’s trailblazing history in the small schools movement and about its namesake, the civil rights activist who famously declared that she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
The Panthers play in a “garden shed”-sized gym and face distractions from babysitting young siblings to “drugs, evictions, suspensions and arrests.” None has yet played in the NBA, but a number have attained a college education.
“What’s the secret to our success on and off the court?” Skelton writes.
“It’s trust. In coaching, it is said that the players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”