Throwing My Loop…
By: Michael Johnson
The year was 1962. I was fifteen years old and hopelessly
in love with Betty Sue Daniels. On the first day of our
freshman math class we had been assigned as seatmates and so
far, she seemed unaware we lived on the same planet. Can
you imagine the thrill that shot through me when she reached
over and tapped me on the arm?
Mrs. Thalia K. Crosley was droning on about some
algebra problem that was light years beyond me, and Betty
Sue reached over and actually touched me. My spirits
soared, but then fell as I realized it wasn’t love that
moved her to do so.
“Coach Youngblood wants you,” she whispered, pointing
past me toward the door.
I turned to see the new junior high coach standing just
outside the room.
“Can I talk to Michael for a moment, Mrs. Crosley?” he
Mrs. Crosley quickly consented, only too happy to
excuse her worst student, and I followed him down the hall.
Once in his office, he invited me to take a seat.
“I want to ask you to help me,” he said.
“Me?” I asked.
“Yes, you are the key. I want you to help me this
year. I’ve reviewed all the eighth-grade game films, and
I’ve decided we can win most of our games if you will help
“Win most of our games? How can we do that? We were
five and five last year. How could we improve that much?”
“Because,” he said, “You are your father’s son. I
played with your dad, and if you are half as good as him, we
can win most, if not all, of our games.”
I left that room that day with a spring in my step and
hope in my heart. What I didn’t know was the young coach
would tell every player on the team something similar. He
didn’t tell anyone a lie. He didn’t tell any player he was
fast if he wasn’t, but rather he picked some skill, talent,
or ability that person had to offer, and made them aware of
the value of the particular thing they could do - and he
asked each player to give that gift to the team.
We didn’t win all our games, but far more than we
expected. And somewhere along the way, we changed. We
began to believe in ourselves.
At season’s end, the young coach told his players, “You
are young lions with great hearts!” Had he asked us to jump
through a window at that moment, there would have been
broken glass everywhere. And the next year, we moved up to
On the first day of my sophomore year, the high school
coach called me in his office.
“I want you to know something,” he began, with a scowl
on his face. “Just because your father was a famous athlete
at this school… that doesn’t mean you can rest on his
So many years later, I can remember how I felt when he
said that. For several seconds, I was unable to take a
breath. Did he really think that our success in junior high
was because of my father? Unable to think of anything to
say, I said, “What is a laurel?”
He rose from his chair and said, “Don’t you get smart
“I’m not,” I stammered. “I just don’t know what a
“Listen,” he snarled. “I don’t think you have what is
takes to play at this level. You are going to have to prove
to me that you do. Now get out!”
I didn’t know the high school coach would tell every
player on the team something similar. How this was the big
time, how he wasn’t sure any of us “had what it takes,” and
how we would be required to “prove” to him that we did.
We went 0 and 10. And somewhere along the way, we lost
faith in ourselves.
So here’s a question for you. Which team were we?
Were we a group of young lions with huge hearts who could
play at a level far surpassing our real ability? Or were we
a group of lightweight cowards who “didn’t have what it
takes?” The answer is…we were both.
Which team we were depended on two keys. Two keys
resting in the minds of two men. One man held a key in his
mind that unlocked the potential inside ours freeing us to
become more than we dreamed. The other man’s key kept that
potential locked tightly away.
I am aware that we should do a good job regardless of
the leader in our lives at the time. We should be
responsible and do our best. That’s easy to do if you are a
well-rounded, mentally healthy person. I am however, a
weak, whiny, immature person most of the time, and one
strongly influenced by those around me. So, I am not
justified in placing blame on the high school coach for our
poor performance. It’s just so much easier for your light
to shine if someone believes you have light in you.
You can take your horse to the greatest trainer in the
world, and what you tell the trainer when you unload your
horse is of vital importance. If you say, “This is my
partner. He’s a good one, and I want you to help him all you
can,” chances are that trainer will give the horse every
opportunity. If, on the other hand, you say, “I hope you
can do something with this fool ‘cause I sure can’t,”
chances are the trainer will call a couple of months later
and tell you how right you were.
For years, I wondered about a great mystery. And that
was, how can some people seem to find the stardust in a
child? How can some men and women reach inside the horse to
create such a special and willing partner? I sought the
answer in classrooms, in universities, and in scores of
books. I never found it.
Now – because I’ve become so old I suppose – I can see
something in the mist. It’s out there on the edges of my
mind, and sometimes I can almost see it from the corner of
my eye. Those who truly help us have faith. Faith in
themselves to help and faith in us. They communicate an
expectation that we are more than we know…and they really
believe that. When we encounter one of those, we are never
“The thing always happens you
really believe in. It is the belief in a thing that makes
--Frank Lloyd Wright