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Dear Sarah

by Brooke Richter 5 months ago in friendship
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Thirteen years ago, I didn’t have the words to say what I am going to say now. Sarah, you are my Hometown Hero.

Dear Sarah
Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

Dear Sarah,

I still remember the last day that I saw you like it was yesterday. We had just finished eating pizza after our last basketball practice of sixth grade. After playing volleyball and basketball with you for two years, our time together was finally ending.

Under the bright Bakersfield sun, as temperatures rapidly continued to climb in the 90s and beyond, you told us, “You probably won’t see me again, but say hi if you do.”

I think that must be where my attachment issues began. You see, I had never heard “goodbye” before that. Most people and things had remained steady in my life; I grew up as the middle child in a sturdy house with a large backyard, complete with a trampoline and horse corral. To top it off, my maternal grandparents lived next door and I saw them several times a day. I lived less than a mile away from the elementary school that I attended for over seven years. Things might have felt a bit boring, maybe even “bubble wrapped”, but I was content and secure.

All of a sudden, the coach who taught me everything I knew about dribbling, serving, diving, running, spiking, team work, leadership, and especially, self confidence, was leaving. I didn’t even know how to say goodbye… so, I didn’t.

Thirteen years ago, I didn’t have the words to say what I am going to say now.

Sarah, you are my Hometown Hero.

Before I met you, I thought that being an adult meant being on a diet. I thought I needed to have straight blonde hair and an obsession with Diet Coke. I thought that the only people who “made it” were the people who won every single game.

And, by game, I mean- everything. You had to be the best at everything, or you might as well go home.

Sarah, you changed my perspective and opened my world.

I remember one day so clearly… we were doing a warm up exercise that involved squats. You said, “Ladies, do you see these?” and slapped your thighs. We were confused, but some of us nodded. Then you said, “My thighs are big, and that’s okay. We’re women and it’s natural. Big thighs are going to help us run, jump, and explore.” You probably didn’t think much about this comment, but it validated me in a way that I didn’t even know I needed to be validated in. I have never, ever had a problem with my legs. Throughout all my awkward teen growing years and obsession with counting calories during my sorority years, I have never once hated my thighs. You instilled in me a love for my muscles that transcends any contemporary beauty standard. I love my legs for taking me to Peru and hiking up Huayna Picchu, for taking me all the way to Scotland to walk around the site of the Battle of Culloden, for allowing me to run and jump and dance whenever I want! I don’t think I would love myself the way I do if you hadn’t told me that.

Then there was another time, when the fifth grade basketball coach wouldn’t let us leave practice until we made ten baskets in a row. I got in my head about it and started making silly mistakes. One by one, the other girls finished practice until it was just me and a few other girls. He ended up letting us leave without making the baskets, and probably didn’t think anything else of it. I was so anxious about letting him down, and so stressed about him giving up on me, that I went straight to the bench under the big oak tree (which has since been cut down, I’m sad to say) and sobbed my eyes out. You told me that his rule for ending practice was dumb, and it was even worse that he didn’t stick around to follow through on his rule. You let me move to the sixth grade team, even though I was a fifth grader, because you thought I was good enough to play up. You taught me that there is always another opportunity; just because one opportunity isn’t working, doesn’t mean another won’t. I look for those opportunities on a daily basis now.

There are also the little things. You never yelled at us during practices or games. Fear just wasn’t in your coaching tool box. In fact, your best coaching came from silent gestures. Your confidence in me to understand what you meant, and to also accomplish what you tasked me with, created a strong sense of connection that I strive to create with my own high school students now.

You didn't judge us when we won or lost a game. You were a coach to help us improve; not win. You taught me that volleyball can be a fun sport to grow in; a lesson I remembered when I needed an outlet as I wrote my master's dissertation. I ended up joining my unversity's club team, filled with women about four years younger than me, just for the pure joy of playing a sport.

You were never late to practice. When we came out of our classrooms after school, you were always on the court with a clipboard and cones, ready to go.

You attended every single game. Even when we had games at 7AM on a Saturday. Now that I’m an adult, I am so impressed and grateful that you showed up without fail to coach your little recreation elementary team.

I am now a high school English and History teacher. I work with over 200 students daily, and the weight of the responsibility to always say and do the right thing is tremendous. I look back on the things you said and did with such clarity that I am afraid of doing the wrong thing with my students. If I do or say the wrong thing, will they remember it for the rest of their lives, the way I will remember you? Am I teaching my kids meaningful ways to build connections and follow their values? I second-guess myself frequently, which is a new concept for me, and I can only attribute that to caring so much that I want to be my best self so that I can make as positive an impact that you have.

There are two specific things that I tell my students daily. The first; “Make good choices”. A bit cliche, but as one student said, “You must care a lot to repeat that over and over again”...and, I do! The second; “say hi if you see me”. I want to see my students; at their sports events, their school dances, in Target, at the gas station… anywhere. I'm still not very good at goodbyes.

I want to be more than a memory for my students, but if I need to be a memory, I hope their memory of me is half as good as my memory of you.


About the author

Brooke Richter

Writer | Traveler | Educator

MSc History- University of Edinburgh, 2019

BS Anthropology + Geography- Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, 2018

Find me on Instagram: @_brookerichter

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