Nothing gets a young player’s attention quite like a mouthful of
I should know, having dined on a sod sandwich as a young Little
League baseball player.
The incident brings to mind some of the of the wacky and
unbelievable things I have seen coaches do over the years.
The most memorable happening took place when I was 11 years old
and playing for Aviation Little League in Hawthorne. Competing for
the Major Division Braves, our team had to endure the old-school
techniques and discipline of Jim Schofield, a drill instructor
impersonating a coach.
Coach Schofield was well known for his tirades and his innate
ability to run players into the ground -- literally.
During one of our Braves’ practices, coach had us working out on
the outfield grass -- which was actually a whole bunch of dirt
sprinkled with a bit of vegetation -- doing an exhausting number of
At the beginning of the exercise, many of us were goofing off and
not taking the task too seriously. That apparently set off the coach.
Unhappy with our form and execution, Schofield screamed and yelled at
us to “do them right.”
Although we tried our best -- a couple hundred push-ups tend to
tire most pre-teens -- the coach became more aggravated and told us
to rest on our stomachs with our heads down in the damp ground. Then,
he instructed us to “take a bite out of the dirt.”
For those of us who didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to bring
ourselves to munch on the turf, Schofield came around and gave our
heads a gentle push into the ground.
Some players cried. Some players threw up. And some players
marveled at the grainy texture and unique taste of the dirt.
Following the incident, I hurried home to tell my mother what had
happened. I figured my adoring mom would be so upset with the coach’s
horrible stunt that should would hunt Schofield down and put him in
However, after conveying the whole sorted story, my mother asked
just one question: “Were you one of the players who was goofing off
during the exercise?” When I answered in the affirmative, she shot
back “Then you probably deserved it.”
With her response, my mouth dropped open in disbelief, prompting
my mother to add one last bit of advise: “You might want to floss
that grass from in between your teeth.”
Although I don’t condone Scofield’s action, coaches did those type
of things in the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, if a coach did
something like making players eat dirt today, he would probably be
chastised, fired and brought up on child abuse charges.
Young athletes in the 21st century don’t know how good they have
it when it comes to dealing with coaches. From taking part in
baseball school at age 5, to playing Little League, to competing in
high school, to covering games as a journalist, I’ve seen and
experienced incidents that would make a great “Coaches Gone Wild”
Remembering some of the things I have had to endure with coaches,
I can’t imagine the things athletes from earlier eras had to go
through. Coaching practices from the 1940s and 1950s probably seem
medieval compared to today’s standards.
Another adverse incident I had to deal with came during my
freshman season as a football player at Hawthorne High.
At the time, I had long hair, which was probably a bit longer than
most of my teammates. In fact, I grew it out to where my golden locks
were at my shoulders.
It was a great style. However, the long hair didn’t look too cute
sprouting out from underneath my football helmet.
Coach Neil Minami wasn’t a big fan of my hairstyle. At practice
one day, citing the possibility of my locks being pulled by an
opponent during a game, the coach told me I needed to cut my hair so
it wasn’t coming out of my helmet.
A few days later -- with all of my hair still intact -- Minami
again urged me to go visit a barber. But this time, he told me if I
didn’t take care of the problem, he would.
After a few more days passed and still no compliance on my part,
the coach kept his word. After asking me to put on my helmet, Minami
went into the medical training kit, pulled out a pair of scissors and
proceeded to cut off all visible hair.
I remember my teammates roaring with laughter when they got a
glimpse of my new hairstyle.
At least there was one good thing that came out of the incident --
my teammates could no longer refer to me as “Goldilocks.”
Along with playing football and baseball in high school, I also
competed in track and field for infamous Coach Kye Courtney.
Courtney was a former Marine whose training methods were as well
known in the track and field community as his CIF Southern Section
and state championships.
During workouts, Courtney would carry a big plank of wood with
nails in it. If the coach didn’t think someone was running hard
enough during workouts, he would chase after the athlete and threaten
to hit him or her with his weapon.
Although Courtney never actually hit anyone with his homemade
motivating tool, I remember feeling the wind from the swinging piece
of wood around my backside area on more than one occasion.
For the most part, many of the things I have witnessed or been a
part of concerning coaches have been relatively harmless. However, on
a few occasions, I have seen truly destructive and inappropriate
While covering a game as a writer, I saw an incident I will never
forget. During a high school football game, I witnessed a coach
literally throw a player to the ground during an argument. In
response, the player hurled his helmet back at the coach.
What was more disturbing than the incident itself was the unfair
repercussions taken by the school. While the coach was only
reprimanded for his part in the event, the player was kicked off the
Especially in high school, the motivation to succeed and win
drives some coaches to throw morals and common sense out the window
in lieu of playing by the book.
During my tenure at the Leader, there have been coaches who have
shamed and embarrassed their schools and the community with their
bonehead antics. From recruiting players and being involved with a
sex scandal, to holding illegal practices, stealing money and drug
use, area coaches have been involved in their share of distasteful
Individuals involved in actions like these have no business
coaching or being around children. Unfortunately, some of the men and
women who committed these acts are still coaching.
Since I have done a little coaching myself, I have the utmost
respect for the men and women who take the time to mentor young
athletes. I have said it many times that along with teachers, coaches
are some of the most important people in the lives of children.
Coaches just have to realize that when dealing with young,
impressionable athletes, almost everything leaves a lasting
Maybe that’s why I keep my hair short and why I have never really
developed a taste for dirt.
* JEFF TULLY is the sports editor of the Burbank Leader. He can be
reached at 843-8700, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.