A large group of supporters gathered Saturday night at the Balboa Pavilion to laud Newport Harbor High football coach Jeff Brinkley for a remarkable 25 years of cherished memories.
Not only has Brinkley transformed the program on the field — a 208-90-3 winning record including CIF Southern Section championships in 1994, 1999 and 2005 and 19 postseason appearances — but he has been a sterling teacher and has impacted generations of young lives.
I have spent almost 40 years in the vortex of American football. When it came time for my sons Matt and Jon to play at Corona del Mar, I was faced with a dilemma.
Participation in a game of violent collisions wreaks havoc on every joint in the body. The specter of concussion is ever present. Every Sunday I was sure that medical school rather than law school would have been better preparation to really safeguard my clients' welfare.
A Physicians Desk Reference sat at home or accompanied me on the road for days that seemed like episodes of ER. Seeing the long-term impact on players health can be frightening. But I still accepted my sons' decision to play because of the multitude of life lessons and character building that the game of football imparts.
No coach has a more critical role to play than a high school football coach. His players are adolescent boys who are in the midst of a confusing time of life. Their hormones and emotions are running high and they are in the middle of episodic growth spurts.
They need to be taught fundamental football techniques. And, they also need to have fundamental character traits stimulated. They are student-athletes who are taking enormous amounts of time away from studies to compete.
A high school coach can be a shaper, or hindrance to the development of valuable life skills. Pro players rue the cold and impersonal nature of professional football and often remember the warmth and camaraderie with coaches and teammates at the high school level as their happiest time in sports.
Football is a team sport that requires coordination of roles and a dependence on the performance of others.
Under the pressure of bodies flying around a field, a rapport, trust and deep relationships can be developed.
Knowing that another player "has your back" builds friendships through shared experience, interdependence and focus on a group goal.
Players learn critical values like self-discipline, courage under fire, resiliency, loyalty and rapid decision making. Sacrificing current comfort for a long-term group goal is part of team building.
A coach at the high school level has the ability to alter and enhance the self-esteem, self-confidence and maturation process of young athletes. For the vast majority of high school players, this will be their last organized football experience, but they have the potential to utilize the lessons they learn in their educations, family life and careers. Understanding individual differences in motivation and capacity and still molding a unit is a gift that certain talented coaches have.
Creating a football methodology that works with stability and judgment require a coach to be a stalwart role model. The players will come and go but the key to success in football is coaching.
Parenting healthy and fulfilled children is our most sacred role in life. We turn over part of that role to coaches. This requires an act of supreme trust, which is why coaches like Jeff Brinkley are such treasures.
Brinkley's former players credit him with helping them to grow as human beings and he has had a major impact on 25 years of young men.
My father turned away from a lucrative restaurant fortune and career to be a teacher and administrator in the Los Angeles City Schools for almost 50 years. Although my grandfather disapproved, one day he watched my Dad in interaction and the way the students responded and finally said "now I understand."
Coach Brinkley has been a pillar of good values and love for his players at Newport Harbor for 25 years, and we are lucky to have him.