Notes from Napa

Sunday, May 16, 2010



April 21, 1997
St. Helena Star

Much has been written about how much Mr. Carpy and his son Chuck contributed to the youth of this town over the years. As everyone knows, Mr. Carpy coached kids for years, teaching us the fundamentals of football, basketball, baseball track and boxing. Of course, he taught more than basic skills. He taught discipline and character.

We were an agricultural town. And, though no one went to lunch and planned it, somehow the farmers and winery owners back then knew that what Mr. Carpy was teaching was important. Unlike much of today's sports, his was not a day care service. He wasn't baby sitting. He was teaching responsibility, citizenship and character.

Intuitively, folks seemed to know that this was not only a good thing, but a necessary thing. Dads knew they could only do so much. Moms recognized the importance of an outside male influence in developing young mens' characters. Through spaghetti feeds, rummage sales, and attendance at the annual Thanksgiving "Red and White" game, parents showed their support (and gratitude).

In football, for instance, it never occurred to anyone that we had to play in a league. There was no league. We were the only ones playing organized tackle football from the third grade on.

Lack of a league didn't stop kids from coming out. We came out in droves and wore equipment purchased by Mr. Carpy. If there was an entry fee, I don't remember. All we had to bring was our own sweatshirts to go over the pads. No, we had no numbers--no matching unies. In fact, on the day of the big game, the hope was that the majority of the kids on the "Red" team had sweatshirts that had a fair amount of red in them, just as it was the hope that those on the "White" team, could scrounge up enough "mostly white" shirts to field a team of opposing colors.

We only practiced against ourselves. And it was three days a week--and we did just fine. We learned the skills, to block and tackle. To pass and catch. To kick and receive. And we learned to do it right.

(I remember a drop kicking drill where Doni Mori put it through the uprights, but used the wrong technique, and I didn't reach the cross bar, but used the right technique. Mr. Carpy chose me. Think what message that sent to us all).

Now we love all sports. We attend the Volleyball, baseball, basketball and tennis matches. They are all wonderful character builders for kids. (Is there anything more wonderful than watching how your kid--or yourself--serves a second serve when it's match point against her?). But tackle football is different.

Today's parents seem to resist tackle football. I can't quite get a handle on it. Is it fear of injury? Fear of a "macho" mentality? Fear that it's a "guy" thing that breeds violence? Is it perceived as war-like? Is it associated with women brutalizers like the Ram's Phillips, or Cowboy's Irvin?

What ever happened to the concept that it breeds toughness? Mental toughness and physical toughness? Any idea how mentally tough a kid has to be to go all out in the 4th quarter when her legs will barely work.

How about self-sacrifice and teamwork? Those linemen work their tails off all game and get no credit--no one even knows their number--no one, that is except their coaches and teammates who hold them in high regard. Talk about self-esteem. What do you think gives a kid more self-esteem? A participation trophy or the knowledge that he kept his opponent off his quarterback all day long?

Is it bad to teach sacrifice--to have 10 kids toil in anonymity that one might score a touchdown?

Is it bad to test a kid's mettle? You ought to see the look in a 105 pound cornerback's eyes when the opposing halfback turns the corner and is running at him head on, one on one. It is sheer terror--replaced in an instant by indescribable pride has he tackles his foe to the ground.

What other venue do we have today to teach a young boy or girl physical courage?
How about playing hurt? Sure, it's been abused. But shouldn't kids have to learn, someday, that they've got to go on even though their legs are tired or their arms are so sore they can't lift them? Haven't you ever had to go to a job even though you could barely get out of bed? You may not have learned that discipline in football, but it's a fine place to teach it, none the less.

All tribes have initiation rites where youngsters go away with strange elders and learn the rites of adulthood--away from parents. Why deny this to our kids?

No, with all the faults of the modern pro and college game, tackle football is still a rich rewarding experience. If you want to give this gift to your son or daughter (hey, “it's the 90's Mr. Bahnks”) check into it this August. You'll be glad you did. And years later your kid will thank you, for doing at least one thing right!

Wherever this story reads "kids" substitute "boys". There was no Carpy Gang for girls nor any equivalent. That sent a big message too!
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