Thursday, June 14, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Someone Special

Today we went to a memorial service for our friend, mentor and coach, Mike Whittles.  He fought long and hard against pancreatic cancer for sixteen months, but lost his battle last Thursday.  Coach Whittles has been the head football coach for thirteen years at Archbishop Spalding.  Personally, he was my husband's friend and mentor and my son's coach.  He was a kind man who was dear to all of us and he will be missed.

Today's service was a testimony to the great man he was.  The memorial was held in the gym at the school and each football player and coach wore an angel holding a football to honor Coach Whittles.  The current players gathered in the chapel as the crowds began to fill in.  When we were all seated there were several rows for family and personal friends, a row for coaches and rows and rows of football players, starting with those who played this past season.  I knew that Coach Whittles had a great impact on alot of people, but today I realized just how far reaching and deep down in the soul his caring nature went.  We heard lots of stories, each one bringing to light a little more of the man he was...funny, kind, witty, family oriented, loving...and a man with a deep sense of God and faith that He would see him through.  He was never without a smile, a kind word and a great bear hug.

Most touching was his daughter, the mother of Coach's grandson and carrying his soon to be born granddaughter,  as she stood before us with a bright smile and told us how her father raised her and her brothers.  She told of a man who was devoted to his wife and his children, to his sister and his parents.  I think that everyone's heart was breaking for her, obviously Daddy's little girl, but you had to admire her strength, wavering only slightly, when giving what must be the hardest speech of her life. She got that strength from her father and he taught her well.

What impressed me the most, however, were the players.  As I have noted before, prep school boys are incredibly polite and well mannered, but prep school football players are even a step above that.  They are self disciplined, devoted to one another and ever ready to give of themselves to others.  They were asked to stand, toward the end of the ceremony, and the players from the 2011 season were asked to gather up front, each in their black personal Spalding jersey that were a special treat for them this past season.  And then the players from the past few recent seasons were asked to join them.  This made for a large group.  And then, the most amazing of all, the speaker asked for all the boys and men who had ever played for Coach Whittles to stand and join the group.  There must have been close to 100 of them, young men of all shapes and sizes, who stood and made their way to the center aisle.  Together, they knelt, one last time, together as Cavaliers, to say the Lord's Prayer, as they did before each and every game.  Their deep voices resonated throughout the room and each of them reached out, touching a brother, remembering their Coach.  Tears welled up in many eyes, but they were strong.  They rose together, put their hands in the air and finished it off with 1, 2, 3, Champs!, what Coach had taught each and every one of them to be.  How can anyone who has touched that many young men so deeply be anything but wonderful?

Coach Whittles, I believe in heaven and I believe you are there. I want to thank you for the man you were and for the inspiration you were to my husband and son.  I want to let you know that you taught not only our sons, but their parents, as well, how to live life to the fullest and how to make every day count.  Thank you for being a fighter.  Thank you for never giving up.  I know that the young men who had the privilege to play under your wing and close to your heart will be better men for knowing you.  I am very glad that my son was one of them.  Rest in peace now, Mike.  Watch over your boys as they begin their lives away from high school.  Reach out a hand to steady them when they fall and to guide them when they go astray.  Be an angel on their shoulder always.  With you in their corner, we parents can rest a little easier.  May God hold you close and grant you eternal peace.....and if there is a football team in heaven, don't forget two a days start in eight weeks :-)

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