by James Still
So I’m going to do it, here, for all to read.
I’m coming out.
Yes. Me. I am… a coach’s son.
My brother was an All-State basketball player and captain of his college team. And I was… not. But don’t jump to any cliches. I love sports. I still read the sports page first. When I was in high school I remember a coach (not my dad) saying to me: “You have talent, Jimmy, you could even be a decent ball player. Only thing you lack is a killer’s instinct.” And I thought, “Isn’t that a GOOD thing? Why would I want to be a killer???” Instead of becoming a killer or a decent player, I became a writer.
Being a coach’s son (because once you’re a coach’s son you’re always a coach’s son) shaped me in ways just as distinct as almost anything else that’s happened to me. ILLEGAL USE OF HANDS is a play that leans on those pieces of my life like no other play I’ve written. Take it from me: it takes guts to write about the world you come from – partly because that world doesn’t exist anymore. But I do. And now my play does too.
Some early memories of being a coach’s son: 7 or 8 years old, listening to the really tiny pep band play “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the hot, tiny gymnasium before one of my dad’s games. My dad was wearing his red blazer, my mom was jonesing for a Cherry Mash, and I was really really hoping that my dad’s team would win so we wouldn’t have to move… In my little town, high school sports ruled how everyone felt about their lives. If we were winning, my family was royalty. If we were losing, my family had the “For Sale” sign ready to plant in the yard. That’s how it felt to me when I was 7 or 8 years old listening to “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a hot, tiny gymnasium before every one of my dad’s games.
Sports taught me something about the power of the live event, about winning and losing, about practice and discipline and teamwork. Every one of my dad’s games was a story with characters and high stakes and dreamy dreams, an intermission called halftime, a clap on the back, and a locker room after the game where the sounds were either the mischievous snapping of towels or the shedding of tears. I was there somewhere — writing it all down without knowing I was writing it all down.