Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Remembering Herb

Coach Herbie Adams (click to enlarge)

Herb Adams, a reflection

It’s 1969. I’m 16 years old and sitting in Coach Adams’ car with a swarm of fellow ski racers. At 5’3” and 105 pounds, I’m relegated to the middle seat up front. My feet balance on that hump on the car floor. Coach drives and a senior skier sits to my right in the coveted passenger seat, legs extended and spread wide.  

We’re driving to a high school practice at Oakdale Country Club to play a game of tee-to-green soccer. An all-out running game, golf course soccer remains my favorite preseason practice, and so much more fun than running the grisly 9-mile Black Mountain loop—from the high school, up to Black Mountain, and back down toward Spruce Street. From there, we’d weave through any number of side streets back to the high school. 

We’re on Route 2 east heading through Mexico. My arms are wrapped around my knees, my feet balance on either side of the hump. Coach Adams glances down at me over the top of his glasses and says, “You don’t say much, do you?” 

It’s my first year on the high school team. I look toward the dashboard, face burning red, and say, “I don’t really have anything to say right now, I guess.” 

Coach nods, thinks for a bit. “I suppose that can be a good thing.” 

On that frosty November day, Coach Adams divided our ski team into 2 sides of about 12 players each. On the 9, tee-to-green playing fields at Oakdale CC, with hoarfrost crystalizing in the fairway shadows, we ran, kicked the ball, and laughed until darkness settled in. The rules were simple: To score, one team tried to land the ball on the tee box while the other went for the putting green. We drove the ball one way and then the other—more like a ping pong match than a game of soccer. 

Except for no hands, most of us mill-town kids did not know the rules of soccer, so we made up our own. Coach Adams let the game invent itself like we do with backyard wiffle ball or kick the can. But he set limits: If one boy dragged another to the ground like in tackle football, the whistle sounded and coach called out, “That’s Pete’s ball,” and on we’d play. No whining, no discussion.  

I loved those practices. I liked my teammates’ banter and the burn that grew in my legs and lungs as we ran nonstop through the late fall evening toward the final whistle. I respected Coach Adams’ easy way with us and still hear his voice up at the golf course as he sent us home: “That’s all for tonight, boys. Go do some homework.” And after supper, most of us did just that. 

Ten years later, I became the high school ski coach. Thanks to Herb, I loved preseason ski practices and invented a variety of games. Instead of Oakdale soccer, I took the team down to the Hosmer complex where we’d play soccer or capture the flag from one end of the complex to the other. Our playing field measured about 300 x 175 yards. 

Instead of running the lonely Black Mountain loop, I’d take the team on long runs through the woods out behind the high school and up onto the power lines. Often, we finished up in the sand pit near Gilbert Avenue for calf-burning sessions running the walls of sand. I still hear the kids’ laughter as we tromped through the thick woods above Scotties and raced through the sand pit. I attribute that laughter to Herb. He taught me the fun in practice.  

At cross-country ski races when Derek and Erin were on the team, Herb would come up to me after I’d selected the wax and ask, “What can I do for you, coach?” That precious offer was a godsend. He waxed kids’ skis and inspired our athletes with his upbeat, staccato talk. Herb gave those skiers his best, and they cherished his enthusiasm and encouragement.  

The night before important races, we’d prep skis at my home. Music blared in the basement, irons hummed at just the right temperature, and wax scrapers held in steady hands glided over the base of skis. On those nights, Herbie finetuned skis and supported his former ski team, his children, and me, the quiet kid in the middle seat. 

If you’re a cross-country ski coach, you know the tricky business of waxing, the application of klister or the layering of hard waxes. You understand how conditions can change in a matter of minutes when the wind comes up and temperatures plummet. As ski coaches mature, we also grow to recognize the importance of our former coaches and the gifts of knowledge they shared with us.  

I’ll always remember my coach. Here’s wishing every ski coach has a Herb Adams in their lives as a mentor and a friend. 

–Richard Kent 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Rich for that blast from the past and great memories. I could smell the mill.