I have delivered many motivational talks over the decades, and one of my favorites is a specific one I share with teachers and staff. It usually comes in August when Superintendents reach out and have me speak to all of them as they gear up for another academic year.
One of the stories is about a teacher and coach at Lafayette High School who changed my life in a positive way in August of 1978. It was the second day of my 11th grade year in Commodores country and what he said to me in the cafeteria set the stage for so many positive things in the future.
To set the stage, let me share some background. I was born in Oxford in the summer of 1962 and grew up there until my parents divorced after my 1st grade year at Lafayette Elementary. My mom took me as she grew from a Lafayette County public school teacher to a college professor. We moved to Austin, Texas where she taught and the University of Texas and then to Durham, North Carolina where she taught at Duke. As time went on I wanted to spend some of my youth with my dad beyond summer visits, so we worked it where I moved to Lafayette County in the summer before my sophomore year, 1977. I was very shy in my 10th grade year at Lafayette because most of my friends went to Oxford High. I knew them through going to North Oxford Baptist Church.
I wasn’t involved at all at LHS in my 10th grade year. I did not go out for any sports even though I was 6’5″ and a pretty good basketball player. I played Saturday mornings for the church basketball team, coached by Dwight Sparks. We called him Slick back then because he fought balding with a combover that required slick stuff to maintain it!
I can remember going to Lafayette basketball games and sitting in the stands watching 6’7″ Cecil Turner gracefully run the floor with all the other athletic and very good Commodore players and telling myself that their place was out there and mine was at Saturday morning church ball.
In a point I make to teachers about how a sincere statement from them can change a students life, I distinctly remember the second day of my 11th grade year. I was walking out of the cafeteria when Malcolm Wesson stopped me. He was the new basketball coach. Apparently, he had watched me the first day and could tell by my movements that I was at least a half decent player. He stopped me, introduced himself, and said, “You look like you can play ball. You should come out to preseason informal workouts.”
Bam! That short yet sincere statement changed everything.
Nervous as all get out, I did come down the next day and found myself on the court against Cecil Turner. At some point, I scored on him and held my own throughout the pick up games. I stayed with it and over the next two seasons developed as a player and started as a senior on a LHS team that won 27 games. I am No. 20 in the picture, so skinny back then I had to run around in the shower to get wet!
The positive experiences I had on the hardwood all came because coach Wesson stopped me and gave me the opportunity. Because I went out for basketball that led some players to tell me about other things in the school and I got involved in all sorts of things, from Future Business Leaders of America to Student Government to Spirit Club. I went from being about as involved at LHS as a bump on a pickle my 10th grade year to two wonderful years as an 11th and 12th grader.
When I tell that story and how English teacher Judy Robbins had me make announcements in class, which helped me overcome my shyness about public speaking, teachers can tell that I mean business about my point that they truly can change paths. Yes, they have all sorts of headaches to deal with today. I tell them I can definitely relate because I was in medium market TV News forever and it’s one challenge after another. But at the end of the day, they have the ability to empower young people in ways that are staggering. They can change lives on a dime by a sincere statement of belief like coach Wesson sent my way in the cafeteria back on a hot summer day in 1978.
Charlie Adams was born in Oxford in 1962. He was a 1980 graduate of Lafayette High School and a 1985 graduate of Ole Miss. Following a television news career, Charlie has focused on delivering inspirational keynotes, seminars and writings. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.