Hot Corner: Coaches go beyond the field
BY RICH PALZEWIC
SUAMICO – Bay Port head football coach Gary Westerman is half the man he used to be – literally.
If you haven’t seen the highly-successful coach in a while, there’s a lot less of him to see after he’s dropped 80 pounds in the last year. Westy, as many people affectionately call him, looks like a new man. He is running machine and lifts weights multiple times a week. He is practicing what he preaches to his players.
If you ask those that have had Westerman as a coach, you won’t find too many student-athletes that weren’t affected in a positive way by what he said and did on the field. I’ve witnessed it first-hand, constantly hearing him preach to his players that it’s more important to be a good human being and student as compared to being a talented football player.
Being 46 years old, I’ve played my fair share of team sports and had good and bad coaches over the years. I was never able to get by on pure talent alone. If you look at me, I wasn’t going to scare you physically. In my playing days at Stephenson High School (SHS) in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I was 5-foot-6 and weighed about 165 pounds. I’ll admit I’m a few pounds heavier now, but I haven’t grown a lick since 1988.
What I used to my advantage was my work ethic and determination. Being in a small school, I played both ways and on special teams. I was the team’s center, often times having to go against behemoth nose tackles across from me. I knew I couldn’t overpower the giants, so I would just push them where they wanted to go and let my running backs make the decision on where to run.
Defensively, I played middle linebacker. I used my diminutive size and quickness to lead the team in tackles my senior year.
In short, I was the type of player Westerman would have liked.
Even just a few years ago, I played baseball on a men’s team here in town. Baseball was probably my best sport when I was younger. I could get by a little bit more on my talent alone, but not when I was 40. I ended up not playing after I turned 44 because I was tired of being sore for three days after a game and not being able to get out of bed on Monday.
One of my friends on the team gave me the ultimate compliment when I was playing. He said that I was the heart and soul of the team, this was despite being the oldest “geezer” out there playing. He said that when others saw how much I hustled and did for the team, it made them want to do the same thing.
I responded to all types of coaches. It didn’t matter if a coach got in my face and screamed obscenities at me, I still did my best and didn’t let it affect me. I guess I was the Rudy of SHS.
Nowadays, I don’t see coaches yelling and screaming as much – at least from my viewing. Maybe there are reasons for it that I’m not going to get into, but generally speaking, I don’t think it’s necessary to yell and make a scene.
Athletes, use the talent you have to the best of your ability. You’ll thank me in the long run.
Coaches, be careful what you say to your players – they don’t forget easily. Be an example like Westerman and many of the coaches at the high schools around the area.