Coach’s cemetery exercise misses point

Occasionally, though not very often, the inspiration from this column comes from some other piece of information which slides across the Internet. Such is the case in today’s piece.

Upstate New York, where a junior varsity football coach and English teacher forced members of the team, after a losing game, to detour into the local cemetery and lie down on graves for several minutes while he laid out an object lesson about life’s opportunities and how those who once walked the earth now lay beneath them. The point was that the dead would love to have an opportunity to redo life. The second point was that the team still had a chance to resurrect its season.

I guess the third point might be that this teacher had spent a bit too much time with Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology or Thornton Wilders’ Our Town.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love object lessons, and I have coached teams that I would go to any lengths to awaken. I even appreciate the dramatic and poetic efforts of his ploy; there’s a bizarre sense of theater in it that I love. I guess I would not hesitate to see it working with college persons, or maybe even high school seniors.

I question such a tactic, though, with younger high schoolers. In light of the conflicting accounts which the Internet describes, it might even be worth asking whether the kids really even got the point. Of course I get it, and you probably do too, but it may have been over the head of the typical 15 year old.

Coming from a section of the country closer to that location than to where I now live, closer by quite a bit, I am aware of some of the odd customs associated with cemeteries. I have no doubt that the coach involved is, as well. I don’t mean anything horrible or grotesque; I mean customs like the somewhat macabre but harmless custom of taking “rubbings” with a pencil and paper from tombstone writings, or sending people out into graveyards in a religious context to meditate on the true purpose of life.

Certainly there’s a whole history of times and places where people have been fascinated or focused on death, usually in the context of pointing to one’s eternity. Certainly we, as Americans of many backgrounds and ethnicities, have an entire list of graveyard related traditions.

I suppose that is what rubs me the wrong way about this, other than the fact that some kids may have been intimidated by it, and that many of them probably did not get the point anyway. There are eternal lessons to be learned in realizing one’s own eventual demise, and in contemplating one’s mortality.

Most of them have far more import in life than a team’s won/lost record for the season.