Soccer was the thing to do in the suburbs in the 80s and 90s. It was a strange sport for me to play. I didn’t like to run, (which I’ve covered elsewhere on this blog) so I was the goalie. Unfortunately, I was also afraid of getting hit by the ball. Frankly, it’s amazing that I played all the way through my sophomore year of high school.
When I finally quit soccer, I did something really unexpected and super nerdy. I joined the horticulture team. Our coach Mr. Yordy wasn’t the kind of guy who looked like he’d be into plants and flowers. He was a football coach and coached us like elite athletes. At the end of each three-hour practice, we would have a mini competition where we were scored on a written exam, plant identification, and judging of plants. Our final scores were posted publically and our progress graphed next to that of our teammates for all two thousand students at our school to see. At the end of the regular season (see I told you this was like a sport) only the top eight team members would advance to complete for a spot on the State team.
My first year, I didn’t make the cut. It wasn’t my first bout with competitive failure, but it stung. The next season, with Mr. Yordy’s encouragement I spent every lunch period working on horticulture. I would go to the science offices and he would give me a horticulture related task. Could you imagine helping a student, who wasn’t even in one of your academic classes, for no extra pay, every single lunch period for four months? Mr. Yordy had the patience of a saint, he never once shirked from his promise to help.
The end of the next season came and I was at least in the top three. I made it to the finals and discovered that only five people got to complete at State. One person would be eliminated the week before we left and two people the night before the competition. I was infuriated! After all that work and I wasn’t guaranteed to even compete. I survived the first elimination and made the four-hour trip to the University of Illinois for the competition. In the end, after an epic midnight hour, one hundred plant identification competition, two more were eliminated and I was chosen to compete on the team.
Even though I completed, and our team won State the next day, I was still really conflicted about Mr. Yordy’s methods. Why did it all have to be so stressful and uncertain? It wasn’t until I was out of academia that I understood the lesson he was try to teach us. Simply put, it was that life can be stressful and even if you work hard there are no guarantees. Of course he taught me all sorts of other things like, how loving plants was awesome, how to steal tree cuttings from private property, and how to work hard. But I think I’m most grateful for him being the first teacher to teach me the facts of life. Mr. Yordy passed away today. He will be missed.