Tuesday, August 28, 2012

RIP Coach

In my July 20, 2012, post “Thoughts Prompted by a Tribute,” near the end I wrote:
Finally, Tanner’s gracious tribute reminds me of what I want my children to experience in school, why I willingly write those massive tuition checks each year. Yes, I want them well educated in the traditional sense. But more than anything, I want them spending their days being influenced by as many great teachers as possible. (And truly great ones are rare.) No matter what my children end up doing as adults, whatever they take from those relationships is what will serve them best.
Yesterday, some devastating news and people’s response to it reinforced this idea.
            Brian Rhoades, a long-time coach at my first school (Episcopal School of Acadiana in Cade, LA), died in his sleep yesterday morning at age 53. When I heard, I went numb during the phone call. After hanging up, I burst into tears. More on that later in the post. First I want to talk about Brian and how he fits that excerpt cited above.
            A college basketball star who led the nation in rebounding one year, Brian stood 6’10”. You can imagine how intimidating and/or uncomfortable that could be to young people. But Brian was one of the warmest, kindest people, with an incredible smile and sparkling eyes. Usually he was singing, and if anyone looked at him strangely for that, he just smiled and sang a bit louder until you smiled back and maybe even joined in. Hugs, pats on the back, tousling of the hair—despite his size, his gentle touch made people feel his concern and love. His silly sense of humor also put people at ease. I recall one time the cross-country team was running in the state meet the first time. It was in Derry, LA. Naturally, everyone was very nervous and tense…until Brian told them “how great it is to run while you’re smelling fresh Derry air.”
            Reading the comments on the site where people can share their thoughts about Brian, I am struck by what people share. It’s all about very personal experiences at various events. Campouts. Christmas chapels. Cross-country meets. Class trips. Special projects. At each Brian connected with each student in a personal way. One tells of him staying with her when she was sick. Another talks of Brian working through middle school drama and angst with him, including family trouble. One boy recalls how Brian had a group building a bridge, apparently for no purpose, only for it to end up being part of a performance. Another talks about not knowing who was more nervous in 7th grade sex ed, the students or Brian. The common themes are role model and life lessons. And teaching with a genuine, massive, loudly beating heart.
            That’s part of why I’ve had such a strong reaction to Brian’s death. When I arrived in LA just out of college, even though he was just two years older than I, I could tell there was so much for me to learn from Brian. Not so much about teaching, but about life. He exuded a wisdom and perspective I couldn’t really fathom; and I learned that, beneath the laid-back persona, there was a really deep thinker who cared immensely. He welcomed me, embraced me, encouraged me, taught me, let me know when I messed up. Most of all, I appreciated how he took the right things seriously, but he also made sure that he—and those around him—enjoyed life. He was one of those teachers I hoped that I could become.
            I’m sure some of my response has to do with his being a contemporary, one of my first true colleagues. Maybe some of it is guilt.
            I hadn’t seen or talked with Brian for around 13 or 14 years, until this past March, when my family stopped by ESA on our way to New Orleans. As we had driven through Derry, I’d shared the joke about the air. And then we got to spend a really nice time with Brian at the school. He was his usual gracious self, and it was as if we’d just been talking the week before. Plus I saw he still had that same connection with kids. More than anything, I was simply glad Brian was still there. ESA always was an incredibly humane culture, one which he embodied and sustained as others moved on.
            Which brings me back to the excerpt above. I don’t know that people first chose to send kids to ESA because of Brian Rhoades. But I know he ended up being why so many are glad they did. And what he gave them will live on. As one person wrote, recently she was talking to her own child and thinking, “Now what would Coach Rhoades say?” He might just smile and sing. As my tears dry, I plan to do the same.


Elizabeth Smith said...

I think these two sentences sum up your entire post, "I don’t know that people first chose to send kids to ESA because of Brian Rhoades. But I know he ended up being why so many are glad they did."

Thank you for sharing your thoughtful words, Mr. Crotty. He will be missed but never forgotten.

Elizabeth Hartiens Smith

Margaret Simon said...

Thanks for the beautiful tribute to Brian. We never seem to know what we've got until it's gone. What a loyal gracious friend we had in Brian. My children were some of the many who were blessed by his presence, his gentleness, and his humor. He will leave an obvious open hole at ESA.

Doug Granger said...

I am with Elizabeth. That quote is a perfect tribute to Coach.

Jennifer Smith Russo said...

I remember that cross country trip. There's a place I drive by now and then that reminds me of the spot where Coach Rhoades made that joke. I think about him and that joke EVERY time I pass there (incidentally, he had me hook, line, and sinker: taking in the ambiance...taking deep breaths to experience the moment...then the punch line). I've only seen him a handful of times in the past 15 years, but he was always welcoming and looking for a way to reconnect me with the community.

Mary Ayres Griggs said...

Thanks, Mr. Crotty. Your impressions of Coach Rhodes' legacy are exactly how I feel as a former student. Every week I'm affected by something that I learned from you, Dr. Tate, Dr. White, Mr. Tut, Coach Brenda or Rhodes. The impact was so different, but equally as strong and lasting from each teacher. I cannot imagine ESA without Coach Rhodes. He used to take his children to trick or treat down our long dark driveway each Halloween. It made my mom so happy to have someone actually drive down our driveway! I'm not sure he did that for his kids or for my mom and dad's excitement! I'm sure he was a great grandfather. Perhaps his legacy lives on not only in his students but in his genes. And, please don't correct any sentence structure or word usage. I'm typing on my phone, and I can barely read what I'm writing.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Crotty, Thank you for sharing from your heart. Please know you're not alone in your tears.
Jennifer Johnson
J.J. from Franklin

Jennifer said...

So happy to read your blog post. I last saw Coach Rhoades at our reunion some years ago. Wouldn't you know, Coach made an impression on my own child who was impressed by his height, and his kindness. He took the time to get to know a ten yr old who probably looked bored while his mom walked down memory lane. My son remembered him today. Wow. He truly left every person and place better than he found it.

Todd Delcambre said...

ESA was never about the location. It is a sugar cane field in between Lafayette and New Iberia. The population of Cade, LA doubles every morning and halves every night. It was always about the teachers. Coach Rhoades, Madame Garboushian, Ms. Dobkins, Mr. Olverson, Dr. White, Mr. Tutwiler and, yes, you, Mr. Crotty, taught us more about what the journey we had in front of us than any of the lessons and tests we had to pass. Prep school for once meant more than learning what we needed to know to succeed in college. It also prepared us for the challenges we faced outside the classroom. I remember very little of the books that I read back then (enjoyed Watership Down, couldn't summarize it for you if I tried). I do not remember a specific PE class Coach Rhoades taught. I do remember many of the conversations we had over 24 years ago --- conversations that stay with me and continually educate me to this day. May Coach Rhoades rest in peace with the knowledge that his lessons were always destined to outlive him --- and us.

Mark Crotty said...


So nice to hear from you. I hope your life has turned out well.

Mark Crotty said...

Doug Granger, my oh my! Last I recall, you were heading off to Antarctica for something. I got your email, and I will reply soon. We have to catch up.

Mark Crotty said...

Jennifer Smith, now Russo--how fantastic to see your name on here!I have such wonderful memories of your joyful smile. I hope life has turned out splendidly!

Mark Crotty said...

Mary-Ayres, how great to see your name on here. I so much appreciate your kind, thoughtful comment. I hope life has turned out well for you and your wonderful family. I was reminded of you all a couple of years ago when I met another school head who is great friends with Laura from college. Please give everyone in your family my best.

Mark Crotty said...

J.J. from Franklin, what a wonderful surprise to see your name on here. It makes me smile as I imagine you to still be a kind, gentle soul.

Mark Crotty said...

Todd, great to hear from you--and your comment is exactly how I remember you: insightful, to the point, and right on target. I hope life has been great!

Siao Eung Ly said...

Mr. Crotty, You are always so graceful with your words. Coach Rhodes was really awesome. The thing I remembered most about him was his practicality and approach to things. Throughout ESA, I always like the PE class, especially when one or two week we would spend on outdoor lessons, cooking eyes on a tin can or else making drinkable water by condensing cow dung taken from Mr. Hebert's farm. It was great! It was down to earth no nonesense. That's what I remember about Coach.

Siao (Class of '90) aka Wang

Edward Barousse said...

Mr. Crotty-

I left a comment earlier this week via my iPhone when I was on the run from Hurricane Isaac but unfortunately it didn't post. This is Edward Barousse, ESA class of 1991. Yes, I know- I was one of your more incorrigible students at ESA. Your post was wonderful and moving. You certainly captured Brian's essence very well- more than a coach, he was the quintessential ambassador for the ESA spirit. As I become older, I appreciate more and more what a very special place ESA was and is. All five Barousse children went to ESA and learned a lot from Brian.

I would also like to thank you personally. You, Cabell Tutwiler, and later Jim Wilson at ESA were the reasons that I was an English major in college. I still have a few books from your classes on my bookshelf that were spared from Katrina. Thanks again for going through a range of emotions and remembrances to compose this wonderful piece.

Hilary Landry said...

I can still picture his giant legs sticking out on the sides of the steering wheel as he drove us to cross country meets or outing club expeditions in that white van. Smiling and whistling the entire time. Somehow he managed to make it ok to be chosen last for every dodgeball or kickball team in P.E. I have to agree with Mary-Ayres. There were no greater mentors in my adolescence than Mr. Tut, Dr. Tate and Anne, Dr. White, Coach Leblanc and Coach Rhoades. I cannot imagine ESA without him. Thanks for your tribute.
Hilary Hurst Landry

Mark Crotty said...

Saio, aka Wang, aka The Great Wall--
So great to see your name on here. Thank you for posting. I hope that life has treated you well and that your family is well.

I actually was talking about you the other day, when my son was asking me questions about my teams back in Louisiana. What a wonderful ride that was!

Mark Crotty said...

Hey, Edward (but isn't it really Homer? :))

Thank you for your comment and kind words. Thank you for re-posting. I'd gotten an email sayig you had put up the first comment but then never saw it.

So cool that you became an English major! What do you do now?

I hope that life has treated you well when you weren't fleeing hurricanes. Best to you and your family.

Mark Crotty said...

Hi, Hilary--

So nice to see your name and have you commenting on here. Reading the list of names in your comment reminds me how amazing it was that so many great teachers somehow ended up in Cade, LA.

I hope life has treated you very well.