Coach’s Corner is a weekly feature at Outside the Huddle written by Kevin Merz, former Bishop Dwenger quarterback and North Side offensive coordinator.
Life has a funny way of putting football into its proper perspective.
As I sat in tears attending the funeral of my friend and longtime Snider wrestling coach Mike “Spike” Ester over the weekend, perspective weighed heavily on my mind.
Mike was a phenomenal wrestling coach, acquiring on the mat accolades almost unmatched in this part of the state. But his legacy as a coach was left Saturday by the 250 or so former wrestlers of his who filed into the church to pay their respects to their ultimate mentor.
Some of those wrestlers would be able to rattle off a match or perhaps two they participated in, but every single one of them was able to recall with precise detail a word of encouragement or life lesson that Mike had instilled in them at some point in their lives.
The sign that hung at a local restaurant honoring Mike over the weekend did not have his record as a coach on it, but rather “Intensity-Pride-Commitment,” three words that define Mike and frankly all coaches who put their kids they coach at the center of their lives.
I have been around this great game of high school football in some capacity or another only a short amount of time (roughly 16 years) but in that brief snapshot of time, coaches going above and beyond for their kids is not the exception to the rule, it is the rule.
I have watched Derrick Moore from Wayne give his last $7 in his pocket to a kid who really needed a meal to take home to his family after practice.
I have read about Roosevelt Norfleet from South Side providing a stable environment and place of love for the late James Hardy in his biggest time of need, without asking for a thing in return.
I have the voicemail from Chris Svarczkopf when I was going through my own tough times, encouraging me years after I was no longer helping him win (or lose) games at Bishop Dwenger, reminding me that “tough times don’t last but tough people do” and reminding me I am constantly in his prayers.
I have laughed as I see seven kids file out of Wayne’s James Easley’s vehicle coming to 7-on-7 event because none of them could find a weekend ride. So James just instinctively picked all of them up and dropped them back off safely after the event.
I remember Tim Martone of Northrop reaching for his checkbook when we were in need of meeting our goal in a fundraiser and being a few hundred dollars short, covering the remaining balance without batting an eye.
I remember former North Side coach Ryan Hall standing in line at a funeral home knowing no one in the room except the player he was there to console after his mother had unexpectedly passed away.
I remember Casey Kolkman, defensive coordinator at Bishop Dwenger, blowing off post-game dinner and drinks to go check on his backup quarterback who had broken his arm against Snider, sitting in the hospital with him to keep him company and just chat.
I witnessed Snider’s Russ Isaacs be every bit the stand-up guy he is perceived to be, come out to the parking lot in 2006 to personally hand over the SAC Victory Bell to our Bishop Dwenger team. He looked each captain in the eye and shook our hands individually congratulating us and telling us how proud he was of our group and that it was “well earned.”
I remember North Side assistant coach Erik Derrow hosting a weekly dinner for his defensive linemen, an out-of-pocket weekly expense that often times was the most filling meal of the week for his players.
There were weekly texts from Bart Curtis (Warsaw) checking in on our program after playing them, after providing our kids a meal and hospitality unmatched in any environment I’ve ever coached in.
I’ve seen the tears and outpouring of emotion in the Bishop Luers family after the death of longtime coach Mike Egts, story after story of how he changed not games, but changed lives at Bishop Luers in his time spent with that program.
There are countless others in this community who have done all these things and more for their kids without ever asking for repayment or a pat on the back from anyone!
But you see, a coach is a mentor first, a teacher second and an “X’s and O’s” guy last.
I can’t tell you what we did on 3rd and 6 against Harding in 2005, but I know for a fact I can recite nearly verbatim the life lessons that Coach Svarczkopf drilled into my head on a daily basis.
If you are reading this, then at some point in your life I can guarantee you a coach has one way or another personally impacted you, and molded the life you now live.
As fans we don’t have to agree on who the starting quarterback is, what play should have been run on the goal line, or why they blitzed on third down, but I want you to know that what you see on Friday night is such a small percentage of what these men do as coaches.
I encourage you today to text, or better yet pick up a phone and call whoever that person was for you. Please let them know the impact they had on you and still have on you today.
As those 250 or so former athletes of Mike Ester made the procession out of that church, tears in each and every eye, I know they all wish they could share one more time with “Spike,” what he did for them and what he meant to them as a mentor, a father figure and a man.
If nothing else today, please pick up that phone, thank a coach who has impacted your life and changed your way of living, give them that five or so minutes of assurance that you are a better man or woman because of who they were to you. It could be your phone call that changes their day, their month or their life.
Because sadly as Saturday taught me and so many others, you never know the time or place when that will no longer be a viable option. I encourage you not to wait!
Rest easy Mike Ester. Thank you that even in death, you provided those around you with inspiration, love and an outlook on life that is bigger than the sport you coached. You epitomized who a coach is and what a coach is there for, and you will be greatly missed.
Coach’s Corner appears every Monday during the prep football season at Outside the Huddle.