Thank You, T Ware

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At 9 AM on Christmas Eve, under a heavy snowfall, dozens of former and current Mayfield High School girls basketball team members gathered at my high school gym for head coach Tony Ware’s final alumni game.

It was fun. It was emotional. It was a fitting tribute to a great coach.

After 28 years coaching the girls varsity team, as well as the junior varsity football team, where I played for him, Ware is retiring at the end of this season. You can read some terrific articles about Ware’s careerĀ here, here and here. In addition to playing football for T-Ware, I also was the public address announcer for the girls team home games. My cousin Kristina played for Mayfield, so I often traveled to watch the team play as well. My brother Tom went on to announce the games, and my dad keeps score for the team. In other words, I have watched a lot of T-Ware basketball.

This is me. I probably had my hand over my face because I was supposed to be impartial, which was not always easy, especially against Eastlake North (let us never speak of them again).

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T-Ware coached the way you’re supposed to. He asked a lot from his players but never more than they could give. He asked them to play to their potential. Not every coach does this. I had coaches who were checked out, guys who were no longer coaching for the challenge or the thrill. T-Ware gave a damn. He was demanding without being overbearing or condescending, which is a sign of true leadership (one of the many life lessons he imparted from the sidelines). If he got angry–and he did get angry–he was sure to throw a player a look that also said–“I’m upset because you can do better. You have something better than this within you.”

His attitude towards sports seemed to be, “What you’re learning right now is important, because it’s important to learn to become part of a team, and if you do things the right way, you will be rewarded beyond the win-loss column.”

This is in contrast to the coaches who make winning and losing bigger than it should be, an emphasis that places a burden on young people and substitutes stress where joy and learning should go.

One year on the JV football team we played Euclid in 6-12 inches of snow on a Saturday morning in which the skies were so dark they had to turn on the stadium lights. It was a low-scoring game. The call was an iso play, which meant, as an offensive guard, I had to block the linebacker one-on-one. It’s one of the few plays from high school I remember. I drove out the linebacker and our running back came right off my tail, and there was nothing in front of him except more snow and the end zone. He scored on something like a 40-yard touchdown run, and I think it was the only touchdown of the game. When I came off the field, T-Ware found me and gave me a look like, “Hey, you just made that touchdown happen.”

Everyone who played for Ware probably had that feeling at one time or another, that moment when preparation meets execution and is rewarded with gratitude. All the things that make sports great.

Now it’s our turn to show gratitude. Thank you, T-Ware, for all of the memories, for being a good coach and a good man and for doing things the right way. I’m a better person for having played for you, and I know I’m not the only one.

Joe Donatelli is a journalist in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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