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A Tribute to a Coach, Mentor and Philanthropist I Never Met

Bernie Ward lived in the same town but never crossed my path.

This attempt at poetry is dedicated to Bernie Ward. “Scotty” passed away last week. He was a soccer coach, mentor, and philanthropist. He was co-organizer of the Farmington Bank Labor Day Shootout. He was a father, a husband, and a friend to many. We lived in the same town for over 15 years. We never met each other.

Later in the week I sat in a chair and watched the parade of sorrow as it struggled to move along without its coach. Many of the former players are grown now. They’d planned on sending their own children to the coach. The coach would’ve remembered all their names and the names of their siblings. And when they became parents, he’d remember them again.

“Some of these kids could bring a tear to a glass eye.”
-Bernie Ward

Two Men Who Never Met

A man died suddenly last week. I did not know him
personally. He’d seen 50 years and I am almost there. 
We were two men who had never met. Turns out we once 
celebrated at the same wedding. And if we shook hands, 
I’m sad I don’t remember his grip or celebrated humor.

His sport was round — mine was oblong with laces like the 
ties of his jersey. He was patches of black and white, while
I was brown and leathery. Of course, being Scottish as he 
was, his ball was football to him and mine was football to 
me. But children were children to us both because they are all acquiescent. Because a child is like that ball. Conforming to a field of slippery dirt or a length of bright turf because everything seems bouncy to a child. When it’s fun they are back for more of it. Or else they deflate with self-doubt and lose that hop that some will not relocate. Or find difficult to rebuild trust in themselves. Somehow two men were sprinkled into the same area.

And slept in beds a few miles apart from the other. Yet they never met. Perhaps it was a part of a big plan where we are like snowflakes falling on a huge tree. Clumped together with other snowflakes and staying on our own branch because tree branches are only so big.

In the middle of these unmetered lines I’m remembering the fence, 
when there was one along the lower field. It was while awaiting his 
round ball to end and for the oblongs to begin. (Yes) I can hear 
his voice directing the sway of his group. It had to be him. Shrek
rarely meets Braveheart on high school fields in these parts.

Sometimes one’s heart gets so used up by a life of helping others 
that it simply comes to a stop sooner than we had hoped. Sometimes
it slips like a car’s transmission. Usually while the mechanic is busy
with others. Sometimes it’s too full of activity. Like giving to the boy who 
would not have a place on the field, or gear to mesh with the rest.

Then filling his tummy. A man can ignore what’s inside of him until it hurts like a footprint. Like a thousand footprints and round balls of black and white dribbling on little feet like Pele — like Maradona — like Messi — like Best and Ronaldinho. Little feet carrying more names. And he knew each one as though they were on the backs of shirts running across the front of large screens.

And now that coach must take his vacation. Away from the children and the green and white stripes. Away from the children and the green grass and turf and the white snowflakes. Still clinging to their branches on trees outside my window. And outside the windows of too many sad faces. Two men never had the chance to meet. One of them will walk outside today and stand beneath the small tree in the middle of his front yard. He’ll shake it. Emptying the branches onto himself and letting the cold of each clump touch his skin and trickle like frozen streams.

Finally melting on his chest and bringing him closer to the man he never met. 

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