Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Game Changers

Brenham head football coach Glen West’s first name isn’t Glen. It’s Gordon.

If you know anything about Texas high school football, you might guess where “Gordon” comes from — especially when you learn that Glen’s daddy grew up in Stamford and played football there for Gordon Wood — the greatest Texas high school football coach ever.

Wood coached from 1951-57 at Stamford, which is located 41 miles north of Abilene in the middle of not much and generally dry. The town was built by Swedish immigrants in 1900 along the Texas Central Railroad, so when folks there talk about “the wrong side of the tracks,” they mean it literally.

Glen West’s daddy — his name is Kenneth — grew up on the wrong side of those tracks. He was a bad student in a bad situation but he wasn’t a bad kid. He was mostly lost. His mother was often sick and hospitalized. His dad had trouble finding work, and when he did, it forced him to hit the road, so Kenneth and his two brothers were often left to fend for themselves.

One day around 1950, Gordon Wood pulled Kenneth aside and said, “Son, straighten up or you’ll end up in a place that’s a lot worse than Stamford.”
Of course, he coaxed him to play football, but he knew football alone wouldn’t change what Kenneth needed: a steady, consistent, reassuring voice. Someone to break the chain and stand in the gap. Basically, a parent. So Wood stepped in, made sure the boys were fed, clothed, doing their schoolwork and sleeping indoors.

As for football, Kenneth played tackle and played well enough to earn a scholarship to play for the “Traveling Cowboys” of Hardin-Simmons, coached by Slingin’ Sammy Baugh. By the time Kenneth had graduated and served a brief stint in the Army, Wood was coaching in Victoria, and Kenneth joined him there, launched his coaching career, met his future wife and started a family.

In 1960, Wood moved to Brownwood, and Kenneth followed him two years later, toting with him an 18-month-old son, Glen, who grew up celebrating Brownwood state football victories — especially the 1978 title in which he started at linebacker.

“To say that Gordon Wood has had an influence on me is a huge understatement,” Glen said. “He has had an influence on my whole family.”

He can’t imagine where any of them would be without him. He probably wouldn’t be a coach, and even if he were, he probably wouldn’t be the coach he is — the man he has become.

Here’s why: For years, Glen was nagged by the thought that he needed to be doing more for the athletes and students at Brenham High, something beyond the X’s and O’s and coaching poster platitudes. Then, on his way home from a leadership conference, he figured it out: To make a real difference in the lives of some young people, he had to be less like a coach and teacher, and more like a father. From that epiphany sprung the “Brenham Game Changers,” a group of local educators, business people, clergy and civic leaders who have committed themselves to do whatever is necessary to make a difference.

He says it’s not about quick and easy solutions or instant gratification. 

“You’re not always going to get the Cinderella ending,” he said. “The slipper doesn’t always fit, but you just have to keep trying.”

Because that’s what Gordon Wood would have done.

So now, let’s end with an anecdote.

After coaching, Kenneth West became a Brownwood High principal. One day, Gordon Wood pulled Gordon Glen West aside and said, “Who would have ever thought your daddy would end up being a high school principal?”

Wood paused, then added with pride, “Isn’t it great,” as if he was talking about his own son, which, in some ways, he was.