Guest post by Mr. O:
My track coach was the greatest! John Barnes, Mr. Barnes or good ol’ “Barney” as the older kids on the team who had earned his respect called him. He was a strict no-nonsense, disciplinarian in the old-school coach mold who didn’t put up with slackers, but who could still have fun and be understanding. He spoke in commands during practice. Sprint… SPRINT! Half-speed, jog… SPRINT! You get the picture.
One of my best friends, Bobby Tinker, was a pole vaulter on our team and one of the best in our league. He even set the sophomore school pole vault record of 12’-6”. If you’re not familiar with pole vaulting there’s a wedge shaped box below ground level at the end of the runway that you plant the pole into. This is where the fiberglass pole, held onto by the vaulter running at full speed, makes a sudden stop, bends, and launches said insane human holding the pole skyward all in a split second! It’s by far the most exciting (and yes dangerous) event in track and field.
Bobby and I were in the same school class together, and he was one of my best friends. He was a quiet, reserved type who didn’t draw attention to himself or talk much. When Coach Barnes barked out a command everyone could hear it and knew what was going on. All through our sophomore and junior years during track practice we would hear Barney yell out from a far “BOBBY, PENETRATE THE BOX!” I can’t recall just how many times we had heard Barney give this coaching command, but it was at least several times a week.
Then one day, during an ordinary practice in the middle of our senior year, after Barney had shouted “Penetrate the Box!” several times he walked over to the pole vault pit cocked his head a little and kindly asked Bobby in a quizzical way, “Do you know what I mean when I say “penetrate the box?”
Bobby thought for a brief moment and then replied, “No”.
It was a classic Bobby and Barney moment. At the time it occurred, time briefly stood still. Everybody knew coach had been telling Bobby to penetrate the box for years. It was one of those uneasy, and yet at the same time, hysterical moments. What would coach Barnes do! What would Bobby say? You see Bobby was quiet and independent, he wasn’t the kind of kid to ask for help. Barney wasn’t the type of coach to just offer advice if you didn’t ask for specific help, so Bobby got the basic commands from the middle of the field. Personally, if I were the coach I think I would have been livid! But not Barney. He shook his head in unbelief and laughed at the peculiar irony of the situation, then explained what the heck it meant – until then I don’t think anybody on the team really knew.
There’s a good life lesson here - if you need help you need to be able to ask. We should all seek to understand first and then seek to be understood. In order to truly communicate we should ask questions to confirm each others’ understanding. After this long overdue connection Coach Barnes worked closer with Bobby and asked him direct questions. Strangely enough (or not), Bobby improved.
Coached track and cross country at Glendale High School for over 30 years. He was part of a World Record setting Distance Medley Relay squad with a time of 9:57.7 at Occidental College, was the NCAA 880 yard champion, and made the 1952 Olympic team. I remember going with him on 12 mile runs from Glendale through the mountains to the Pasadena Rose Bowl and back with the distance runners. Did I mention he was pushing 60 at the time? He coached world-class high jumpers Dwight Stones and Lee Balkin. Speaking of Coach Barnes Dwight Stones said: “He set tough but fair rules – was wise and sympathetic. He was a combination teacher and father.”
Robert “Bobby” Tinker
A great friend of mine who unfortunately I have lost contact with over the years; he cleared 14’-6” in the pole vault our senior year (If my memory serves me right) and went on to compete for Glendale Community College in track and field.
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