July 19, 2018
Her name is Jan Gabill, and she was my high school basketball coach for two years in Clay City, Indiana. She was also the P.E. teacher and softball and track coach.
She really know how to connect with her students and players. She would be your biggest supporter and encourager, but if you screwed up, a glare from her ice blue eyes was all she needed to say, “What are you doing?”
I remember one time I was not playing basketball as well as I could have, and I got a little upset. So, she pulled me out and I was standing and wouldn’t sit down. She came and put her hands on my shoulders, pushed me down on the bench and said, “Sit there until you realize you can play ball again.” Her eyes told me she meant it.
I played for her for two years before I moved to Tennessee.
Years passed and life happened. In 2007, I had colon cancer, and in 2008, I had a rare form of pneumonia and got very sick. Those kind of times in your life make you do a little soul searching. At the time, I felt like there were people I needed to talk to that had been an influence in my life.
I had not seen Jan since 1973. By then, she was an athletic director for another school just north of where I had lived in Indiana. I found out through a mutual friend where she was and she got her phone number for me.
I called, and I remember I was sitting in my dining room when I reached her. I said, “Coach, this is kind of what’s been going on in my life. I’m coming up to speak for a ladies’ day at the church where I grew up and I would really like to sit down and chat with you.” She said, ‘Sure.”
After I got there, I just said, ‘Hey, coach.” She said, “Hey, Kirby,” because that’s what she always called me. We sat down in her office. When I left three hours later, it was like I had never been away from her. She asked about my husband, my kids, how everybody was doing and all of that. Of course, I asked her about the kids she coached and her teams.
She had clearly made an impression on me, because 35 years later, I just walked in and talked to her for three hours without taking a break. She was still the same person, leaning on the desk and chatting. Seeing her again highlighted some of the important things I learned from her – the importance of body language, being supportive but firm, when necessary.
Looking back, I think I reached out to her after all those years because I knew she would listen. I knew she would support me, but yet, if I needed the jerk in my tail that I needed at that point because I had kind of gotten angry and my faith was a little rocky, I knew she would shoot me straight.
Teachers are important, and they can make a lasting impact on our lives. I know this one did for me.