Thursday, November 12, 2009

Only the good die young...and old

This has been a rather sad day.

Perhaps at the age of 46, I should be immune to the emotions of people dying.

But I’m not. One of the first things I found out today was one of my old football coaches, Bob Riley, had passed away.

Then a little later, I got a text telling me Ben Dittrich had died in Canada.

Not a good way to start the day. Riley was one-of-a-kind. Think of old-time football coaches and that is what he was.

He knew one way to coach and to be as a person. You always knew where you stood with him. Two faced, not a chance?

Not only did you know what he was thinking, Riley never had trouble letting you know.

He would stand there with his hands on his hips, a little tobacco on his lips and chin, and tell you, usually a little louder than was necessary to hear his message.

Yes, he was a coach, but also a defensive coach. Tough as nails. I can just imagine his thoughts about the modern offense with all the passing. Our old 4-4 defense might have had some problems with it, but I also think opposing quarterbacks might have had a proble or two as he loved to take it to the offense.

The heck with the standing around and reading the offenses. Not with him. He wanted his defenses to get after it. Red-dog! I can’t remember how many times I heard that call.

That meant pretty much everybody was coming. It was primarily to stop the run, but was also known to harass a quarterback at times.

He didn’t like easy practices, that’s for sure. He made sure we were in shape and unless it was a game day or the day before a game, we ran. Two-hour practices? In our dreams.

Coach Riley wouldn’t make it in today’s world. No contact in practice? Uh, not hardly. We hit, hit some more and continued hitting until there wasn’t much hitting left in us.

When a player did not perform as he expected, that player would sometimes get a kick on the rear. Fortunately, I never received that practice. I am sure his old paddle with the holes strategically drilled in it met my back end a time or two, but I know I deserved it.

And he didn’t do it to be mean or to hurt somebody. He could chew you up one side and down the other. But then he would say something that would make you want to run through a wall for him.

We were blessed with good coaches, Coach Riley, as well. I have not seen him for years, but every time I talked with him after graduating school, he was always ready with a smile and a story remembering the days when he coached the old purple and gold.

Good-bye Coach Riley, you will be missed.

I did not know Ben Dittrich all that well. He was in Heavener for one year, a transfer student from Austria. But I remember well the first time I saw him, thinking that he looked like a good athlete.

He was, indeed. Playing on a team that was not very good that one season, Dittrich was worth the price of admission by himself. He was one of, if not the best athlete I have ever seen play for Heavener.

Dittrich was tall, but could fly. When he took off, he had the grace of an animal with his smooth stride. After his one year in Heavener, he was offered a scholarship to Arkansas Tech but chose to play football in Canada.

I never spoke a word to him, other than maybe telling him “good play”. But he fit in with his teammates, school and the community. And you could tell he was a good guy.

Like his college coach said in an article before Dittrich came to his college, they were losing. With Dittrich, they started winning.

Heavener did not win that one season, but Dittrich did his best. On the field and in life. Good-bye Ben Dittrich, you will also be missed.

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog, Craig. This a proper way to say good-by to people you knew, or in the case of Ben, did not know.