Bobby Curlings, the New Bern High football coach, sat in Vaughn Towers overlooking N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium on Monday and took a few minutes to talk about high school athletics; high school football in particular.
He was attending the press conference for the N.C. High School Athletic Association state football championships and was there to talk about this year’s Bears team, which will play Porter Ridge on Friday night in Chapel Hill for the 4A championship.
But he also talked about all the good things high school sports do for young people.
Curlings gave a memorable talk to his team in 2007 after his Bears defeated Charlotte Independence 28-17 and ended Independence’s seven-year hold on the state’s biggest school championship.
The team was excited, of course, and already celebrating with whoops and hollers, back-slapping, hugs and water cooler dumping.
But Curlings quieted the group.
We know what Curlings said immediately following one of the biggest events in his young players’ lives because author Stuart Albright captured it all for a book he was writing about high school football in North Carolina.
Albright, then and now a Durham Jordan assistant football coach, wrote “Sidelines,” which should be read by every high school coach in the state and by anyone who loves high school football in North Carolina.
“As Bobby Curlings raised his hands, the players around him grew silent,” Albright wrote. “Clouds of steam floated above their sweat-drenched heads. Coach Curlings was an imposing figure, but he spoke with a quiet, measured drawl. He didn’t intimidate his players with rhetoric.”
The group strained to hear what their coach would say.
Educators, especially coaches, like to seize teachable moments, those times when the students are eager to listen, to learn. Curlings knew this was one.
“Don’t let this be the defining moment of your life,” Curlings said. “Use this as a springboard to bigger and better things. Going to school and getting married and being a good father.”
He paused, letting his words sink in, and continued, “All the things that come later in life are much more memorable than this game.”
On Monday, he recalled that talk in a moment between interviews and game logistic sessions.
He often sees the way high school athletics impacts students’ lives. He loves it when his team plays during Thanksgiving week because so many former players are in town; many drop by the school.
“One of the best parts of high school coaching is seeing the kids years later,” Curlings said. “One guy will come in and talk about his family and his career. Another comes in and still wants to talk about this game or that game.
“You want them all to continue down the path that we try to get them on when they are in high school, but all of them don’t make it. We want to help with life, not just win a football game.”
“You wish you could get all of them to get it,” he said. “Some do and some don’t.”