Late one spring, after five football seasons, the phone rang in the kitchen of our Midwest City home and a jovial voice roughened by years of hollering for more hustle asked if he could speak to Joey, my husband.
We had just finished a fantastical run winning twenty-eight straight games and back to back state championships at the highest level of Oklahoma high school football at Midwest City High School, his alma-mater. My mentors and leaders had encouraged me to attend grad school, groomed me to teach AP English, allowed me to work with the Varsity Cheer squad and lead the Bomber Spirit Council.
More importantly, my daughter and I had been adopted and embraced by the Bomber family. We had a cadre of babysitters, surrogate grandparents who loved and spoiled our baby girl shamelessly, and we lived near important family members.
Though my husband, like many young coaches, churned through the years coaching not just football, but basketball and baseball as well, we found ways to make ball games dates and reveled in the opportunities we were given.
I handed the phone off and turned to the two-year-old red-headed cherub who toddled into the kitchen after her father. Initially ignoring the pleasantries of Joey’s conversation, I soon began listening intently. And then, I heard it.
“Would love to, Coach! Thanks for the opportunity. I’ll see you next week.”
With my daughter fresh out of the tub, resting on my hip and reaching for her favorite parent, I stepped back into the living room. My husband, never lacking for confidence, hardly ever in need of reassurance, looked directly at me with his brown eyes and his broad shoulders and said, “I’m gonna be the OC at Sallisaw High School. That was Coach Lancaster. I’m going to interview with the principal next week.”
There was no, “Hey Coach, thanks for the offer. Let me talk with my wife and I will call you tomorrow.”
No – “Babe, let’s go check out Sallisaw High School and see if we want to chase this football dream there.”
I’d often heard him say, “That’s the army she joined,” when he referred to a coach’s wife who was struggling with the amount of time our men spend away from us.
My desire to support him quenched my hurt feelings and enabled me to swallow a portion of my pride.
We attended the interview together and within weeks, we finalized the details, resigning from a great district and putting our feet forward. Perhaps his bravado told him I would come, or maybe he just knew I was the same true-blue, small town girl he met at Tumbleweeds in Stillwater whose commitment to marriage never wavered. Nonetheless, we put our first home on the market, found a two-bedroom condominium in Sallisaw, packed our rent-to-own furniture in a moving van and headed east.
When the last box was loaded and the moving van pulled away, I asked Witch to pray with me. I thanked God for our house, for the baby we created, the MWC family we were leaving, and asked that he guide us and secure us because sisters, I was scared. I was leaving every single soul I knew, a support system who loved, loved, loved us, family who I depended upon, and a job I loved.
I knew no one in Sallisaw.
I didn’t have a job, and I wasn’t going to be part of the package (remember, I said I only swallowed part of my pride).
Heading east on I-40, somewhere between Shawnee and Checotah, the man to whom I had given my heart and my word—“where you go, I will go”— reached across the front seat of our blue 1991 Pontiac Sunbird, placed his hand on my thigh, and uttered these words, “Thanks, Babe. People get divorced over stuff like this. I should have talked to you first. I love you.”
While I had already submitted to our plans, I felt more deeply secure with the boy who chided me for running alone in the dark in my small town, with the man who never asked, but rather told me I was going to be his wife, and I knew, I was a coach’s wife.
We spent four wonderful, valuable, growing years in Sallisaw. Coach Lancaster and his wife, Sharon, became a second family as our kids joined their grandkids calling them Mammoo and Poppy. We welcomed an 11-pound son and four hundred or more adopted boys. Instead of finding the end of the earth, I found the salt of the earth. I didn’t leave family; we increased our family.
Here’s what we learned:
We need each other.
Not just as husbands and wives—but as men and women. My husband and I became friends in Sallisaw, deep, abiding friends who love football and baseball and hate losing. We gave each other grace and mercy, and we learned to invest in the two kids that fell in love—going on dates as many Wednesday nights as we could afford and some that we couldn’t.
Invest in Relationships
I learned to invest in new relationships and trust my children to new souls, accepting the love they offered just as I had at Witch’s alma mater. With Sharon’s help, we recovered our rented couch and love seat, and with the help of coaches who were also handymen, I learned the resourcefulness of DIY home improvement.
We Need Community
This fraternity of men, who never really grow-up, chasing victory and the grip of the gridiron, create a family and connect us to students and spouses and children from community to community. It’s the biggest small world I have ever experienced, whose connections never cease to amaze me, and one that has held our family through great joy and senseless tragedy.