Picking up the trash – a word to all coaches

A weekly column by Mark DeLap "In The Wind"

On May 18, 2014, I lost a good friend, a good mentor and a good coach. Don Meyer, a 2009 ESPY winner for the Jimmy V award was a man among men and it touched my heart with great sadness as I heard of his passing. Some say he lost his battle with cancer, but I say that he triumphed over it. It shall touch him no more and there will be, NO MORE PAIN… except for those of us who were left with a gaping hole in our hearts with his departing. I shall take solace in the scripture found in the book of John that says, “And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” (John 16:22)

Looking back on my notes at the time, I can remember sending out this memory and a call to prayer for a legend in the coaching world. It was written on Nov. 12, 2012. I also treasure each email he sent back to me, not speaking of himself but always encouraging me.

He could always make me laugh. In an embroiled feud with an athletic director, Don sat me down and told me, “Wrestling with an athletic director who is out to get your job is like wrestling with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it.”

He also told me one time that if my team didn’t start improving, they would change the school name from Norsemen to Possums. When I asked him why, he said, “Because you keep playing dead at home and you’re getting’ killed on the road.”

Don was instrumental in me writing and publishing my book of motivation to athletes.

 He writes as one of the endorsements in the book:

“Coach Mark DeLap helps us all whether coaches, players, parents, fans, or just people on our walk through life with this book. You will learn how to deal with the two greatest imposters in life - success and failure. Sound, solid, and simple is a good way to coach and to live your life and this book does all three. Basketball Hall of Fame Coach - Don Meyer” And on a more personal note, he signed my copy with:

“Mark, always coach for the love of the game and the kids. Give your gift of servant leadership away every day.” – Coach Don Meyer

Always honest, always candid, always a mentor and a servant. I shall miss him greatly.

Looking back on my notes at the time, I can remember sending out this memory and a call to prayer for a legend in the coaching world.

I sent it out on Nov. 12, 2012:

Good morning,
You know that each morning as I arise before the sun and pray and get fresh bread... that I share it with you, my friends, family and congregation. This morning in prayer, I could not stop thinking about my friend, Don Meyer whose body is frail and sick, but who left an impacting image in me last night that I just needed to share.
After a very busy day yesterday that started at about 4 a.m. and didn't finish until well after midnight, I thank you for your prayers. Last night I was privileged to go to a coaching clinic at Saginaw Valley State University where one of my good friends and basketball mentors was speaking.

This man is an ESPY award winner for perseverance and gives a tribute on the back cover of my book "A Warrior's Heart." He has won over 900 college games and for a while held the top spot in that category. Last night he talked about many things - and had he not had a flight scheduled for Sunday morning, I know that he would have come and spoken to us at Crossroads.

Don’s body is failing. It was a coaching clinic like none I've ever been to. He was sick from the cancer medicines he was taking and weak from three valves that were put into his heart.

He is not expected to last through Christmas... but there he was, sitting in a chair for 3 hours talking to us and passing on his wisdom. He didn't hesitate to sign one more basketball for me after he had done so for years for my fundraisers.

We listened to him talk about the three "f's” - faith, family, friendship. We learned about how close he was to Heaven and that he was sure that he still had a purpose, or “God would have taken me home by now.”

He challenged us to be "spiritual servants" - and to leave a legacy... and to leave a place "better" than when you found it. One of the simplest and most profound things he told us was not about picking or screening or shooting or defending a zone defense, but he quietly looked into my eyes and said... "pick up trash." It was in that moment that more than ever before in my life, it was so clear and evident that it's not what they hear you say, but what they see you do that will leave the most important impact. A picture really is worth a thousand words.
This morning, I was reading this verse that I am convinced was given to me from the Lord from Psalm 19:1-4: The heavens tell about the glory of God. The skies announce what his hands have made. Each new day tells more of the story, and each night reveals more and more about God's power.

You cannot hear them say anything. They don’t make any sound, we can hear if we take the time to listen.

Their message goes throughout the world. Their teaching reaches the ends of the earth. The sun's tent is set up in the heavens.

Sometimes the greatest thing we can hear... have no words at all.

Sometimes the greatest thing is not preaching a million words without taking a breath.

Sometimes... the greatest sermon you can preach to someone is what they see you do. As in this scripture - the glory of God is declared without words... When light breaks forth, we know the story of creation itself... when darkness falls, we know about His protection and His care. As the light begins to break the eastern sky - it doesn't announce itself - but causes us to describe what it is saying.... "dawn… good morning.”
I watched a man come to preach in his own special way last night to a handful of coaches a thousand miles from his home and family.... in the midst of his adversity... a trip he didn't really have to make... and it wasn't the words that impressed us as much as his being there.

And us, watching a man give everything he had left to people who could give him nothing in return. He told us that in dealing with our relationships... we can find out a lot about a man when he's "getting his butt kicked,” and on the scale of life, what registers is how a man will treat people that can never repay him or do anything for him. Can you love and serve and care with no strings attached?

We watched a man receive his reward from the passion that he gave himself to... the chance to talk about God and family and friends... and basketball. His pulpit was his basketball court. I am blessed to have a pulpit at Crossroads and one at center court at Ionia High School. And coach Meyer… I have reconnected with what you have tried to tell us all for years... "they'll all be watching to see what you do."

I need to be the one that “picks up the trash.”