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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, March 28, 2008

By Bethany Bradsher

Epiphany: It's more than a game

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Forgive me if I wax a little philosophical today. It’s Thursday’s fault, not mine.

Thursday dawned as a fairly ordinary day. Spring Break, the kids out of school, keeping a friend’s baby, PB and J for lunch. A collection of the everyday moments that make up my every day.

Then, early in the afternoon, I walked out front to discover that our first baby, our 13-year-old golden retriever Crockett, had died in the flower bed. And the day spiraled into reminiscence and perspective.

When we brought Crockett home as a beautiful 6-week-old pup, we had just bought our first house, and parenthood still seemed like a distant probability. After nearly two years of Crockett training us in responsibility, we welcomed our first daughter, and three more children followed in the next eight years.

The year I got my first puppy, I was a full-time sportswriter in Spartanburg, covering the maiden season of the Carolina Panthers. East Carolina was a school I had only heard of in passing. My life as Crockett’s owner has spanned not only four children, but a career arc that took me to freelancing and to chronicling the Pirates for more than nine years.

Which brings me to the perspective of Thursday, and the reason I can’t seem to manage a typical column of Pirate Nation events. Crockett’s death has caused me to put on the wide-angle lens and consider the dizzying number of small events that make up any slice of our lives.

My relationship with my kids is the sum total of thousands of books read, disciplines doled out, meals fixed and puzzles assembled on the kitchen floor. Just one season in one athletic program at East Carolina is a collage of drills in practice, recruiting phone calls, laps run and barbells lifted.

In less than a decade covering ECU, I’ve talked to two athletic directors, three football coaches, three basketball coaches and three baseball coaches. Every one of those administrative changes has brought angst from fans and players — before, during and after the transitions.

Yet, even that press conference announcing their departure from or their hiring to ECU is just one cog in the wheel of their life as a coach, and their coaching role is simply one facet of who they are.

We make coaches’ professions all important, we coat their identity with the team they currently represent, but in fact many of them have more perspective on the fleeting nature of those team colors than anyone around them.

You would glean some wisdom from the coaching carousel if you sat down with Mack McCarthy, who heard good news from ECU last week about his designation as the true, not interim, head basketball coach. McCarthy has survived in college coaching for nearly a quarter of a century, and he is still a genuinely nice person who seems to hold loosely the promotions and contracts that come his way.

Driving into my neighborhood Thursday evening, I saw some yard signs that said, “Congratulations, Coach Mack!” that McCarthy’s neighbors displayed as a show of support. I’ve never seen a gesture like that before, and Greenville’s coaching tumult has provided plenty of opportunities.

I’m sure that when Mack saw the signs, he read significance not as much in their message as in the fact that someone had bothered to make them at all.

Like one of those photo mosaics that shows a big image made up of thousands of tiny ones, McCarthy is a microcosm of what makes sports connect with so many people. For fans, coaches and players the world of sports is a jumble of tiny — sometimes amazing — moments that, when assembled, create relationships and memories that far outlast the emotions of that blink.

The thing that makes sports significant is the combination of heart-racing experiences and people with whom to share them. McCarthy values both.

And even though his profession exalts “One Shining Moment” as the ultimate highlight, McCarthy knows that in coaching — just as in dog owning — it’s the combination of the parts that makes the art worth seeing.

So next week, I’ll go back to recapping those everyday Pirate moments, because of course they do add up.

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03/28/2008 01:44:09 AM

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