By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Imagine a group of grown men, most in their 30s or 40s, trying to do something a teenager does with relative ease. It’s a scenario we’ve all seen played out hundreds of times and it usually ends badly.
But that’s exactly what Tucker Barnard and the Stillwater High School football coaching staff did last weekend in Lawton during the Pioneers’ annual rappelling trip.
And apart from the minor aches and pains here and there, the results weren’t as bad as you’d think.
“This trip is nice because it lets the players and coaches interact on a different level,” Barnard said. “... We’re there to help them and to be a part of what they’re doing, but we’re not giving them orders. We’re not telling them what to do. We basically figure that we’re working for John (Talley) and the FCA for those couple of days.”
From rappelling down cliffs to watching the first game of the NBA Finals together, this trip was more than just an outing to celebrate surviving the spring — it was about developing relationships that may last a lifetime.
“I think the kids would say that they relate to us in a different way after going on that trip,” Barnard said. “And I think that’s good. It’s good for them just to see us as people.
“We go through a lot of the activities with them, as opposed to standing there and coaching them through the activities. ... We talk to them on a different level, we joke with them on a different level. We’re just kind of part of their group. Personally, I think it’s good for them to see us in a different light. As opposed to being the guy that’s making them do pushups for not running hard or yelling at them for a missed assignment or poor effort, when we’re down there we’re there to help them through the exercises and activities that we do, just like their teammates.”
No doubt Barnard takes his own life into his own hand while climbing down the cliff. Often times he will recall getting upset with the guys holding his line — all while hoping they don’t recall the same thing and bounce him off a couple of sharp rocks.
But if it’s one thing the team has learned this year it’s not to let emotions linger and trust those around you.
“One of the overriding concepts of the trip is just trust,” Barnard said. “It’s one of our four core values that we say defines Stillwater football and what we want Stillwater football to be. It kind of comes to life in this trip. When we’re tying in our seat and getting ready to go down the cliff, with one of our teammates helping us check our webbing and making sure everything looks right. Then we have another teammate that’s at the bottom of the cliff holding the rope, so if something bad happened, then you’ve got a teammate at the bottom that’s there as a way of protection.”
Trust has been a key issue for the Pioneers all spring, especially with a new defense being implemented. At times that trust has been broken, as some of the more experienced players still fight to do things the old way.
But whether it’s playing basketball, scaling cliffs, sharing jokes or eating at a dine-in restaurant — a rarity for the Pioneer football team as one collective unit — the trip to Lawton was not only a reward for the team’s efforts over the last four weeks, but it was also crucial in getting the team ready for August.
“It is rewarding,” Barnard said. “It’s been about four weeks of pretty difficult work. We just kind of put the exclamation point on the end with a fun trip. We’re hoping that they’ll take some of the things they learned from this trip and apply it when they’re on the field. We wanted to use this as a way of talking to them and teaching them about teamwork.”
And even if only a few things were learned, if nothing else, the image of some coaches trying to maneuver the cliffs will certainly provide plenty of jokes in the coming season.
“I think it was a lot of fun and the kids enjoyed it,” Barnard said. “The ones that missed out really missed out on a great trip. We’re taking activities that are fun, enjoyable, exciting and scary, but then we’re tying in the lessons that we want them to take home from it. That’s what athletics is about sometimes. You take an activity that the kids really enjoy — whether it’s basketball or football or whatever it is — and then you try to teach them life lessons at the same time. That’s what we do as coaches every day we are really thankful to John Talley and FCA for making a trip like that possible and taking us through it.”