I’m back home, showered and rested after our family took part in the 10th annual Ricky Byrdsong Memorial Race Against Hate.
The race was started in 1999 after the much loved former Northwestern men’s basketball coach was slain near his home in Skokie by a white supremacist.
As always, Byrdsong’s widow Sherialyn was on hand to tell us to take our marks and go.
Dunreith walked with our friend Maureen Ruder, while Aidan, despite his pre-race prediction of not being able to break 25 minutes, knocked at least six minutes off his record time and nearly caught Sunday night hoops assassin Judson Brooks at the finish line.
I finished at just about 20 minutes, meeting my goal for the race and leaving me hungry to do more such runs so that I can improve my time and continue my now 10-year quest to break my personal record of 18:48.
I know I’ve got a ways to go.
Sponsored by many local organizations, and replete with goodies ranging from a grab bag, sporty blue t-shirts, all kinds of food and drink, free massages, a yoga class for children, water bottles, and free live entertainment, the event was was both well-organized and filled with good will.
One of my favorite items among the many we received was Byrdsong’s book, Coaching Your Kids in the Game of Life. Written with Evanston authors Dave and Neta Jackson, the book was completed after Byrdsong’s murder and published in 2000.
Byrdsong explains that he took up the project because so many parents told him that their children were failing in life.
His solution: to draw on a combination of scripture, other coaches’ words and actions, and his own experiences-these include everything from his youth in Atlanta, coaching in various capacities during an 18-year career, his marriage to high school sweetheart Sherialyn, and the raising of their three children-to create this accessible and practical book designed to help the parents whose children are struggling.
Coaching Your Kids is broken into a dozen chapters, each of which takes a seemingly sports-related theme-Rebounding Makes MVPs and Home Court Advantage are just-and connects it to parenting issues. Byrdsong also includes “Free Throws,” or reviews, at the end of each chapter that give readers opportunities for self-reflection, assessment and possible change.
His fundamental message is to instill character and belief in one’s children and players through a blend of spiritual, moral and emotional fitness. Byrdsong recommends that families create a mission statement as an effort to define what they are about and to guide individual actions; the book includes mission statements for his children and his Northwestern team. He talks about the importance of respectful relationships in which children and their friends are known, loved, supported and disciplined. And, in a chapter called Playin’ on Through, he writes about how to adjust to life’s inevitable setbacks, using his own firing from Northwestern as an example.
Byrdsong also makes the point that the need for parents does not decrease during a child’s teenage years, even as one is learning how to let the child take more and more responsibility for his choices and life’s direction.
Byrdsong makes some questionable choices about who to hold up as models-the abusive Bob Knight appears repeatedly, for example-and he endorses spanking, which is a practice to which neither Dunreith and I ever subscribed. The content he presents is neither ground breaking nor earth shattering. Still, one cannot finish reading this practical and helpful book about one of life’s greatest challenges without having a dual sense of sadness that he was killed while he still had so much left to give and appreciative for all that he did while alive and what he left behind.
That sense is only heightened when one reads Sherialyn’s afterword, in which she returns again and again to the word “After” to talk about his final weeks, in which he learned that the book had found a home, and hours after he was shot, in which she stayed in the critical care room, urging him without success to stay alive.
Sherialyn explains that four months after her husband’s death, “I’m still trying to find the words to say after all these things.”
Somehow, she did.
But she didn’t stop there.
She created a foundation and she helped create the race that Dunreith, Aidan and I ran today, along with thousands of other people.
For her courage, for her husband’s life and many gifts, one of which is Coaching Your Kids, we are grateful.