I stopped after class to talk with my teacher, Coach Sam. I was going to the state wrestling tournament and would be missing a big quiz in my U.S. History class. I asked him if I could make it up when I returned, or if he wanted me to take it before I left.
"I'll tell you what," he said. "If you win, I'll let you make it up when you get back."
I was a junior and had worked really hard in wrestling. I had won the district championship, but was looking at some tough competition at state. I knew there were some seniors in my weight from other schools that had big reputations.
"What if I lose?" I asked.
"Just don't plan on losing," he replied, "and you won't have to cross that bridge."
I went to state and fought some of the toughest matches of my life. I progressed quite well, but was injured in my third match. And even though I continued to wrestle, the pain in my knee reduced my ability to compete effectively. But I must admit that, in many ways, I beat myself as I worried unnecessarily about the other wrestlers' reputations and experience. I did not come home with the state title.
When I came back to class on Monday and asked Coach Sam about taking the quiz, he said, "I understand you didn't win state." I verified that was true. "Well, then," he continued, "I'm afraid it is going to have to count as a missed quiz and a zero. But since I drop the lowest one for the semester, it shouldn't hurt you."
"But I studied hard for it, and I know I can do well," I complained. "Besides, I was gone for a school excused activity."
"Howard," he said, "what do you think a teacher's job is?"
"To teach," I replied.
"That is only part of it. A teacher is to encourage, to motivate, and to help a student reach their full potential and believe in themselves. I believe you had the ability to win state, but apparently I believed in you more than you did. To me, your excused absence is only valid if you made full use of your time and ability, and I don't believe you did that."
No amount of disagreement on my part could dissuade him from his decision. He was determined that I could have won.
The next year I again won district, and as if history was repeating itself, I had a big U.S. Government quiz on the weekend of the state tournament. I again approached Coach Sam about taking it when I got back.
"If you don't win, well, you know the answer, don't you?" he replied.
I had trained hard through the year, and though I was more experienced and was considered by many to be one of the best wrestlers in the state, I had also struggled with a tough case of pneumonia that had weakened my lungs. I had my doubts, but Coach Sam expressed his belief in me.
I went to state, and the farther I moved through the tournament, the more tired my lungs became, and, in turn, the less energy I had. Going into the championship match, I thought of my desire for the state title and the desire to live up to Coach Sam's belief in me. I somehow found energy I didn't even know I had. I won, though I nearly passed out afterward from the exertion.
I was too sick to return to school the next Monday, but when I walked into U.S. Government the first hour on Tuesday morning, Coach Sam had the class give me a standing ovation.
"Does that mean I get an automatic 100% on the missed quiz since I got an automatic 0 last year?" I asked.
"No," Coach Sam said, "but you do get to take it."
I did well on the quiz, but more importantly, because of good teachers, I feel I have done well in life. Thanks, Coach Sam, for believing in me.