There was a time during my grade-school days that I avoided riding the bus to prevent from being mortified by the bullies. If you were raised in the kind of neighborhood I came from, you would understand. I was receiving treatment and recovering throughout my youth life due to an accident. This created a living nightmare for me at certain times and places.
My oldest brother, Gilbert, was playing football for the junior-high team. The middle-school Bobcats were coached by John Lantz. I can't describe to you with words how excited I was to dash off after school to watch my brother practice while avoiding the bus ride home. Sports at the time had become my counseling - my medicine. I wanted to be one of those guys in a football uniform one day.
We all have people that have had an impact on our lives ... mentors, friends, teachers, coaches, etc. I didn't know who Coach Lantz was, but I heard a lot about him from my older brother. I followed my brother everywhere, before the practices, in the dressing room, during the practices, and after the practices. I listened to everything the coaches would say to the players.
Coach Lantz was the type of coach I wanted to play for some day. To me, his personality displayed tough love. His voice was loud and clear and his instructions were easy to understand. I was only a fifth grader at the time. His favorite quote was by Grantland Rice, "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game." That was his creed -- he lived his life by that motto.
My brother was the starting fullback on the team. Coach Lantz's son, Jeff, was on the team as well. What I admired about this coach was that he treated his son the same as the rest of the team, in fact, sometimes I felt he was a little harder on his own son. Fundamentals were extremely important to him in any sport he coached, whether it was football, basketball, baseball, or golf. His favorite two sports were basketball and baseball.
I watched every football practice during my fifth and sixth grade years. I gained so much knowledge from Coach Lantz and I hadn't even officially met him yet. He saw me in the dressing room and at the practice field standing there watching and absorbing all of his football knowledge. I remember once punting and kicking the football off to the side. He was watching the team's punter practice and then he would watch me punt the football. He walked over to me.
"You're Gilbert's little brother, right?"
"You punt the ball pretty well, where'd you learn that?"
"On the dirt roads in my neighborhood."
"Keep it up, you'll be wearing a uniform one day."
"Thank you, sir."
I was afraid he was going to tell me to put the football down, instead he encourage me. That's the only time I remember him saying anything to me. I was shy and insecure, so I normally didn't talk to anyone. I just watched and learned as much as I could. I spent two years watching Coach Lantz and learning from his football talks. He didn't know how much of an impact he was for me those two years through my brother's practices.
I remember one drill called "Up and at 'em." One player would lie down on his back and place the football on the ground above his head. The other player would stand facing away from the player lying down. I'd say about eight yards apart. The rest of the players made a rectangular pack around the two players while watching and rooting. When Coach Lantz gave the signal, the player on his back would hop up, grab the football, and run towards the player that would turn around and come back at him. The defensive player would tackle the player running with the ball, who had to drive right through him.
That drill was one that I introduced to many of my future coaches. I learned that from Coach Lantz. I felt that I had a huge advantage over many kids when I arrived at junior high. The lessons I learned from this coach were valuable. He was a believer in fairness, playing the poor kids as well as the rich kids. The janitor's kids would play over the school board kids. He wanted the best effort from all of his players, I heard his voice every afternoon after school. I watched every home game the Dimmitt Bobcats would play.
By the time I entered junior high, Coach Lantz had resigned from coaching, however, he continued teaching. I was so disappointed because I really wanted to become one of his football players. I looked forward to junior high to play for Coach Lantz.
Coach Lantz ended his coaching career in 1971. At that time junior-high coaches were required to coach all sports. They also had to go scout on Friday nights during football season. He was tired of enduring all the added stress. Football in Dimmitt, Texas, was huge. The boosters were amazing and the entire town was so supportive. That year, his son, Jeff, was on the varsity football team. That was one adventure of football games he did not want to miss. So he finally quit coaching.
My eighth-grade year I finally connected with Coach Lantz again. He was my social studies-history teacher. I was familiar with his teaching style and he remembered me from all those practices I attended watching my older brother. His tough love was not only on the football field, but also in the classroom. I learned so much from Coach Lantz. I think he knew what I was dealing with. Not only the poor life at home, but also my medical condition. He was always looking out for me. He would always remind me to stay away from negative influences.
My athletic career was taking off and I had no idea that he was keeping up with my progress in sports. But it was one day when I was struggling with getting bullied by some older kids that he came and talked to me. I was also frustrated with many things that had nothing to do with sports. I was in the hallway sitting on the steps that led to the upstairs part of the building.
"David, you okay?"
"I'm just having a bad day is all, I'll be okay."
"You have a great future ahead of you."
"It's tough when kids make fun of me."
"David, if those kids were half as good as you, they'd be great."
"Thank you, sir."
"Don't listen to negative people, you'll get through this, I know it."
Coach Lantz had a way to make me feel better. I worked hard in his class, he gave me that energy and confidence I needed. He had the ability to settle the classroom down or to excite the class with his lectures. I enjoyed the class -- his style of coaching or teaching was not for everyone, I have to admit, but for me it sure worked out.
Regretfully, I never reached out to Coach Lantz after my eighth-grade year and I always wondered if he watched any of my games during high school at Dimmitt. I wish I could have thanked him in person for the encouragement and positive lessons. His professionalism as an educator was well received.
John Edward Lantz lived a full life with a wonderful purpose from April 9, 1923 to October 10, 2010. He has two kids, Jeff and Teresa, and his wife, Carol. I attended junior high with his daughter, Teresa.
Coach Lantz was a WW2 Veteran, four years in the Army and four years in the Air Force. He played college football for Fairmont State.
Thank you Coach Lantz for all of your sacrifices during your teaching and coaching days at Dimmitt Junior High. I truly appreciated the two-season's football knowledge during my brother's practices and the life skills I learned from you during two short years.
Special thanks to Jeff Lantz who provided me with some history facts about his dad.