By Patrick Ruffino
I read with great interest the recent article by Jay Rey in The Buffalo News, “Is it coaching or is it bullying?” I have been in and around sports and coaches my entire life. I have seen how coaches, athletes, parents and society has changed over the years.
My experiences started when I was student at Grover Cleveland High School in Buffalo in the early 1970s. My teacher and football coach was Art Serotte. If Coach Serotte did now what he did then, he would probably be investigated. He used to grab our face mask and shake our heads on a routine basis. He called us every name, degraded us, criticized our race, appearance and creed.
On one occasion, one of the players asked what time it was and the coach made us run for two hours straight, yelling and screaming at us the entire time. We passed a gas station on the way back to the school after practice, and he used to stand at the water fountain there to make sure no one would drink. He made us do crazy things like shower after every practice.
We had to ride the bus together in a suit and tie to every game with no talking. One time in my junior year I cut out of practice early, only to find two Buffalo police officers at my home to collect my equipment.
On the day before a game he made us polish our shoes, clean our helmets, make sure our uniforms were clean and tidy, including our shoelaces. He did regular bed checks for all the players and if you weren’t home you didn’t play the next day.
We practiced at Front Park. He used to get cold drinks when we were out there in the heat. One time I became dizzy and he called me over and asked if I wanted a drink. I reached out and he threw what was remaining in the cup into the grass.
I can go on and on about his approach to discipline. But I can also go on and on about how he made us feel loved. We were all from the inner city. We didn’t have elaborate programs. It was just him and us. We didn’t realize at the time, but he wasn’t teaching us how to play football. He was teaching us how to be men.
He taught us how to respect the game. He taught us how the rules in sports are the same rules in life. He taught us how to love our teammates no matter how they looked, or how they played, or what color they were or where they came from. He taught us how to believe in ourselves when we didn’t know what that meant.
He made us pray together even though he was Jewish and some kids didn’t even have a religion. He taught us how to win and he taught us how to lose. He didn’t call it losing, he called it learning.
But you know something, he must have done something right. His 12 Harvard Cup championships and 10 Sectional basketball titles can’t just be all coincidences.
The fact that 50 years later we still get together on a regular basis for dinners, lunches, with sports events, and an annual get-together cookout in his yard where guys from all over the country come in shows how what some today would consider as abuse or bullying could during that time be considered love and teaching kids the real lessons of life.
Patrick Ruffino is a substitute teacher for the Kenmore-Tonawanda school district.
Story topics: Art Serotte