Spend 36 years in education and you cross paths with many people. I’ve taught and coached countless students over the years, and yet there are so many that I remember. I never fail to be surprised when something brings one of them to mind—someone I perhaps haven’t thought of in years—but some reminder brings them back with such clarity and detail and I realize the impact they had on my life.
That happened to me yesterday when I came across the obituary of a former student. He actually wasn’t much younger than me. As a college student, I served as a coach at Edison Junior High in San Angelo, Texas and Obie Dwayne Ray was one of my players. While tragic that he is gone at just 47 years old, I couldn’t help but smile when reading his obituary. It spoke eloquently of the light of his life shining bright in the hearts of his family and friends. You see, he had a perpetual smile. That was Obie. He was a bright light. And though I was the coach, he taught me so much about grit and determination. He was a tiny little thing in junior high. I remember telling him, “Obie, you are going to have to remember you’re only 85 pounds!” As a cornerback, he had to tackle players much bigger and heavier. His response to me: “Then they better not run my way ‘cause they’ll pay a price!”
Obie didn’t believe he had limitations. He only saw possibilities and opportunities. He didn’t get much bigger in high school, maybe 130 pounds, but became an exceptional athlete and I again had the experience of coaching him at San Angelo’s Central High School. He would letter in three sports; football, basketball and track. He lived an extraordinary life filled with laughter and love and, as his obituary said, marked by strength, selflessness and ambition.
As educators, we are meant to inspire students to be the best version of themselves they can be, to pursue their wildest dreams and grandest ambitions. I don’t believe we were intended to outlive them, but it’s how life goes. People like Obie remind us that mindset and attitude can play as much or more of a role in our success as those things we can’t control, like size or family circumstances. That anything worth achieving is possible when you believe and work for it.
Also yesterday, I met an extraordinary student at Hernandez Middle School. Tadeo experienced bullying in school, but he was determined to take that situation and use it to fuel his resolve to be a force for good. He made a series of hand-stenciled T-shirts with positive messages on them. Yesterday, his shirt read: “You never look good trying to make someone else look bad.” Another shirt he made and wears says, “One kind word can change someone’s entire day.” He’s made others for his classmates to read and live by. At the bottom of each shirt reads, “Stop Bullying.”
What powerful messages! And how brave of Tadeo to refuse to be a victim and share his experience so openly so other students in similar circumstances won’t feel alone and to challenge us all to be kind, courageous and to live with integrity.
We are so lucky to have the opportunity to meet and be inspired by people like Obie and Tadeo. While we work to inspire, they provide the inspiration for us to keep going.
So, this week, my message to you is: Love life. Obie Ray did. Treat everyone with respect. Obie Ray did. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t live your dream. Obie Ray didn’t. And when a student or colleague needs a shot in the arm, remind them of how awesome they are. Don’t let them believe they don’t have what it takes.
Legendary basketball coach Rudy Tomjanovich once said:
“I have one thing to say to those non-believers: Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.”
Like Obie, like Tadeo, we can all have the heart of a champion. Be a believer and be a champion for kids. I’d love to hear about those in your life who have been an inspiration to you. Write me back or share with me on Twitter @sfloresRRISD. Let’s inspire each other!
I don’t really know how he passed, I only know for a short period of time, how he lived. So long Obie! Our world needs so many more like you! Keep smiling Big Man!
Live with purpose, on purpose! Obie did. Tadeo does. I will!
Thanks for reading. I’ll write again soon.
Steve Flores, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools