SUGAR HOUSE Jim Eakins has spent the vast majority of his life looking down on others.
It's not that he's cocky, nor does he think himself better than his peers he simply doesn't have a choice. This former professional basketball player stands nearly 7 feet tall, towering over practically everyone not named Shawn Bradley.
With his NBA days long passed, Eakins has been teaching and coaching at Granite High School for 17 years and, as of three years ago, traded has gym shorts for a pair of cleats as the coach of the girls' soccer team.
"Big Jim" always downplays the difficulties involved in the transition from basketball to soccer.
"Coaching is coaching," he insists in the aw-shucks manner that is part of his subtle charm.
"I've never played soccer," Eakins admits. "I can't show a keeper how to make a clean save, but I can teach these girls to work hard and stay focused on the task at hand."
Having come from a very successful athletic background, Eakins was accustomed to winning records, championships, and the accolades that typically walk hand-in-hand with them. The girls on his team, however, have not only drastically altered the way he looks at sports, but life in general as well.
Calling it a mere attitude adjustment would be like referring to a quadruple bypass as a minor procedure.
"I used to make goals that dealt with numbers of wins or state titles," he recalls. "But then I realized that the girls weren't really concerned about that. They were more focused on learning how to work together and improving teamwork."
In the world of high school sports, Granite's reputation doesn't usually strike fear into the hearts of its opponents, nor are the Farmers often considered preseason favorites to win their region. Anyone involved in any of the school's sports programs, however, will maintain that Granite's athletes share a special attitude that separates them from much of their competition.
"My girls don't win very much," Eakins said. "But they still show up to practice and give their all day in and day out. They don't give any excuses and really make the best of a situation that would cause most people to quit."
In Eakins' opinion, the most important benefits of participating in sports aren't even visible on the field. He insists that the sports themselves are of little value if athletes don't learn to apply the persistence and devotion developed on the field in other areas.
He takes great pride in knowing that each one of his girls is learning how to push herself in the classroom as well as on the soccer field. His players learn to appreciate diversity, to work with others from different cultural backgrounds, and to function as a team.
"In the grand scheme of things, sports themselves aren't that great," Eakins said. "Trophies gather dust and champions are eventually forgotten, but the skill that we acquire through sportsmanship and competition stays with us throughout our lives."