My name is Lafe Peavler, and I'm starting a new chapter in my relationship with athletics: I now coach the sophomore basketball team at St. Joseph Catholic High School.
Those who grew up with me won't be surprised to find out I'm a high school science teacher, but they'll probably be shocked to learn I'm both a sports writer and a basketball coach. Physical education was far from my favorite class, and the closest I got to the basketball court at Timpview High School was when I was selected for one of those halftime shooting contests. I made the free throw and the 3-pointer but couldn't connect on the half-court shot or the layup. I never tried out for basketball in middle and high school, much less played.
That isn't to say I didn't spend any time with a basketball as a kid. I played church ball as a young man and participated in the Jr. Jazz program. I will readily admit that I wasn't very good, as will happen if you're only 5-foot-6 and have about a 2-inch vertical jump. My father would play horse with my siblings and me in our driveway, and he spent a good amount of time trying to get me interested in sports. He would take me to BYU football and basketball games, but I just wasn't as passionate as I am now.
There were hints of my current passion, as I remember yelling BYU quarterback Kevin Feterik's name repeatedly at the TV during a game. But that passion would really take root when I was an undergraduate at BYU. It would only grow as I moved on to graduate school in Alabama. It led me to start my journey as a sports writer that continues to this day.
But I never thought I'd experience being part of a basketball team. All of that changed a couple of months ago.
St. Joseph Catholic High School in Ogden is a small school, and all of us who teach here wear many hats by simple necessity. All three boys basketball coaches and the head girls basketball coach are full-time teachers, and all of us have extra responsibilities at the school that range from being the pep club adviser to the yearbook adviser. Some coach multiple sports. I'm no different, as I'm the adviser for the school newspaper, the Rube Goldberg club and the robotics club, not to mention my responsibilities in teaching classes that range from basic physical sciences to AP Physics 1 and 2.
It certainly leads to plenty of opportunities.
The first time somebody floated the possibility of me coaching basketball came at the end of last year. St. Joseph was moved up from 1A to 2A in the most recent reclassification of Utah high school athletics. That change led to the creation of a sophomore team and the need for a sophomore coach. While I didn't immediately jump on the idea, I warmed up to it as time went on.
Now I'm Coach Peavler, and already my perceptive on sports has changed.
It's one thing to hear things coaches often say, such as "The team comes first" or "Sports can help make better men and women." I've watched and attended plenty of press conferences with both football and basketball coaches over my career, and I've heard plenty of coaching platitudes. I've even seen practices where the media have been allowed to observe.
But there's nothing like being part of the real thing.
You can't work with head coach Cameron Wood without instantly getting the sense of how much he really does care for his players. While his primary job is to teach basketball skills and to help the team win games, he also has a deeper mission that goes way beyond the hardwood: Helping these students win at life.
I'm sure Coach Wood is far from alone in this aspect. There are probably millions of coaches across the world who are trying to do that same thing through all sorts of different sports and activities. While some may grumble about the value of teaching young people how to put a ball through a hoop, the real value of athletics is much deeper than that.
Sure, sports can have its dark side. It's not hard to find examples of that. But so far at St. Joseph Catholic High School, I've gotten a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the good that athletics can do. And I'm excited to be a part of that.
Lafe Peavler is a sports strategist for the Deseret News and KSL.com. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.