For this coach and teacher, you didn't have to be a star for him to care.
I found out that Ron Krall had died on the same recent morning I found my high school friend Mike Quick on TV, portraying a football coach on the sitcom The Goldbergs.
Those two things – those two people – may seem unconnected, but they are very connected.
Krall was the football coach at Rockingham Junior High School and Richmond Senior High. He is also the man Quick – a hall of fame-caliber NFL wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles – credits with making him a great football player and a better person.
“All the things I’ve been able to do – I didn’t realize I’d be able to do. Ron Krall saw in me a lot that I didn’t see,” Quick said when we spoke recently. “I went to school most days because I wanted to go to practice. I didn’t put any effort into” the classroom part of school.
His cavalier academic attitude, he said, prevented him from attending many of the Division 1 schools offering him a scholarship. Krall advised him to attend a prep school for one year, after which he enrolled at N.C. State University. There, he became one of the top wide receivers in school history.
He was an all-around great athlete and, like Richard Cory in the Edward Arlington Robinson poem of that name, “a gentleman from sole to crown/ clean-favored, and imperially slim.”
I, by contrast, was a lot like Sam Cooke in high school.
Suave, sophisticated and could sing like an angel?
No. I was like Sam because I, like he says in the song What a Wonderful World, “didn’t know much about history, biology, trigonometry, a science book or the French I took.”
One thing I did know, as surely as one and one are two, was that Ron Krall hated me.
Krall was my P.E. teacher from the 9th through 12th grades, but his main job – or so I felt – was to torment me, to jack me up every time I did something wrong. Which was pretty much constantly.
My profoundest memories of Krall, who’d played football at NCSU, revolve around him calling me into his office almost weekly, offering advice and trying to figure out why I kept clowning in class and leading other students astray.
I, of course, sat silently, sighing deeply, wondering what was for lunch.
Whenever I’d offer up some lame excuse for my latest act of malfeasance, he’d say “Hey Saunders, you got a dime? Call ‘Somebody Cares.’”
His breaking point came one day midway through 12th grade, when I was in the locker room holding forth with what our president would later call “locker room talk.”
Krall walked up behind me, and not one of my so-called pals alerted me. Thanks, guys.
He snatched me by the collar and yanked me into his office. Much of what he said can’t be repeated, but I’m guessing Santa and his reindeer will encounter that blue stream of profanity still floating around in the atmosphere next week.
“Saunders, you’re the only person I know whose maturity level has actually regressed,” he said, the words still seared into my mind 45 years later.
He was right, of course, and any maturity subsequently achieved can be partly attributed to his tough love. For that reason, I couldn’t let his death – no, his life - pass uncommented upon.
If some similarly recalcitrant student reads this, I hope he or she discerns that most teachers – virtual or in the classroom - really do care about you. Oh yeah: you know that one teacher you despise most, the one you think despises you?
Decades from now, you may be writing them a letter or a column thanking them.
As a knuckleheaded high schooler, I’d have bet a million bucks that Krall hated me. As a less-knuckleheaded adult, I realized that he hadn’t given up on me, didn’t hate me, maybe even – EGADS! – liked me.
More importantly, I realized, he cared.
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