Hey,Hoss...Lemme Tell ya Something, You Gotta Look Sharp to be Sharp!

August 28, 2014

Anyone who went to T.R. Miller High School when Donnie Rotch was there, felt his death like that of a family member.  Coach Rotch couldn't have been taller than 5'9"-  if he stretched.  Maybe I'm wrong, but that is my memory. His personality, however, was at least 6'5".  Coach Rotch always had his hair just right, was clean shaven, and he always was dressed to perfection.  He had larger than life personality to go with his perfectly starched shirts and hurried walk, and he was an icon in Brewton.  Ask ANYONE who grew up when I did or thereafter to give you a one-liner from Rotch, and it might start with "Hey, Hoss..lemme tell you something."  His death shook the community to its core.  Everyone living there, and everyone who had lived there, loved him and respected him. I loved him.

In 2006, I was filming an audition film for a design show and had to have shots of my hometown, so I went to Brewton and asked Coach Rotch if he would be in my video.  He said he'd be honored. When I got there, and walked into the doors of the high school, the person with me filming immediately knew who the principal was, because he had on a coat and tie.  Rotch was all business and he understood how to command respect, and run a tight ship.

As I find out more and more things that have happened and that are going on at my alma mater, my heart just hurts.  I have thought about Coach Rotch- that's what we called him, not Mr. Rotch like the latest generation- he was always Coach Rotch.  I think about Coach Rotch and wonder if he can see all of this, and I wonder what he is thinking as he's looking down from heaven? I think he'd say "What kind of Molly Pop operation are they running down there at my school?"

He taught health one semester and driver's ed the other.  He was the baseball coach, and he was the offensive line coach. If there is a major league baseball field in the country that is more well-kept than Rotch's high school field ever was, I would like to see it, because I used to wonder if he didn't secretly sneak out to the field at night and trim it with scissors.  He loved that field.  He loved T. R. Miller.  He loved the kids who went there.  I remember vividly, being in band early one morning- first period, when the band practiced in the outfield.  A few clarinet players ended up taking a shortcut and were walking through the infield.  I seriously thought that Rotch might hurdle the chain link fence when he came running out like an Olympic medalist yelling "Hey...hey, band people...get off my stinkin' grass! Don't you people know that you don't walk on my baseball field?"   It was his baseball field and he maintained it with pride.  He had a group of football players and baseball players that we called "Donnie's boys" that he recruited to keep the fields maintained and to keep everything looking pristine. My husband was one of Donnie's Boys, and he will tell you that Rotch worked him in the dirt, but that he learned invaluable lessons about pride and excellence and just hard work. Jimbo always jokes that if the baseball team had been as good as they looked, they would've been state champs every year.

In the tenth grade, I was talking in his health class.  Robin and I were talking - softly- when Coach Rotch came over and said..."What's so important ladies?  Anything you might want to share with the claaaaass?  We said "No, sir"  and he proceeded to write a special assignment on a square piece of paper. We were to write 400 sentences.  The piece of paper he handed me said "I will not talk in Coach Rotch's fourth (spelled out) period health class." I still have that note somewhere in my yearbooks, because like a smart-ass, I wrote the sentences with "Spelled out" in the sentence.  I was in the library with two pencils taped together so that I could knock out two sentences at a time, when from over my shoulder, like a gust of wind, Rotch swooped down and snatched those pencils out of my hand and said "There ain't no shortcuts in life, so I guess we're just gonna have to start over with these sentences."  I was reassigned 800 sentences- just in case I taped my pencils together. They said "I will not talk in Coach Rotch's fourth period health class, and I will not tape my pencils together."

I learned a valuable lesson from that experience.  My husband has a similar one about skipping baseball practice that was held during spring break, when he and a buddy decided to go fishing.  He lied to Rotch and immediately, without hesitation, even though Jimbo was one of his good players, Coach Rotch kicked him off of the baseball team. There was no warning, no second chance, it was done.  Jimbo went back every day begging to get back on the team. After running the ball bag for a week - and Rotch almost physically breaking him down to tears- Coach Rotch let Jimbo back on the baseball team.  Jimbo will be the first to tell you that he never considered skipping a practice, or a day of work, or a meeting, ever in his life.

We both do Coach Rotch's voice and every now and then- especially when a life lesson comes up with our kids. Sometimes, while we are cooking and listening to music, if we break out into some disco, we talk about Disco Donnie and his Disco lessons at the Brewton Country Club, where my husband and his friends would go watch Donnie taking Disco lessons through the window.  It was unfathomable for them to believe that he might actually have a life outside of school, and that he wasn't a tough guy all the time.  In their minds, he was a four star general, not Disco Donnie.

I will never forget the year that Coach Rotch recruited a bunch of girls to help sell oranges so that the baseball team could get jackets that looked like the Dodgers' jackets. The girl who sold the most oranges also got a baseball jacket. Wendi won, and she was so proud of that jacket.  Coach Rotch was so proud of those jackets- it was like Christmas morning when they arrived.  When the matching hats came in, he said "Hey,you see this right here-  seb'm stitches, that's how you know a good hat.  These are sharp and hey hoss, you gotta look sharp to be sharp."  I can't tell you how many times I heard him make a boy tuck his shirt in and say "Hey, Hoss...tuck in that shirt and look sharp."  When he was in charge, things were different.

Anyone thinking of of walking on the grass on campus instead of the sidewalks needed to think twice, because that just wasn't happening.  There needs to be no further explanation of this, it was the law- period. We didn't have to have an eight foot tall fence around our school to keep us there, we had Coach Rotch, and we had Mike Hathorne, and we had Frank Cotton.  You didn't want to EVER be in the hallway, where you had been sent out of class, when any of them was making the rounds- and they made the rounds, regularly. That was the T. R. Miller that I knew.  I think that is the T.R. Miller that was so great.  T. R. Miller can be that again.  There are great parents and great students who know what we had back then and they need leadership.

I think if Coach Rotch was alive today, he would be outraged right now and his heart would be broken.  I can't speak for him, and I can't guess what he might say, but this morning in my best Disco Donnie voice, while talking to a friend who has kids at TRM, I said to her...

"Get in there people, and take back your stinkin' school. Hey hoss, you gotta make some noise. What you waiting for, a miracle?"

1 comment:

  1. Love this. And you are right, you walked the line with Coach Rotch. His name was synonymous with TRM - pride, tradition and excellence. He walked it. He talked it. He lived it - in every aspect I knew him in - As a teacher, a coach, an administrator, a friend and a neighbor. The present administration, who were all a part of Coach Rotch's staff, should definitely have been paying attention to the example that he always was. Perhaps they were absent? or as it seems now, simply just didn't give a damn.


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