Twenty-five years ago, I started my teaching career at Norwich High School in upstate New York, and Coach John Pluta led the Norwich football team to its first championship in twenty years. John and I were close colleagues, since we both taught 11th grade, he Social Studies and me English. It wasn’t until 2013, though, when I was researching my book Farewell to Football? that I got a really good idea of the impact he had on young men as the head football coach.
Pluta used a football system that he had learned from Coach Dick Hoover in Vestal, New York. The intent of the system was, on the offensive side of the ball, to give each player “an opportunity on every play to create some sort of advantage based on where the defense lines up” (F2F p. 162). It was a way of thinking about the game as it was going on. “That way,” Pluta explained to me, “you’re giving kids ownership, and they’re not afraid of making mistakes.”
To me, it sounded like the football version of Luke 12:57: “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?”
I think it’s because of the influence of coaches like John Pluta, who care about more than just winning games, who care about creating the opportunity for growth in all the players on their teams, that so many players and former players I talked to for the book cited the profound impact their coaches had on them as men.
As I report in the book, Pluta used to send his team onto the field with a brief prayer:
“Play to the best of your ability and may no players be injured; play hard, play like men, play like champions, play Norwich football” (F2F p. 160).
John Pluta retired from full-time high-school teaching and coaching, but he’s still
working with young men, coaching the defensive linemen at Morrisville State College in central New York.
Farewell to Football? is available in paperback through the online catalogues of Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It is also available in Kindle format.