OLD SPORTS DUDE

BISHOP/A tale of three coaches

An intriguing tale of three coaches, Part 1

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This is a tale of three coaches — one who nearly gave me a new name, one who jump-started my sports writing career, and one who changed the course of my life.

The first part of the story begins this week, while the second and third parts will be in future columns.

Art Nester came into my life in the fall of 1975, and at the time he had no idea who I was — as this story will very clearly reveal.

Nester, who had been the head football coach at Kosciusko High School for the 1972-74 seasons and Ackerman High School the two years prior to that, made the unlikely move to arch-rival Louisville High School the following year. I think even he was surprised at the public outcry to that decision.

It was my senior year at LHS and also my first as an “official” sportswriter, covering the Wildcats for the Winston County Journal, the community’s weekly newspaper. I introduced myself very clearly to him when we first met — well, as clearly as a hyper, high-pitched, fast-talking 17-year-old possibly could. It was Austin Bishop. Austin was the first name and Bishop the last.

Well, it wasn’t long before I went from being Austin Bishop to “Press Man,” which sort of made sense. After all, I was a member of the press and what 17-year-old boy wouldn’t want to be referred to as a man, no matter how far of a stretch that may have been?

So from about September of 1975 until March of 1976 our relationship was pretty simple — he was Coach Nester and I was “Press Man.” Sometime between winter and spring the deterioration of my name took a turn for the worse.

I’m not sure when or why it happened, but when he would call out my name he would get the “Press” part out, then the rest was sort of slurred. Eventually the mystery became startlingly clear.

Louisville High School had one of the area’s few cinder tracks and hosted several meets during the spring. One of Coach Nester’s duties as football coach and athletics director was to get students to help staff the meets. I was very excited when he asked me to help.

I went to his office and he wrote me a note to take to my teacher so I could get out of class. As I raced from the field house to the main building with my precious “Get Out Of Class Free” note in my hand I decided to take a glance at the ‘Holy Grail’ of class skipping.

This is how it read: “Please excuse Preston from class so he can help with today’s track meet. Thanks, Coach Nester.”

Preston? Really? So now I was stuck. My teacher most certainly knew my name and it wasn’t Preston. But, I went and gave it to her anyway, knowing that she would likely cast it aside as some sort of forgery at best, and somebody else’s stolen note at worst.

She glanced at the note, looked at me, and said, “Okay, have fun!” I was surprised, but was all smiles as I ran as fast as I could back to the stadium to take on my new duties as Austin, “Press Man,” or Preston. It really didn’t matter to me at that point.

I always wondered why the teacher let me out of class with that note. What could it have been?  Could she have thought my name was Preston as well? As the years passed the thought began to cross my mind that perhaps she just thought I could contribute more to the track meet than I could to her classroom. The truth is, I’m not even offended by that. Not now and certainly not then. In fact, she would have been correct.

After I graduated from school in the spring of ’76, Coach Nester and I parted ways, but later in my career we ran into each other again. I was a full-fledged sports reporter and he had retired from the coaching business.

While he certainly recalled his four years coaching at Louisville, I’m not sure he ever really remembered me, which gave me a chance to re-introduce myself — this time a lot slower and a lot clearer. And just like that ‘Preston’ was gone and Austin had arrived back onto the scene.

Next week I will share with you about how an interview with a junior college basketball coach for the school paper led to my first by-line in a daily newspaper and the following week we will wrap up this trifecta of memories with the revelation of the coach that has had more influence on my life than any other.

Austin Bishop, AKA The Old Sports Dude, has been covering high school, college, amateur and professional sports since 1975. He will be retiring from the journalism business at the conclusion of 2021. He is currently pastor of Great Commission Assembly of God in Philadelphia, Miss. He may be contacted by email at starsportsboss@yahoo.com.


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