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Savran: He pointed the way and had real impact

Saturday, August 23, 2003

We had this football coach who looked exactly like you would expect a football coach to look -- stocky, powerful through the chest and shoulders, a neck thicker than most people's waists, with arms that would have embarrassed Popeye into a spinach binge.

He looked a lot like Ernest Borgnine, only he wasn't kindly like Lt. Quentin McHale. In fact, he had a demeanor equivalent to a Rottweiler with distemper. And his nickname, whispered ever so softly when we were sure he was at least a county away, was Dutch.

And after hanging 'em up as the head football coach, he was promoted/deposited into the position of vice-principal, a euphemism for Minister of Discipline.

You ran afoul of high school law, you had to face the Dutchman in his office/torture chamber. And this was back in the day when corporal punishment was not only acceptable, it was encouraged by one's parents. If you got whacked by Dutch, your parents figured you probably deserved it.

The method was a swat or three across the backside with this huge paddle affixed to the end of the Dutchman's right arm. He kept it hanging on the wall behind his desk. This weapon of mass instruction had holes in it, thus reducing the air resistance, thus increasing the ramming speed, thus allowing it to hurt all the more.

Before you got what he figured you had coming, he'd interrogate you for a while.

And if perchance you were able to muster a weak squeak in response, he'd yell louder. And he'd punctuate his snarling by pointing his finger a millionth of an inch from your quivering nose. Only it wasn't a finger. It was about a third of a finger. It was a stub.

We heard he had lost the other two thirds in the war. We weren't sure what war ... many of us believed it was the Crimean War. Or the Crusades.

Whatever, it was the most effective punctuation since the semicolon. He'd shove that stub toward your face, and you'd follow its path until your eyes crossed.

He'd have you so intimidated you'd admit to assassinating Lincoln to get out of that office.

When he convinced himself that you were guilty as charged, he'd bark, "Bend over and grab your ankles. This is going to sting pretty good."

And he would say it with mirthful delight. There was none of that, "This is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you."

Dutch knew it was going to hurt plenty and reveled in the fact you'd feel every bit of it.

He liked that part, especially that part, because he believed that a whack to the southbound section of a northbound kid might at least cause that kid to think about screwing up again.

Dutch never killed anyone, at least as far as we knew.

There were rumors, all right, but the victims always seemed to reappear eventually, a semi-permanent wince etched in their faces. And that was when they walked. Sitting down was raised to a higher art form.

I don't know if the death penalty is a deterrent to crime, but I definitely know the threat of a stroke from the true Sultan of Swat got you thinking about your behavior.

So why am I telling you all this?

Because it was the Dutchman who set me on my career path. He suggested I consider sports broadcasting as a career, proving inspiration can come from the strangest of sources, even from one whose comments to me were generally centered on missing a block or missing a class.

Near graduation, he called me over in the gym one day, and I reflexively began to reach for my ankles. The Dutchman said, "You're going to Miami of Ohio, right?"

I gurgled a yes, and he continued. "What are you going to major in?"

I had pre-enrolled in education. I wanted to teach, but only as a means to coach. I wanted to coach.

"Well," he said, "That's fine, but have you ever thought about announcing? You've got a pretty deep voice for an 18-year-old kid, and you know a lot about sports. You ought to consider it."

When Dutch told you to consider something, it was more like an order.

So I followed orders, and thanks to his suggestion, for better or worse, here I am. I honestly believe I never would have thought of broadcasting as a career had he not mentioned it.

A high school friend with whom I've recently reconnected asked the other day if I had ever told Dutch of his impact on my life.

No, I told her, I had not. Until today.

Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970).

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