High school football just went gothic. After Marcellus High’s junior varsity squad lost a game, head coach Jim Marsh ordered the team bus to stop at a local cemetery. Exactly what happened next is still subject to dispute, but some are claiming Marsh used this visit to the abode of the dead as the backdrop for a teachable moment. According to the Post-Standard:
The sources said Marsh, also an English teacher at the high school, ordered the team bus to pull over near the cemetery. He then asked the roughly two dozen players to get out and lay on the graves.
The players rested there for several minutes while Marsh preached about the importance of playing hard, and how those buried underneath them would cherish the opportunity to trade places with the players and fight to win.
Anyone who finds this shocking ought to re-read the very first sentence — the one where Marsh is unmasked as an English teacher. That explains it all. No one with any kind of literary or artistic bent has any business working at nuclear facilities or coaching sports. The combination of elements is just too volatile. Would you entrust your daughter’s swim team to Anne Sexton? Me neither. It might be fun to see Robert Lowell throwing chairs in the manner of Bobby Knight, but only for a minute or so, and only from the safety of the living room.
I don’t claim to know for certain which authors Coach Marsh teaches, or in which direction his personal tastes run. But all that business about sprawling on the spoilt earth points very strongly in the direction of one early American poetaster– a proto-emo by the name of Edgar Allan Poe. In particular, it evokes “Annabel Lee,” the last poem he completed before dying mysteriously, and in considerable squalor, at the age of 40.
Poetic souls may fit badly inside football coaches, but they’re worthy subjects for study in their own right. With this homage to Mr. Poe, I shall attempt, by the force of my own pen, to pry my way into Coach Marsh’s dark and fascinating headspace:
It was many and many a week ago
When Brian‘s Song came on TV,
I was tanning well into a case of stout
When a notion took hold of me:
The Reaper’s shadow concentrates the mind
Of halfback, tight end or QB.
The next practice I assembled the squad
And cried out: “You guys, take a knee!
“I’ll show all you no-necked philistines
The only path to victory,
Edgar Allan Poe wrote the playbook here,
In a lay called ‘Annabel Lee’.”
Yes, indeed, I heard their whispering:
“Is coach drunk or into PCP?”
But I read every line from first to last
Of love turned to grief by the sea.
And the dense fools sniggered, behind their hands:
“Dude sounds like a freak – tee hee hee!”
Their puerile minds were a cross to bear;
I warned them: “Memento mori.”
“Behind death’s black shade there are no time outs,
Nor field goals, touchbacks or TDs.
(When next term comes and we tackle Dante,
You’ll learn all about penalties).”
Sophia’s spirit settled over the dolts;
They began nodding solemnly.
“Hells, yeah,” “True dat,” “Damn skippy,” they concurred.
I blessed them, choking back tears as I roared:
“GO WIN ONE FOR ANNABEL LEE!”
But the brutes played me false — they lost the game!
Final score: 30-23.
Like Charon with ‘roid rage, I drove our bus
Right up to the cemetery.
And bade them stretch out on the fresh-dug graves
Athletes can’t die too young for me.