Harsh Realities In Sports

By Bonitta Best
Updated: July 2, 2009

Darrell Asberry

Darrell Asberry

DURHAM — Coaching is an exclusive club for a reason. Not everybody should join and for those that do, a unique bond develops. It doesn’t matter if they compete in the same conference or in another state. So even though area coaches didn’t know Ed Thomas personally, they nevertheless felt the pain of his family, his high school and his friends.

Thomas, 58, a football coach at Aplington-Parkersburg High in Iowa, was gunned down in a weight room last month by a former player. He died instantly. And so did a part of his coaching family.

“I was shocked and saddened,” N.C. Central football coach Mose Rison said. “What in the world is going on today? How many stories like this do we have to read about? I have never even worried about something like that but now that this has happened, it makes you think.”

One thing that is going on in the world today is a change in generations. While coaches are still father figures and disciplinarians in many circles, just as many have to alter their coaching styles to accommodate spoiled brats, fragile egos and just plain thugs.

The man that allegedly killed Thomas has drug-related arrests and had just been released from a psychiatric hospital the day before the shooting. So far, police say they have no motive. Even more tragic is Thomas tried to counsel Michael Becker at the request of Becker’s family.

Shaw coach Darrell Asberry is an intense, hard-driving coach who’s been known to drag a player off the field or yell a few “choice” words. But even he’s had to adjust his fiery-brand coaching style.

“Some kids can handle it and some kids can’t,” said Asberry who led the Bears to back-to-back CIAA championships. “A lot of times stuff happens when you put a kid off the team. He’ll get disgruntled and get mad, and you never know what these kids may want to come back and do nowadays.”

Like the former player from California whom Asberry dismissed from the team several years ago. “He texted me and said, ‘You messed up my career. If I ever catch you in California, you ain’t going to make it out of there.'”

For Asberry, that threat was mild compared to what happened a couple years later. Shaw sits in the heart of southeast Raleigh, and like many urban centers, gangs are prevalent.

Members can be vicious if they feel someone is thwarting their recruiting efforts. Rumors circulated during that time about an incident involving Shaw players and gang members. What d’ya know? They were true.

“My problem is not my players being in gangs, it’s gang members wanting to fight my football players,” Asberry continued. “My truck got shot up and my office. They hit my car three time;, my kids could have been sitting in the back seat.”

“They know I’m not going to allow them to mess over my football players.”

Asberry said a security guard was temporarily assigned to the area, and he hasn’t had a similar incidence since. Violence against coaches — not including verbal — is still rare on the high school or college level.

But with today’s increasingly violent society, all it takes is one messed-up individual.

Asberry, 37, who undoubtedly is the only Triangle coach with bullet holes in his office, said he won’t be run off. “By no means do I fear any of them,” he said. “The day I fear them I need another job because they are going to start whupping me then.”