Friday, August 1, 1997
Even in death, coach teaches
kids about life

The Cincinnati Enquirer

They miss the big, happy man who sat on his porch steps and gave them pep talks.

Coach Tubby is dead. The neighborhood is empty and quiet without him.

Kyle Cavanaugh and Tyrone Armstrong used to walk a block to his house in Avondale and call out:

"Whooo Deeeee Whooo!"

A week ago, Coach Tubby came running. Out of the red-brick house with the pink windows. Down the porch steps. He'd sit and talk. His attention made them feel important.

Now, when 10-year-old Kyle and 11-year-old Tyrone walk by the house with pink windows, they whisper:

"Whooo Deeeee Whooo!"

No one comes to the door.

"Why do bad things happen to good people?" Tyrone asks as he pats the porch step where his coach once sat.

Kyle slowly circles a shade tree in the coach's front yard. Two ribbons - one black, one gold - ring the tree. They are the colors of Coach Tubby's football team, the Avondale Warriors. He coached the team for free at the Fleischmann Boys & Girls Club. Kyle and Tyrone are Warriors.

Kyle gives the tree a quick hug. Then, asks: "Why did he have to be killed over stupid stuff?"

The questions of two kids hang in the air. There is no simple answer or one that will ease their pain.

"I cried myself to sleep the night Coach Tubby died," Tyrone says softly. "But I did it alone. I didn't want anybody to see me." To his players, Coach Tubby was one of the good guys. In a time when too many men make too many excuses for not being around the house, he was what sociologists like to call "a positive role model." Or, as Kyle put it, "a nice man."

Coach Tubby was Vincent Berry. The woman charged with his murder, it has been said, had her affections betrayed. The coach was shot to death at a car wash where the Warriors were raising money for new uniforms.

Rumors of infidelities surfaced with his passing. But to the boys he coached, such talk is immaterial.

Coach Tubby taught Kyle and Tyrone about football. But if they follow his teachings, he also prepared them for life.

"He never yelled at us when we made a bad play," Kyle recalls. "He always told us, 'You'll get it next time.' "

Good plays were rewarded with applause. "Coach Tubby always made sure everybody on the bench clapped when something went right on the field," Kyle says. He silently puts his hands together at the memory.

Tyrone shakes his head over how the coach gave everybody a chance to play. It didn't matter if a kid was good or bad.

Coach Tubby had what so many people lack when they deal with children. Kyle sensed it. So, he said it.

"He had faith in us."

A block from the house with pink windows sits the playfield where the Warriors practiced and played their home games.

Walking across the field of summer-singed grass, Kyle and Tyrone recite the Warrior pledge.

"Be a Warrior on the field, in school, at home, in your life." They trade stories, like old men reminiscing over the little things their coach did for them. He bought Kyle a pair of uniform socks. He chased older kids from the basketball court so Tyrone and his younger friends could play. After every game, he bought each player a hot dog.

"I just wish he'd come back," Kyle says.

"We'd thank him for being so nice," Tyrone says.

They approach an aging oak tree. Gold and black ribbons encircle its trunk. Below the ribbons, a sign declares: "We miss you Tubby." The team wants to honor their coach at this spot. A plaque would be nice. But the Warriors can't afford one.

"So, we'll just carve his name in the trunk," Tyrone says, running his hand over the oak's rugged bark.

But why this tree? Did Coach Tubby hold team meetings under its branches?

"Naw," Tyrone says. "It's the tallest tree in the park." Kyle looks up to the sky and adds:

"It's the closest one to heaven."

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.