Once in a great while, a person gets to go back and say thank you to a teacher or coach who made a big difference in their life.
That opportunity came to author Grant Overstake on Saturday, Nov. 3, when he presented a thank-you trophy and a copy of his novel, Maggie Vaults Over the Moon to former coach and mentor, Gordon Long.
Long coached at Brooks Junior High from 1966 until his retirement in 2000. That’s 34 years helping boys grow into young men through sports. This past May, Coach Long received a well-deserved honor when he was inducted into the Wichita Sports Hall of Fame.
“Coach Long is a legend to anyone who attended Brooks Junior High School,” said Overstake, who played basketball and pole-vaulted for Long, graduating in 1972. “To many of us, he was the greatest coach there ever was.”
Long, an outstanding athlete in his own right, won the Kansas Relays pole-vault as a junior at Chapman High School and went on to attend Emporia State University. He was one of those coaches who played alongside his students, teaching them what he knew, whether it was a one-handed jump shot, or pole-vaulting.
“I can remember being in the fifth grade, sitting on the hill between Buckner Elementary and Brooks, watching Coach Long vault 11 feet in his jeans, with an aluminum pole, landing in the sand. From that moment, I knew I wanted to be a pole-vaulter,” Overstake said. “He was a larger than life figure in all of our lives and in many ways became a father figure to me at that time.”
The biggest lesson Long taught his athletes was how to compete.
Overstake would go on to set the school pole-vault record at Brooks, vaulting 11-1 as a ninth grader. It was an unforgettable moment because of the encouragement Coach Long gave him that day.
“Coach told me that if I set the record, that he would buy me a Coke from the faculty lounge. That might not sound like a big deal today, but back then, there were no pop machines in the hallways. I tell you, to this day, a Coke never tasted so good.”
To thank Coach Long for the difference he made in his life, Overstake had a thank you trophy made to commemorate that memorable moment.
“I actually had the trophy made many years ago, but was unable to deliver it to Coach until Saturday because our paths hadn’t crossed,” he said. “I must have kept the trophy in a box for 20 years or so, moving it from place to place. I was happy to deliver it to him on Saturday.”
The heartfelt inscription on the trophy reads, in part, “Thanks for believing in me.”
“I certainly wasn’t the best athlete he ever coached, but the fact that Coach Long believed in me as a young athlete made all the difference at the time, and stayed with me,” said Overstake, who went on to compete in the decathlon at the University of Kansas.
Overstake also gave Long a copy of his new book, Maggie Vaults Over the Moon, inscribed with the words, “To the greatest coach there ever was.”
“Coach said he was going to give up watching his Saturday afternoon college football games to start reading the book right away, which I thought was pretty cool,” Overstake added.