Eastern Washington football coach Beau Baldwin spoke Monday afternoon of battling, staying focused and finishing strong in the fourth quarter.
But instead of a few dozen football players, Baldwin seized the attention of hundreds of students at Rogers High School, where he and quarterback Vernon Adams tried to impart a few life lessons that go beyond the football field.
In other words, to stay on course even when life offers a hundred reasons to quit.
After all, this is the fourth quarter of the school year.
The event was part of Eagle Week, which, according to Ken Halpin, EWU’s associate athletic director for external affairs, gives the university “a chance to be a better partner to our area high schools, and deepen our engagement with the community.”
Consider the Rogers student body fully engaged. Hope sometimes hangs by a thread in Hillyard, but Baldwin took that string and ran with it.
At Monday’s all-school assembly, teenage irreverence gave way to respectful silence when Baldwin spoke of a middle-class life in Tacoma that was shatted at age 11 when his father died suddenly of a heart attack.
And how his mother’s quiet strength saw him through teenage ups and downs, from winning a state football title to the self-doubts of his first fall at Central Washington University.
“Anyone in any situation has to understand that we go through tough times in life, and everyone can find opportunity in that,” Baldwin said on the first stop of the week in which coaches and athletes will visit eight area schools.
The fundamental message is found in the acronym EAGLE: “Education, attitude, grit, leadership and excellence.”
To hear Baldwin tell it, the foundation is in the grit. He drew shrugs and laughs from his story of a pay phone call from Ellensburg to his mother.
His mother took the collect call and gave him back some change – a life change, as it turned out. Baldwin was told to stick it out through the school year.
Baldwin calls that a turning point in his life. He eventually earned a degree in education, stressing that “I went into coaching, but I’m still a teacher.”
Speaking next, Adams focused on his adolescent years in Pasadena, Calif., which was no bed of roses. Adams said he learned early that “people are going to tell you that you’re going to fail.”
That drew the attention of another group, the football players who were the subject of a Spokesman-Review series titled “Boys to Men.”
Their challenges were the same ones faced by Adams, whose life was buffeted by the gang culture and his parents’ divorce. For several years, he clung to sports to the detriment of almost everything else.
That is, until his father and coach took him aside and told him that he couldn’t stiff-arm his way into college with a 2.2 grade-point average.
Four years later, Adams said he’s on the verge of making the Dean’s List at Eastern.
“You can do anything if you put your mind to it,” Adams said.