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`Teen angel’ helps keep memory of coach alive

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I DON'T KNOW WHICH IS worse, packing or unpacking.

Packing is like pregnancy. You cram too much into too little space, then drag it around wondering why your feet are swollen. Unpacking is like labor. You get a brief sense of accomplishment followed by a deep postpartum depression.So there I was, wallowing in dirty laundry and despair, unpacking after almost a month on the road. When the phone rang, I sprinted to get it.

"How was your trip?" said Steve, one of my husband's former basketball players.

"It was long," I said. "How was your graduation?"

"It was long, too," he said laughing, "but good. I wore Coach Randall's tie."

Steve is the kind of kid that made my husband go to school whistling every morning for almost 30 years, happy as a clam in a tacky necktie, until last fall when cancer left him too weak to teach or coach. Steve was one of the "teen angels" who visited often; who made 1,000 paper cranes to wish him good health; who sat with him for hours watching TV and helped him out to the court to "shoot hoops" together.

In January, when my husband finally lost his fight with cancer, Steve was one of the speakers at his memorial service who recalled with eloquence and humor their teacher, coach and friend.

Suffice it to say, I like this boy. If his parents ever boot him out, he can live in my loft rent-free. Not that he'd ever be that desperate.

Steve was recently chosen as the first recipient of an annual scholarship established at Monterey High School in my husband's memory. It's not much money, barely enough to buy books. But as my husband would say, it's the thought that almost makes up for not getting a really good gift.

The scholarship criteria are simple, as decided by the coach. It should go, he said, to any graduate, male or female, who passed physics or chemistry (his subjects) with a "C" or better; who played high school basketball four years; and who was, on the whole, a joy to have around.

There were more than a few outstanding candidates. I was glad the choice was not mine to make. I was also glad Steve was chosen. He's not your usual scholarship winner, not the top student or best athlete, just a great kid who puts his heart and soul in everything he does. And he is a joy to have around. Even his parents say so.

He didn't get accepted to his first choice for college. Never mind which school - their loss is Indiana's gain. Even if he can't play for Bobby Knight's team, he'll be their most diligent fan.

I missed graduation but sent Steve a gift, a tie from my husband's collection. Never dreamed he would wear it. But he's a lot like his old coach.

Years from now, others will win the scholarship, never having met the man it's named for. All they'll know is that in some ways, the best ways, they are like he was. And those qualities, the strengths they share, will endure.

My husband invested his life in teenagers. He believed in his investment, never doubted it, even to the end.

I like to think he will be remembered long after all of us who knew him are gone. But I'm especially glad the first winner of his scholarship was someone who called him coach.