To The Point 8-23-12



Every week there are people who pass from this life, and every time they leave loved ones behind who grieve for them and for each other. The pages of this newspaper list names and accomplishments of those people, along with the names of family members and others who were important in their lives.

When you have a job like mine, you have to be careful not to fall into the trap that the list I see each week are “just names”. You see them and you put them on the page and you move them around so they fit in a particular way, and then you move on.

Each week I stop and wait and ponder that those listings aren’t just names, they are the center of someone’s world. They are an important part of someone’s family. They are a beloved coworker.

They are loved.

Mike McClure was a truly special person. His obituary will tell you that he was a teacher in the Switzerland County School Corporation; but it won’t tell you the names of the hundreds of students whose lives he touched with each class he taught and with each student he made feel important and cared for. You will learn that he taught all sorts of subjects, but missing will be the countless hours that he put into preparing for each class; and the energy he put into each class session helping students learn and understand.

His obituary will tell you that he leaves family behind, but it doesn’t come close to the scope of love that he had for his family. There is his immediate family; but there is also an entire network of people who consider him having a place in their family, from school to community service to church.

Mike McClure was the coach of the Switzerland County High School girls golf team for many years, and in that capacity my three daughters were blessed to be a part of his teams. Now I’ve been on some golf courses with some “hot heads” in my time (ok, I’m also guilty of throwing a club or two…..maybe 20), but over the decade that I watched Mike coach my girls, I came to see a man who saw himself as a teacher more than as a coach. He saw no positive impact in yelling or getting upset with his players or others, but instead remained low key and positive.

His girls played for him because they believed in him and they trusted him. They knew that he understood that – at the end of the day – they were simply kids playing a game. No one was putting with $1 million on the line; and no one’s self-esteem was worth being risked for the sake of a couple of strokes in a golf match.

He was so steady he was like a statue, always in the same place and always ready to offer comforting words.

On his golf cart, he had to cover a nine-hole course and find and follow a whole team of players, but somehow he always managed to be in the exact right place at the right time, just as one of his golfers needed him.

High school golf is fun for kids, but it’s a killer for parents. You are allowed to walk with them, but you aren’t allowed to “coach” them in any way. You can’t suggest a club to hit or a strategy to play; you can only congratulate them and encourage them.

Coaching is left to the coaches.

All three of my daughters found themselves in strange locations on golf courses throughout their high school careers; and they also had those moments when they felt like they would never hit another good shot.

Frustrated, they would stand in knee-high weeds and stare down at that white ball and fidget with the chosen club in their hands.

Mike would pull up on his golf cart, assess the situation, and find some words that would make it better. He would guide them and teach them, not berate them. He’d calm them down and make them laugh, and then he’d focus them on making one good shot.

Not worrying about the last one.

Not getting ahead of themselves for the next one.

Usually, the shot in question would jump from the rough and bound down the fairway, out of trouble.

“Good shot,” he’s say. “Remember how you did that.”

And then he was off.

Driving over the fairways to find another golfer, leaving only a golf lesson and a life lesson behind:

“Remember how you did that.”

But for the decade that the Lanman girls took their swings for Coach McClure, their bus rides to and from meets where just as much fun as the golf itself.

It was on those rides in the mini buses that he would sing songs to them, teaching them the hits of his teen years, while listening to their pop idols of the day. The girls loved riding on the bus with him, even if he told them that it was ok to ride with their parents.

There was that memorable weekend when the girls played in the Bedford Sectional, and because of their early tee time on Saturday, hotel reservations were made for Friday night.

What the school thought was a Days Inn turned out to be more of a Daze Inn, and as Mike and the girls pulled the mini bus into a parking lot featuring cars up on blocks and Scotch tape fixing broken windows.

As the girls looked at each other, they all looked to their coach, who looked through the windshield and muttered,

“Welcome to the Hotel California…”

A classic.

I cannot speak of Mike McClure without acknowledging that he was a tremendous man of faith. A sponsor of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, you didn’t need to be in an FCA meeting to see his faith and trust in his Lord come through.

I saw it on a terrible day in August of 2008, when the Lady Pacer golf team was teeing off in a match to open their season. Since it was before the school year started, the match was set for the middle of the day at Belterra; then moved to the late afternoon at Vineyard.

Senior golfer Laci Daugherty wasn’t at the course when the meet started, but Mike and others figured she either got caught at work or got mixed up on time and location.

When I got a call on my cell phone telling me that Laci and her father had been in a terrible accident, I had the task of hunting down Mike and telling him what was going on.

Without hesitation, Mike’s first move was to bring everyone off of the course. After all, this was sport, this was fun; but what the Daugherty family was going through was real life. He explained to the other coaches that there wouldn’t be a finished match that day, and if they wanted to count it as a win, they could – but he and his team were going to pack their clubs and go and see what could be done to help their friend and teammate.

And then, on the pavement behind the ninth green at Vineyard, Mike McClure gathered crying and grieving high school girls together and he put his arms around them and he comforted them. He told them that there were much more important things in life other than whether or not you shot in the 40s or made that birdie putt. He gave them life lessons and he told them that he loved them.

And then he prayed with them.

Staggered by the news, Mike knew that he needed to minister to those around him first, and he did just that. What an incredible testimony to a man of faith.

As I close, I hearken back to another favorite “Mike McClure Bus Ride Standard”, a song that every girl who played golf for him has heard him sing. It’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, originally sung by John Denver.

The first line of that song says, “My bags are packed, I’m ready to go, I’m standing here, outside your door.”

As a man of faith, in my sorrow today I take comfort in knowing that Mike McClure’s “spiritual bags” were packed, and that he was ready to go. Now he stands before the gates of Heaven, welcomed home by his Lord and Savior.

A man of faith. A life lived for others.

What a great, great man we’ve lost.