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Happy Retirement Coach - From, That Kid At The End Of The Bench

May 28, 2008 - John Whittaker

I knew all I needed to know about Ray Fashano long before he was the superintendent of the Jamestown Public Schools district.

Before I knew him as Mr. Fashano, or even as Ray, I knew him as Coach Fashano at Panama Central School. Before I saw him in a suit and tie, talking about budgets and reading levels, I saw him in a pair of gray shorts and a collared shirt, talking Xs and Os in a huddle.

I was a way, way, way, way, way, way, way end of the bench guy on the junior varsity, which meant Coach Fashano didn't have to waste any time on me - the slow, really short kid without a speck of athletic ability was the problem of Loren Smith, the junior varsity coach for whom I would later play both of my varsity seasons, and a great coach and great guy in his own right.

If there was one thing Coach Fashano and I had in common when we first met, nearly 15 years ago, it was our great fashion sense - and, yes, I'm laying the sarcasm on pretty thick.

I had these two pairs of, in retrospect, horribly ugly Bermuda shorts - when such horrible things were at least five years past their prime. For the first three weeks of practice, I don't think a day went by that Coach Fashano didn't make a joke about those shorts. Of course, Coach Fashano's coaching outfit in those days was almost equally dated - gray shorts that could have come from the mid-1980s and an ill-fitting collared shirt with a whistle hanging from his neck. Pat Riley, in all his sartorial splendor, Coach Fashano was not. Of course, Michael Jordan, I was not. We'd go back and forth, day after day.

That end of the bench junior varsity guy meant nothing to Coach's won-loss record at the end of the year, but that didn't mean Coach Fashano didn't try to make me a better player, working on Mikan drills that I would never use in a game, but that I can do in my sleep and pass on to kids now; pushing the slowest kid in the gym (not me this time, but another one of us jayvees) to finish sprints on time, not to quit, to work to be part of the team.

Before the age of No Child Left Behind, it was no player left behind in the Panama Central School gym. Though sports impose their own pecking order - star, starter, bench, mop-up guy, me - we were all equal in Coach Fashano's eyes as people.

None of us were going to the NBA, but, thinking back, I think it was one of those lessons coaches try to pass on to their players. Don't dismiss a weak link because he's slow or short, or an impeccably bad dresser. Teammates should work to make that weak link stronger. Weaker players should learn to make contributions any way you can. The biggest lesson of all, however subliminal it may have been, was that to get respect, you have to give respect.

I never thought about anything that deep my sophomore year - I just wanted Ray to stop making us run sprints.

How could Coach Fashano have known that slow, short kid in the Bermuda shorts would pop back up in his professional life 10 years later? He couldn't have known. That's the beauty of life. Everyone deserves respect, because you never know where you, and they, will end up.

I've gotten to know Ray Fashano better since then, as a reporter covering the Jamestown Public Schools district for two years and serving with Ray on the Downtown Jamestown Development Corp. board of directors the last couple of years. I met my fiance at one of Ray's school board meetings, just another delicious slice of irony and improbability in a lengthy relationship.

We've had differing opinions of stories or headlines in the paper. I had to do some tough stories on the district when I was covering it. I'm sure there were days Ray wanted to grab his whistle and see if I can still run a suicide in 24 seconds, knowing I'd never finish on time and have to keep running until I threw up.

The next day, though, when I'd see Ray at The Pub at lunch or out and about downtown, the greeting was always the same -- Hi Johnny. How's the job? How 'ya doing?

Give respect, get respect -- a lesson given not only to his basketball teams, but I'm sure to countless graduates of the schools Ray's worked in.

Here's to you, Coach -- enjoy a well-deserved retirement.


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