& Free Trip to Margaritaville
When Hurricane Harvey dumped prodigious rainfall on coastal Texas in August 2017, the home of Bill Smith, the former head football coach at Aldine High School, was flooded with more than three feet of water. Soon, many coaches and former athletes, as well as former coaches, came to Bill’s house to clean up the soggy mess. Among those was Huntsville resident Mitch Reed, who had been a member of Bill’s football coaching staff at Aldine High School during the 1980s and 1990s.
After a few days, there were only a handful of workers left to finish the clean-up and move Bill and his wife Brenda to another house. That’s when Mitch experienced a lightbulb moment. “The retired coaches were the ones who were able to show up as help was needed, because everybody else was working,” he says.
As Mitch remembered the great fellowship he and other coaches had enjoyed during his years of coaching, the metaphorical lightbulb grew brighter. “As a staff, we spend hours and hours together. The bond and the camaraderie we have is pretty tight,” he says. After retiring in 2016, Mitch missed that fellowship, and he imagined other retired coaches might miss it as well. Furthermore, he realized that retired coaches have much to offer and would certainly be willing to help other coaches who were experiencing hardship. He envisioned a network of retired coaches who would get together to socialize, but who would also be willing to deploy as needed to help other coaches, both active and retired. Mitch shared his idea with other retired coaches, and they seemed to like the idea.
So, Mitch formed a Facebook group called Coaches Helping Coaches, hoping retired coaches throughout Texas who needed help—and those willing to supply it—could connect. He soon found, however, that retired coaches have spotty participation on Facebook realized he needed a dedicated organization in order to function efficiently.
Mitch’s New Year’s resolution in 2020 was to turn his loose network of retired coaches into a non-profit organization, and he discussed it with his wife Lisa, a registered nurse at HCA Houston Healthcare Conroe. “She bought what I was selling,” Mitch says. The couple funded the start-up themselves; soon, Mitch’s parents made a generous donation to the new non-profit, as did Kitty Spence, a former Aldine High School assistant principal and football enthusiast. On May 20, 2020, Fellowship of Retired Coaches (FRC) became a 501(c)(3) organization with a vision of uniting active, retired, and future coaches through fellowship, service and scholarships. Anyone who has coached at a junior high or high school in Texas is eligible for free membership, including those who have coached, but who later moved on to other careers. “Once you’re a coach, you’re always a coach,” Mitch says.
A “fortunate career”
Mitch ran cross country and track at Pearland High School and Stephen F. Austin State University, and by the time he had finished college, he had decided to become a coach. He began his career in Aldine Independent School District in 1980, coaching for two years at Stovall Junior High before moving to Aldine High School. There he coached football and cross country and was the head girls track coach. During the 80s and 90s, Aldine High School was a football powerhouse, going to the playoffs every year but one, and going to the state finals twice. In 1990, Aldine High School won the state football championship and was recognized by ESPN as the best high school football team in the nation. The football coaches at Aldine High School were selected to coach the South All-Stars in the Texas High School Coaches Association’s All-Star Football Game that year, and Mitch was honored to participate.
Mitch also coached track and football in Tomball for four years and at The Woodlands College Park High School for another 12 years. In all, he coached for 36 years before retiring in 2016. Besides being associated with a legendary football program, he had the privilege of accompanying several athletes to the state track meet. “I had a fortunate career,” he says humbly. “I was at the right place at the right time.”
Friends predicted he’d become bored in retirement, but as the executive director of FRC, Mitch has a retirement job that keeps him busy. There was much to learn, but Mitch, thankful for his rewarding coaching career, is devoted to building FRC into a thriving, statewide organization. Soon after putting his plan in motion, he was joined by two former colleagues, Cathy Roach and Dwaine Wyman, and the trio became the first members of the organization’s board of directors.
Cathy, who coached a variety of sports at Aldine High School, applauded Mitch’s idea. “I thought it was really pretty cool,” she says. Now that the coronavirus pandemic is becoming an unpleasant memory, she is looking forward to socializing with other retired coaches. She is also pleased that FRC funds scholarships for future coaches, as well as the children and grandchildren of coaches.
Dwaine, who coached football and track with Mitch at Aldine, Tomball, and College Park, agrees. “Coaching is a service profession,” he says. “It’s hard when you are a coach. There are times during the season when you are working about 100 hours a week.” In retirement, there is more time. “If we can do something productive, it’s a good thing,” he says. He has been attending FRC socials and hopes to renew ties with former colleagues as events become larger.
From locker room to boardroom
A bit overwhelmed with the prospect of starting and operating a non-profit organization, Mitch got help from legalzoom.com; soon thereafter, he met David Hall, president of Palm Small Business Marketing in Conroe. David liked Mitch’s idea and offered a discount to help with business and marketing concerns. The company helped FRC with several tasks, such as designing a logo and building an interactive web site.
Others provided help, too. Cathy’s daughter, Brittany Duke, volunteered to tweak the organization’s website to make it easily accessible to members and prospective members. Former athletes—now in business—became sponsors of FRC’s inaugural golf tournament, which greatly exceeded expectations. “We did really well on our first golf tournament,” Mitch says. As a result of the fundraising effort, FRC was able to give $2,000 in scholarships in 2021: two $500 scholarships to students who aspire to be coaches and two $500 scholarships to the children of coaches. FRC’s goal is to provide ten, $1,000 scholarships in 2022.
As FRC moves past the pandemic that hindered its start-up, the organization wants to get the word out to coaches throughout Texas. “We need more members and more people to become aware of us,” Mitch says. While some retired coaches may simply want to socialize, others might be inclined to volunteer to help coaches who are experiencing hardship, or to help active coaches. Mitch envisions active coaches using FRC’s website to find retired coaches who can provide assistance. For example, active coaches might appreciate having knowledgeable volunteers at track meets. “We want active coaches to find out what we do,” Mitch says.
FRC, although still a budding organization, is growing. It has monthly socials in the Houston area, and a second annual fundraising golf tournament is planned. The expanded board of directors now includes two other former coaches: Ann Fuller and Mary Justice. Meanwhile, Mitch is becoming savvy on the internet. He encourages people to make easy, painless donations to FRC through smile.amazon.com, and even tweets, he says with a roll of his eyes. He hopes that his efforts will pay off and that retired coaches throughout Texas will be able to reconnect and serve the coaching community. “We lose touch with each other,” he says. “We need to be able to go back and help each other.”
For more information, visit fellowcoaches.com.