Small town living has many ups and downs, but one of the most positive aspects is growing much closer to those who live around you compared to city living.
This is especially true when you grow up in a community with wonderful school teachers who choose to live there for the entirety of their lives. Part of the joy is developing friendships with those teachers as you grow into adulthood.
Over the weekend, along with hundreds of others, I paid respects and said “goodbye” to a person who was one of those educators for those of us lucky enough to grow up in Rush Springs. Barry Foster has had many stories told about him all across the nation over the past week after he succumbed to conditions caused by COVID-19.
If I were to list all of his accolades over his career, it would take up my entire column. Still, his thirty years of coaching experience provided hundreds of wins, numerous awards, and countless life experiences for those he served as a role model and a mentor.
I had my own learning experiences provided by him over the years. When I needed discipline as a student, he delivered it with fairness and a lesson on life and why what I did was not the best choice. As an adult, Barry would visit with me at local basketball games about current events and want to know my take on issues.
He was very supportive of his wife, Lesa, with her work in the American Cancer Society, often serving as a volunteer for her functions, and we would visit at those events also. When we worked on an issue very important to both of us regarding athlete safety, I knew I could trust his judgment on what would be the best and most realistic approach. We both knew that it would take effort to move the needle for the better.
Barry tragically lost his life from a disease that took him from us far too soon, even though he was extremely cautious. During his funeral service, the officiant reminded us of a Fellowship of Christian Athletes poster that hung in one of the school building’s lobby. On it was a very young boy wearing a football jersey and watching older kids play ball. The line “Never underestimate your influence” was also discussed. Truer words have not been spoken and need to be remembered during these troubling times.
Please understand that your words and your actions have an impact on those who look up to you. I have witnessed others discouraging people from taking necessary, voluntary precautions can have deadly consequences.
Lesa and I spoke about how Barry felt about the pandemic. He knew it was important to protect others long before he contracted COVID-19. Please wear your mask, watch your distance, wash your hands, and take your shot when the vaccine is available. While there are no guarantees in life, we have lost far too many good people when these simple precautions can help stop the spread and save lives.
People have been using a line to pay tribute to Barry Foster on social media – “Great game, Coach” – and that rings true. Coach Foster not only succeeded on the field but also at the game of life. The young Oklahomans he inspired are too numerous to count in his “win” column, and I am glad that I got to be one of them.