If you had the opportunity to relive one pivotal moment of your life again, would you make a different choice – even if it meant altering the course of your life you lead now? It’s a lasting question that we all face at some point. One that never gets old.
It’s the basis for a new movie, TOUCHBACK, starring Kurt Russell, Brian Presley, Melanie Lynsky, Marc Blucas, and Christine Lahti, and opening in theaters Friday, April 13. It’s directed by Don Handfield, his first big-screen production. Here is how Don summarizes the movie:
“TOUCHBACK tells the story of former high school football star turned farmer and family man, Scott Murphy (Brian Presley) who finds himself with a unique opportunity to revisit his glory days during the state championship game where he permanently injured his knee in a game-winning play. Given a second shot at his destiny, Scott seeks counsel from Coach Hand (Kurt Russell), Scott’s longtime mentor on and off the field, to help him decide whether to let his fate unfold, or follow a path that will change his future.”
I can’t wait to see this movie, and I’ll tell you why after you watch the trailer:
My last memories of Don Handfield (aside from Facebook), are from 23 or so years ago. He was a 119 lb high school wrestling standout and I was a 98 lb shrimp who just hoped to dominate one opponent on the mat like he seemed to do in matches every week. Our Coach was Coach Bobby Hand, who was Don’s inspiration for the Kurt Russell character (although he’s a football coach in the movie).
COACH BOBBY HAND (back when life was in black and white – heh)
Coach Hand was tough, and tough on us. I’d like to see him and Kurt Russell duke it out. Kurt would win in a beauty contest, but Coach is a scrapper and would at least make Kurt a little less pretty. Not all of us were destined to be technically great wrestlers, and Coach put us through cardio hell to ensure we would always be at least the best conditioned against any opponent. My only saving grace in a number of matches was that I could ramp up in the third period while others tuckered out.
Coach Hand also pushed me to wrestle those much better than me in practice, instead of those I could beat easily (which was a short list anyway), because the quickest way to learn how they crush opponents is by being an opponent that they crush. It’s a masochistic approach, I know, but it worked. And Don was one of a select group who regularly doled out the ass kicking, for my benefit of course. I learned a ton from him, because he took time out, and not just to whup up on me, to teach me and answer questions.
I was a pretty consistent B-student. An A or two, a C or two, and lots of Bs on every report card. At one point, my grades slipped. Not below the limits for school sports participation, but more Cs and fewer As and Bs. Coach Hand pulled me out of wrestling practice for a meeting in his office – a little cave in the locker room. Never a good sign. He gave me a pretty stern talking-to and asked me a lot of questions to determine the issue and what needed to be done. At one point, I recall asking why he cared, since my grades were still good enough to wrestle. That lit him up pretty good. He asked if I saw a problem with the fact that he expected more from me than I did of myself. That hit me hard. It stuck with me from that day on. Still today. And he told me that if my grades didn’t improve in short order, he’d pull me from the active roster until they did. You can bet I moved fast to right the ship – not as much because of the possible punishment, but because I didn’t want to let Mr. Hand down, and I realized I was letting myself down.
Before the district wrestling tournament at the end of the season, Coach Hand would hand-write a note (such a lost art) to every wrestler on the team and tape it to his locker. The date on mine is March ’89 – I’ve kept it all this time because it meant that much to me. It reads:
I feel great pride in having an individual like you as part of a team I coach. Your smile and dedication serve as an example to all of your teammates – and your coach. For the kind of person you are – and you are developing into – I can imagine only a bright future. Enjoy it – you deserve it!
He also was a prankster. Wrestlers are pretty transparent when it comes to communicating that they are injured – and not through words. They announce that they need the trainer to check them out, slather themselves in Icy Hot, or “get taped” wherever they have an ailment. Coach Hand found this comical and one day came in with tape around his head, his chest, his wrists, a few fingers, one quad, a knee, an ankle, and around the toes of his shoes. He was only my wrestling coach for a short time before another took over. But he will always stand as one of my greatest life coaches.
He left too soon. I still had a lot to learn from him. I still do. And I’m thankful that we reconnected via Facebook and even caught up over the phone recently. Hearing his voice again was awesome, although I must admit I threw up a little in my mouth in pavlovian response to the voice that used to push as as we ran sprints, stairs, laps, and on and on. But he never asked us to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. And I saw him running on the track nearly every day during lunch. The man was a machine – physically, morally, ethically.
Coach pushed us hard, but more importantly than wanting us to be good wrestlers, he wanted us to be good men. Some days I live up to that. Some days I fall way short. But I am always thankful for the high standards he instilled, the tools he gave, and the example he set.
That Coach Hand is being immortalized in a movie and played by one of the great badass actors of our time, decades after Don, and I, and many others, were impacted by his life’s teachings is a tribute to the type of coach and type of man that he is. I wish that I had the talent and platform to shine as big a spotlight on Coach Hand, and a few others who have influenced and guided me, both personally and professionally, often without knowing how much they have meant to me. For now, this, and my incessant thanks, will have to do.
I hope you will check out Don’s movie and report back. And I hope Don crushes it on opening weekend, as much as he crushed me in practice – but in a good way.
You can find theaters and showtimes at this link:
And here is a current list of dates and markets where the movie is slated to run:
Des Moines, IA
Oklahoma City, OK
Corpus Christi, TX
El Paso, TX
San Angelo, TX
Wichita Falls, TX
Salt Lake City, UT
Colorado Springs, CO
Grand Rapids, MI