Jared Lankford: Family theme more than an empty word

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Lankford

Every year, Lance Parnell, Cassville football coach, writes a personal letter to the loyal members of Wildcat Nation, and it appears in the Fall Sports Preview edition of the Cassville Democrat.

In his letter, Parnell introduces himself to the community, then briefly explains why he is excited for the season and the hopes he has for his team.

This year, Parnell noted the motto chosen for his group of players is "Family."

It isn't unusual for fans, and even media, to breeze right on past this brief mention on our pages. After all, coaches frequently talk about a need for players to buy into their system, give 100 percent or take everything one game at a time.

However, I've come to change my mind on how Parnell and his coaches operate.

As a journalist, I judge high school coaches on simple criteria -- are their teams better at the end of the season than the beginning, do these individuals command the respect of their players and are they setting good examples.

My parental side looks at if these individuals are trustworthy enough that I can entrust my children to them. Are they role models that can assist in making sure my

children become not only better athletes, but better individuals that will become productive in our society.

With the team motto of "Family" this year for the Wildcats, there are several things that you can use to judge Lance Parnell and the Wildcat coaching staff.

It starts long before the season even begins with the initial team meeting of the incoming seniors. Parnell places the mantel of leadership and responsibility upon their shoulders.

Then, there is the summer camp at William Jewell College, where the coaches admit it is less about football and more about spending time with their players. The coaches lose hundreds of Madden football games and die a thousand deaths in Call of Duty matches, but the players become more like sons than just names on a position chart.

The Alumni Night tailgate party prior to the first home game adds to the depth of the Family as Parnell and his coaches reach out to those generations of former Wildcats and let them know they are still part of the family.

What seems like an insignificant gesture to some means the world to those men who huddle in the end zone reliving the glory days. There is something honorable and almost magical created for those who have put on the football jersey for Cassville. 
Not only does Parnell shake every one of the former players hands, he talks to his team about the Wildcat Family legacy and he borrows from the United States Marines when he says once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.

But, the icing on the cake is when his team takes the field to the roar of the crowd.

Instead of racing down the tunnel of adoring fans, the Family, arm-in-arm, walk behind the jerseys of two brothers, Lawrence and Michael Dickson who died in an automobile crash in April.

The march of solidarity was the idea of the players. Parnell said he let them choose a fitting tribute. I have no doubt that the influence of the family-minded coach factored into the specific tribute chosen by his sons.

To me, it was one of the most classy tokens I have ever witnessed. The team, coaches and school should be commended for that touching moment.

At the end of the day, for the judgment of coaches, it boils down to character. Character, I believe, is revealed by our actions, not just our words.

On Friday, Parnell, his coaches and Family of players showed their true character. Any parent should be honored to have a child associated with a program of such incredible integrity.

I've posted a video taken by Steve Reid of the Wildcats entrance on Friday at www.cassville-democrat.com/sports.

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of the Cassville Democrat. He can be reached atsports@cassville-democrat.com, or 417-847-2610.

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