Like Father, Like Son?
It’s not easy being a coach’s son, but these three fathers and sons have discovered a winning formula.
Fourth grader Cael Turner was on a wrestling mat before he could walk.
He would sit by his dad, head wrestling coach Justin Turner, as Justin coached the wrestlers Cael looked up to. He dreamed of being just as big, just as strong, just as talented as they were.
By age five, Cael had developed a true love for wrestling. At the same time, Justin was already pushing Cael hard, training him extensively and trying to instill in his son the importance of winning.
To his dismay, Justin’s passion for wrestling almost drove his son out of the sport he loves so dearly.
Justin and Cael are experiencing a dilemma every coach and son pair go through during their lives. Does the coach push their kid to the sport they teach or let the kid find his or her own way?
Justin is thankful his son has begun to redevelop the passion for wrestling he nearly lost five years ago. He also feels Cael naturally gravitated toward the sport because it was a huge part of his dad’s life growing up.
“I don’t know that he [Cael] knows there’s another way of life,” Justin said. “That’s all he knows. When you’re little and you want to hang out with Dad, well, Dad’s in the wrestling room, so you end up there.”
Head football coach Bart Epperson has told his kids, seventh-grader Maddox and eighth-grader Matthew, that they will play football. While the physical side of the sport is one aspect Bart loves, the unique life lessons the game teaches are what he hopes his kids will take away from their time on the field.
“I think that is something you can’t get anywhere else, and that is something that will pay great benefits when they are in their professions later in life,” Bart said.
Matthew and Maddox, both of whom have played football the majority of their lives, said they haven’t stopped enjoying the game since they became a part of a team.
“When I first tried out for football, I really liked it,” Maddox said. “You can tackle people and you won’t get in trouble for it, and you can get your aggression out.”
Third grader Cooper Guiler, son of head basketball coach Greg Guiler, knows his dad continues to influence his love of basketball, and thinks watching the players his dad has coached over the years has pushed him in that direction as well.
“I would go to all his [Greg’s] games, and it looked really fun when the varsity players were out there, so I wanted to be like them,” Cooper said.
As is the case with many things in life, the coaches agree it is important to balance coaching duties with being a father, both in terms of having fun with the sport and giving pointers to their kids.
Greg said the biggest key for him knowing when to coach or not has been listening to what Cooper wants and trying to support that.
“So far, he has wanted me to coach all the time, and that’s been one of the great blessings of my life,” Greg said, “but I’m sure that window is closing as he gets older and older.”
Though he does all he can to achieve the perfect balance between dad and coach, Justin feels that balance can be very difficult sometimes, especially because of the odd nature of a coaching job.
“Nothing comes before my family or my kids,” Justin said. “That’s a non-negotiable. It’s hard because I care about my athletes, I care about my students. And this isn’t a nine to five job. The hours are all over the place, and sometimes our family gets circumvented a little bit in that.”
In his experience, Justin has learned it is best to set boundaries for when he and Cael can talk about Cael’s athletics.
“There was this street near the field that he used to practice [baseball] on,” Justin said. “At the end of that street, we didn’t talk any more about baseball. It was done. After that, we talked about hunting or fishing or anything else.”
Thanks to assistant coaches with more than 65 years of coaching experience between them, Bart is able to leave practice early every Thursday to go see both Maddox and Matthew’s games. Because they are in seventh and eighth grades this year, they play at the same location, which is something he cherishes each week.
“My wife Tiffany [Epperson] and I will never get this time back in our lives watching our two boys play back to back games,” Bart said. “Tiffany takes off work early every Thursday, so we can watch as a family because family comes first. Next year Matthew will be on JV and Maddox eighth grade, and they play at different locations, so we will have to split up watching next year.”
This isn’t lost on Matthew and Maddox, both of whom feel every game is more special because both of their parents can be there. After this season ends, they will likely have to wait at least another three years before they can have the same experience.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Matthew said. “However, if he stays as head coach, and we play varsity, there will be another opportunity.”