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Leadership isn’t always defined by the score.


Fall 1979
Saranac Lake Varsity Football Team
1980 Canaras Yearbook Photo

     It’s a play most Saranac Lake football folks besides me likely don’t even remember. It’s not glorified in yearbook photos. It never made any record book. It is, however, the one play from my high school football career that has stayed with me through the years, above all others.

     My memory of that day’s game before and after the play have always been a bit hazy. It must have been the fall football season of 1979. My first as a member of Coach Raymond’s varsity Saranac Lake football team.  I know this because that was the only football season that Kyle and I played together.  

      The fact that my memories of the game’s circumstance or progression that day are somewhat confused should come as no surprise to anyone. Everything on the gridiron was a bit confused for me that year. It was my first experience playing football of any kind.  Coach Raymond had hit the nail on the head the first day I took the field for practice, and he introduced me to the rest of the team.

“Men, this here is Monk. He doesn’t know whether the ball is blown up or stuffed.”

Coach Raymond was right on the money.

Monk didn’t.

     We had a number of pretty good playmakers on the team that year; Bach, Camelo, Fobare, Doty, Samuels, Kennedy, Cates, Munn, just to name a few. My newly ordained alter ego as Monk was most definitely not one of them.

Fall 1979
Saranac Lake Varsity Football
Canaras Yearbook Photos

     No, Monk’s primary jobs that season were human tackling dummy during practices and on game days dutifully manning left bench.  Coach Raymond may have duly ordained me, but the only prayer I said that season was

“Please God, when and if ever I get in the game, don’t let me get knocked on my ass, miss my block, fumble or drop the ball if I somehow end up returning a kick-off, do anything outlandishly stupid, or miscount Fobare’s “HUTTS”.

     I clearly remember it being a home game though. Of that much, I’m certain.  I want to say it happened during our game against Malone, but as I recall, the play occurred in a game that we lost. We beat Malone that year, so the play must have taken place against either Tupper Lake or Massena. 

I think we played Tupper on the road that year, so my best guess is that the play in question happened during what I rather hazily remember, through yearbook enhanced process of elimination recall, was a home game loss against archrival Massena.

Fall 1979
Saranac Lake Varsity Football
Schedule & Results
1980 Canaras Yearbook Photo

     Again, my primary focus that season was on remembering my cup and not losing my helmet. If there’s someone out there with a better memory than mine, please feel free to correct me.

     At any rate, I do recall preparing for the game, as we always did, on team game film night. Munching big bowls of popcorn while we took in our coaches’ combined game strategy chalk talks and studied reels of black and white game films in Coach Plumadore’s basement.  Those game film nights were one of my favorite parts of football that year. They usually took place on Thursdays.

     We had a really good team that year. We were fighting for another NAC Championship, just like Coach Raymond’s varsity football squads always did.

     I’m not sure who our official team captain was. I seem to recall that we had more than one.  Sometimes official titles don’t matter.  While several players played key leadership roles on offense, defense, calling plays and in huddles, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind who our main on-field inspirational leader that year was. It was Kyle.

     I knew Kyle a little bit before football started. We’d played summer league baseball for the same Larry Doyle team, American Legion.  I played first base, centerfield, and pitched a bit. Kyle played everywhere. That was just the sort of athlete he was. Quick, smart, versatile, tough as nails, never afraid to get dirt on his uniform or dive for the ball, always cheering on teammates, everything done with hustle, determination, grit, purpose and grin.  

     I’m not sure which half it was, or the quarter. I suspect it was a bit late in the game, because nothing had gone according to plan.  I don’t remember the score at that point, but we were struggling.  I do clearly remember feeling a nervous panic overtaking the pit of my stomach as I watched seconds click off the clock from the bench.  

     Our defense had managed to hold the line and force our opponents to punt.  I wasn’t on punt return at that point. That assignment would not come until later. Right then I had all I could handle remembering my duties on kick offs, kick-off returns, an occasional blocking assignment at end, and dutifully manning my post and cheering on my teammates from left bench.

     I’m not sure who all was on the field for that play. I remember Kyle was deep man on our return team, back on about the ten-yard line on the side of the field by Lapan Highway.

     The ref’s whistle blew. Their center snapped the ball. Their punter punted. Everyone blocking converged near midfield as the ball flew. It must have been a short off-line punt, because no one caught it. Instead, somewhere in the vicinity of the twenty-five-yard line, for some reason unbeknownst to me, the football simply landed.

    I remember seeing Kyle, a referee or two, and several opposing team members converge on the ball. No one had touched it. The football was still slowly rolling.

     As the ball wobbled closer and closer to stop, Kyle and the opposing players surrounding it moved in closer yet, still without anyone touching it.  It looked like we would end up with the score turning against us and our backs to the wall, starting another offensive series from about our own twenty.

     Suddenly, without warning, about the time the ball was about to finish its last wobble, Kyle reached in and grabbed it. He momentarily caught everyone completely off guard, including Coach Raymond.

     Kyle quick darted right, shooting past the opposing team’s players, towards our sideline. But alas, our team’s heart and soul playmaker had not made a clean pick. The football did not come with him.  The other team immediately pounced on his missed grab.

     I remember that moment, unfolding in slow motion in front of me as we all watched in horror from the bench. Coach Raymond was livid as Kyle trotted quietly, head down, off the field.

I think nearly every player on the team understood and respected what Kyle had hoped to accomplish with that play. Despite all his bluster, I suspect Coach Raymond did too.

Momentum was clearly against us. We were in danger of losing the game. Kyle was trying to spark a fire, help lead our team to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. That’s what playmakers do.

     I remember being very glad I was Monk and not Kyle right then. I’m not sure what Coach said to him, but I suspect if I knew, I’d dare not repeat it.

     Kyle being who he was though, shook it off and after a brief withering tongue lashing by Coach, hustled right back on the field to lead our defense through the next series of plays.

     I don’t clearly remember what transpired after that, our opponent that day, or what the final score was.

     What I have carried with me from that game is a lesson I learned from Kyle about leadership. A lesson about fearlessness, courage, a willingness to assume responsibility, take a risk, put it all on the line for the team.  Through the years, I’ve found myself thinking about the lesson I learned from that game, from that play, and to the best of my abilities trying to apply that lesson to my life.

     I still run into Kyle every now and again on my hometown forays back to Saranac Lake. More frequently though, I encounter his amongst my social media interactions with my SL family, friends and fellow Saranac Lake football alumni on Facebook.

     I suspect Kyle never planned or intended that moment, that play.  I suspect he was acting instinctively. Because, while I was never one on the field, I suspect that’s what playmakers do.

     In fact, I suspect Kyle would probably rather everyone had by now forgotten that play. I’m quite certain he never gave thought to the example he was setting for his teammates that day.

A few years later, the Army exposed me to an ongoing series of leadership seminars as part of my officer’s training regimen during my time with 10th Mountain. During these sessions senior officers and NCOs discussed and explored such aspects of leadership as leading by example and assessing risk versus gamble.

I suspect playmakers aren’t consciously motivated by such thoughts. I suspect they act instinctively, fearless of failure, seizing the moment.

Sometimes playmakers can’t be judged solely by their effort’s immediate outcome.  What I’ve remembered about the play that day on our high school gridiron is the lesson Kyle taught me about being a playmaking leader. A lesson I’ve carried with me to this day.

Playmakers can’t be judged solely by one effort’s outcome.

Leadership isn’t always defined by the score.      


Until Our Trails Cross Again:


aka: “Monk”