How do you eulogize someone you idolize?
The other day, I was honored to speak at the memorial service for a man I’ve admired since I first met him. I hope you enjoy this tribute to the one and only Coach Jim Schell.
In his poem, Self Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.”
With all due respect to that giant of American letters, he clearly never met Jim Schell.
As we reflect upon our experience with the remarkable man we remember today, a singular theme emerges: Jim Schell was unfailingly consistent.
He was a great soul with MUCH to do.
Possessed of a bright and nimble mind, ever-ready with an affirming quip, Jim Schell understood the secret power of consistency, of routine and repetition as a way to build strength in the gym, hone skills at the office and form relationships everywhere he went.
Time and again since we learned of his passing, we’ve heard sentences beginning with the phrase “you could always count on Jimmy to…”
You can fill in the blank yourself.
You could count on him to be prepared for whatever challenge was next, be it a rugby practice, a play rehearsal or a long road trip. Those preparations went beyond the basic details to include the perfect mix tape soundtrack and the locations of the best Irish pubs near the destination.
Through focused study, Jimmy figured out the right way to do things, then did them that way EVERY SINGLE TIME. Then he delighted in teaching them and the transformative power of discipline to those who crossed his path.
His life was an accumulation of relationships with people who were affirmed by his genuine respect, inspired by his joy for life and transformed by his unwavering belief in their ability to reach their full potential.
He was a listener, a teacher…he was Coach Schell. Sitting here today, each of us can recall our own “Schell lessons.”
Maybe you’re one of the countless athletes he inspired on the way to wins on the court and field and in life.
Maybe you were one of his YMCA clients who know the “Stations of Strength” circuit by heart and are stronger, more confident as a result.
Maybe you’re one of his “theater kids” who borrowed his courage so you could take the stage and later realized his confidence remains in you, even today.
Maybe you knew Jimmy as a friend, sports parent or neighbor and found welcome in the familiar and oft-repeated aroma drifting over the fence: a mix of fresh-cut grass, grilling pork steaks and a hint of cigar smoke. Accompanied, of course by the sound of classic rock.
Maybe you hail from the Barlow side of the family and knew him as Uncle Jimmy, ringleader of the Outlaws, the official welcomer of newcomers and island of stability in the swirling chaos of our tribe.
I met Jimmy when I was very young and was taken with him immediately. In him I saw the sort of man I aspired to be: literate, athletic, joyful. He treated everyone he met as a unique, valuable individual. He listened to us, no matter our age or distance from the center of his life.
He even listened to me as a five year old boy, answering all of my persistent questions, including “what does beer taste like?” A man of his literary gifts could have easily explained it, but he knew experience was the great teacher and offered me a sip of one of his ever-present, ice-cold beers. Simultaneously, I was exhilarated by this dangerous opportunity and disgusted by the taste. It was a useful lesson from Coach Schell.
I didn’t drink beer again regularly until 8th grade.
If you were truly fortunate, you knew Jimmy as a loving son, as Alice Schell did, or brother, as did Joyce, Jack, Tom, Dan and Joan.
Even more fortunate than they are his remarkable daughters, Jessie, Jennie, Jodie & Jane, who grew up in his climate of consistency:
Consistent love. Consistent coaching. Consistent listening.
He was even consistent in how he named you, making the letter J part of your identity as part of the remarkable team of empowered women he spent his adult life building.
An outside observer might have said “he raised his daughters like the son he never had,” but I would beg to differ. Having been shaped by the rigors and disciplines of athletics, he knew their power to teach and strengthen people, to bring out their best under pressure. He understood that the unique disciplines of team sports would empower his daughters to walk through life with confidence.
And, walk they do.
· From his first born, Jessica, who went on to kick down doors as a Kansas City cop and thrive as a single mother,
· to Jennie, a distance runner and business executive who has outworked every coworker in every job she’s ever had,
· to Jodie, whose confidence enabled her the storm the stages of Los Angeles and now thrive as a working mother
· to Jane, Sweet Jane, who now basically runs one the largest open air theaters in America.
These four women, are testament to his love, inspiration and consistency.
They are also a result of what I’d argue is the best decision Jimmy ever made: marrying my sister, Julie, the love of his life. Julie Schell lived closest to Jimmy, knew him best, and, through the years, showed us all that she knows a thing or two about consistency herself.
Most relevant today is the unerring consistency of your commitment as Jimmy battled the opponent that finally took his life. You put on a clinic in loving. You took love from the abstract to the concrete.
From every clinic visit and doctor conversation to his farewell tour road trips, you consistently just did the work. We are all humbled by your fierce devotion to your man, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him as the game clock ticked down.
For you, for all of us, and for Jim, I would offer that consistency is a reward unto itself, but it is also a lesson God desires for all of us. In the book of James, 1st chapter, we read “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.”
Through his steadfastness in this life, steadfastly loving and coaching others, Jim has finally mounted the medal stand to accept his reward. Here today, we are the audience to that medal ceremony, enriched by his tutelage, inspired by his example, and empowered to live our own lives with such purpose.
Outside of photos, we may not see his grin and twinkling eye again, but he lives on in the lives of everyone here. Every time we decide to work out or do just on more rep, he’s there. Every time we greet someone with a “why, you, I oughta,” he’s there. Every time we see the Cardinals play, he’s there. Every time, we hear Irish music, taste a beer or hear the laughter of his grandchildren, he’s there, in us, with us, inspiring us.
So let’s live well, like Coach Schell, and be consistent.