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The Idle American
When Pigs Fly...
Wednesday, May 16, 2012 • Posted May 16, 2012

Once a track coach, always a track coach. Some retirees still have stop watches close at hand—maybe even looped around their neck—and their daily life continues to be framed with references to time, height and distance.

They still dream, but they’re mostly “re-runs” (pun intended).

One such retiree is David Noble, who spent almost four decades coaching track and field at the high school and collegiate level. A quarter-century was spent at Angelo State University, where he taught young men and women about the sport—and even more about life. Throughout his career, he turned out champions. The university’s annual track and field meet is now named the David Noble Relays to honor him….

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Settle down, I think to myself, having reached paragraph four without any mention of pigs. Hang on. Noble, who ranches, restores old cars and welds (including some items that don’t need welding), has adjusted to retirement fairly well. He and wife JoAnn are doing “grandparent things,” and the “life lap” they’re currently on requires some pacing. They’re now great-grandparents.

In their 52nd year of marriage, the Nobles spend considerable time attending contests, performances and events involving their five grandchildren. Often, their “to do” list includes attending FFA stock shows….

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I’m closing in on pigs now. Sydney Hamlett, the Nobles’ 15-year-old granddaughter, raises pigs for her ag project at Snyder High School. She’s entered contests all over the state, and her bedroom is festooned with trophies and ribbons.

JoAnn, herself a retired educator, has maintained decorum throughout life. She’s a model mom, grandmom and now great-grandmom.David has done the same thing—mostly. From time to time, though, “track thinking” takes over, drawing as much attention as a dropped baton on the final lap of a relay, a hurdler who fails to clear the barrier or a jumper/vaulter who almost clears the height. One such vignette occurred a while back, when the Nobles were in Snyder for an FFA stock show to support Sydney, and her prize pig, Arnold....

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As the youngsters assembled, one of the pigs broke free, racing at full speed toward the other end of the arena.

“Well, let’s go,” Noble blurted, “That pig gets the blue ribbon. All the rest of ‘em will be running for second place.”

Once a track coach, always a track coach….

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Noble still thinks in terms of inches, feet and yards, and may well have had the stop watch on Arnold.

If the track and field world had listened to him, enthusiasts for the sport in America would still be on the old measurement standard that served us well—until the NCAA went to the metric system.

He still reddens with disgust, convinced that the decision was a virtual knock-out blow to fans whose minds can’t—or won’t—wrap around the new numbers. He and several other coaches wailed about the conversion, but their voices were drowned out by a few big-time coaches who thought otherwise….

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“It would never have happened in football,” Noble opines. “Can you imagine a football TV guy saying it’s ’third down and 3.4 meters to go’? Fans want YARDS!”

He says that now, decades later, American sports fans are no closer to embracing the metric system than they were when it was first imposed on track and field events.

Sure, another century or two may make a difference, if the world is still spinning….

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Noble, himself a star quarter- and half-miler in high school and college, never converts his races to the metric system. He ran them in yards, by gum, so it doesn’t matter how many meters he covered.

His courage, conviction and dogged determination are rooted in associations with long-ago coaching giants, J. H. (Cap) Shelton and Joe Bailey Cheaney.

The latter was a beloved teacher and coach best known for his work as a race starter at Texas’ top track meets. He always had a “mini-sermon” before firing the pistol. “Men, I don’t know who is going to hit the string first, but I’m sure of one thing: We’re all leaving here at the same time.” That’s the very thing that defines Noble’s life, always fighting for “truth, justice and the American (not the metric) way,” whether it’s people or pigs….

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Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Metroplex. Email: newbury@speakerdoc.com. 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.

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