Coach Dale was the most beloved coach little Hickory High School ever had. He came to the school late in his career to revive its small but occasionally thrilling basketball program before making the unprecedented move to take over the school’s fledgling football program, growing it from literally nothing into an eventual state powerhouse. The move to football was a surprise, especially considering how much success he was having on the basketball court and how few resources the football program would have. In fact, the football field was carved out of a small donated piece of land that Coach Dale was often seen mowing himself in the early mornings before school. But he loved challenges. He felt they kept him young.
In both his roles at Hickory, first as basketball coach then as the school’s first football coach, he made a life changing impact on countless young men as they passed through “his army,” as he liked to put it. He taught the boys character, discipline, respect for authority, and the value of hard work. He opened their eyes to just how hard they really could work, getting more out of his players than they ever thought they had to give. Above all, preparation was his mantra. He was a military man, and being prepared for anything was ingrained into his very being. “No team of mine,” he would say as his players suffered through endless conditioning drills, “will ever run out of steam before its opponent.”
When he first moved to town, locals viewed Coach Dale as an outsider, but he quickly integrated himself into the close-knit community when he married Myra Fleener, one of Hickory’s favorite teachers and a graduate of the school. Like many in Hickory, she had lived in the small town all her life. Coach and Myra had one child together, a daughter named Deidra. Although Deidra never participated in athletics herself, she inherited a deep love of sports and competition from her father. She also inherited his love of hard work and insistence on preparation.
Many in the town thought Dale’s coaching days would be over when Myra unexpectedly passed away in her late 60’s. The town mourned her death with him, and it also mourned what it assumed would be the loss of a coaching legend. Coach Dale was 73 when Myra died, and many thought he was near retirement five years prior. No one expected him to keep at it without his heart and soul by his side. But Coach knew that if he stopped coaching, he’d be right behind Myra, and he still had a few more lives to touch. So he kept at it for another four seasons. In fact, Coach Dale never retired. He died unexpectedly less than a month after another successful football season came to a close. He was 77.
After her dad’s funeral, Deidra wasn’t sure where to begin. Coach Dale owned a modest home in Hickory, and she knew she’d need to empty it out and sell it, but she wasn’t sure exactly how she was supposed to go about doing that. She knew what bank her dad used, since there was only one in town, but she had no idea what else he owned. She put in a call to the only attorney in Hickory, who told her that he prepared a Last Will and Testament for her father the year Myra died. But he didn’t know where Coach would have kept it, and he didn’t have any information on any of Coach’s assets. Deidra embarked on what felt like a year-long treasure hunt, scouring the house and the mail for clues about any bank accounts, investment accounts, and life insurance policies her father owned. When she completed her detective work, she embarked on an expensive six-month probate process, which was legally necessary before she could do anything with her father’s estate. Unlike a Trust, a Last Will and Testament does not keep a family out of probate court.
Although Coach Dale had a passion for planning in all other areas of his life, and he preached preparation to his players on the court and on the field, he fell into the trap that caught so many before him and will continue coaching folks long after he’s gone. He wasn’t prepared for the day he would no longer be around. Who could blame him? No one wants to think about death. Everyone wants to believe they’ll be around forever. This is especially true for folks like Coach Dale, who never really slow down for fear that slowing down is the last step before stopping all together.
With a little planning, Coach Dale could have had documents prepared that would keep his daughter out of probate court, saving her a ton of time and money. He could have organized his important papers so that she would have known exactly what he owned and where to find it. All this would have been significantly easier than preparing for a football game. Don’t leave a mess. Leave a legacy.