New Beginnings – A Letter to My DHS Athletes

In early March of 2017 I officially accepted a new position in the field of Strength & Conditioning: a coordinator role in the Cleveland Indians organization. This, of course, now moves me from my most recent position, as the Director of Strength & Conditioning for DeLand High School.

For most on the outside, this move needs little explanation; progressing from the high school level back to the professional ranks is something everyone on the outside expects that they, themselves, would do.

But, those on the outside lack the whole perspective. What they don’t – and can’t possibly – understand is how incredibly tough the decision was to make. They don’t know about the investment that was made at DeLand High School – a supreme investment of time, effort, and energy; an investment in the facilities, the program, and most of all the kids. And, an emotional investment that dates all the way back to my own high school experiences as a DeLand Bulldog.

At a glance, my time at DHS appears to be a one-year stopover. But, the fact is, I have spent over a third of my entire life walking the halls of DeLand High School:

Four of those years were served as a student, with a whole-hearted investment in the DHS curriculum. I studied in the school’s International Baccalaureate program, so my high school education was anything but passive or lack luster. I loved my teachers, classmates, and administration.

In that time I also invested two years in the Marching Band. I even rose to the leadership role of Drum Major during my sophomore year.

As most know, I invested four years in the baseball program as well. I even achieved Varsity Captain status and won the “Coach’s Award for Leadership” my senior year. This is not to talk about any superficial accolades, but simply to illustrate how invested I was in the baseball program at DeLand High School.

And, there was even an extracurricular investment of time and effort in the DHS Fellowship of Christian Athletes, as I served as the club’s Vice President. I was very involved in DHS and I am beyond thankful for those opportunities during such formative years.

The word “investment” is emphasized above for a reason: I did my absolute best to lead, grow, and develop within the walls of our great school.

This investment did not cease upon graduation either. After walking the stage with my fellow Bulldogs in 2010, I immediately found another way to buy in and invest in the school, serving as a JV and Varsity baseball coach. I made this year-round investment with the intention of further growing as a person – and then as a professional – within our great school, but also to give back after my four transformative years.

And, I did so without earning anything monetarily – but that was completely okay. The opportunity to learn and impact young lives was enough, as was the immense pride and sense of accomplishment I received as a result of doing so at my alma mater. I trained the baseball team, warmed them up each and every day, and attended and coached at nearly every JV and Varsity game for four years straight, not to mention every fall game, summer game, etc.

And, then, after a couple of years away, I was entrusted with the opportunity to build the school’s strength and conditioning program from the ground up. This gave me a whole new appreciation of what it means to invest in something. If I thought I loved the school, the people, and the processes before, I have found an even greater level of each this past year.

***

There is nothing that I haven’t learned, implemented, or reinforced as a coach in the DeLand High School weight room. I grew up in that weight room. I made lifelong friends, mentors, and family in that weight room. It is quite literally my favorite place on Earth.

I have learned so much from the many great coaches of DeLand High, and even more from my athletes. I can’t thank my athletes enough for allowing me to work alongside them. They have helped me and challenged me to grow – more than they could even know or appreciate at this point in their lives.

I needed my bulldog athletes, and all of the experiences that I had with them; I have learned more about what does and does not work (in training, coaching, communicating, leading…), what it takes to coach and build a program, and what it truly means to be in a servant leadership position. Most of all, I’ve learned the true significance and responsibility of being in a position to help change and impact young lives for the better.

As I write this today – just hours after personally locking up the DHS weight room for the last time – I hope and pray that, in the very least, I have made half as much of an impact on the students, athletic programs, and school, as they have made an impact on me.

There has been no greater honor than to be a Bulldog. And, a lifelong Bulldog I will be.

God Bless,

RJF

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