In 1974, Coach Henderson taught the Driver’s Education course at Cherokee High School in Canton, Georgia. Perhaps he possessed a first name, but we all called him “Coach.”
His real job was managing the football team’s offensive line. During the school day, however, he also taught teenagers how to drive. Fortunately, he was better at the latter than the former since the Warriors went 2-8 that year.
Students spent time in the classroom before graduating to an actual automobile. We learned the rules of the road and traffic signs in preparation for the driving exam. Decades before computer simulators, novice drivers practiced in mock-ups of car interiors. A battery of tests checked visual and aural acuity.
The local Ford dealership in Canton supplied the school with a fleet of cars. Coach Henderson would pile four students in the car, and off we would go. Little wonder that the hair he had not already pulled out turned prematurely grey.
I learned many valuable lessons in Driver’s Education. Most primarily pertained to operating a motor vehicle; however, a few lessons possessed a wider life application. I didn’t learn everything I needed to know in Driver’s Ed, but some of the lessons have continued to inform me over the years.
Coach Henderson always stressed keeping one’s eyes on the road. Over and again he would recite: “The car will go wherever you look.” This dictum applies both on and off the road. Vision determines life’s direction. Fixing one’s sight on a higher goal guarantees personal growth. Glance to the side and you can end up in a ditch. Look backwards too long and no progress is made at all.
Another Henderson adage warned: “Where there is a ball, there is a boy.” If a ball bounces into the street, then a child is almost always in close pursuit. Several times I have slammed on the brakes moments before I actually saw a child darting out into the road. The coach’s advice has saved more than a few lives over the years. If we pay attention, most trouble can be avoided before it begins.
When in danger, Coach Henderson drummed into our heads: “Use your brakes AND your steering wheel.” Most drivers react to danger by locking down the brakes. Following Newton’s Law of Inertia, however, cars in motion tend to stay in motion. Even in an era of antilock systems, braking alone is not always enough. Coach taught us that many accidents can be avoided by steering around the obstacle. His words have saved me on more than one occasion. If you’re headed for a collision in life, consider taking a new direction.
Coach Henderson taught us that defensive drivers look a long distance down the road. Both rookies and pros make the mistake of focusing on the car immediately in front of them. At highway speeds, however, reactions occur in split seconds. Good drivers anticipate situations by glancing further down the road. Cultivating a greater perspective is always a good idea.
Teenage drivers think they know it all; and I was no exception. I did not appreciate the lessons Coach Henderson taught our class forty-some-odd years ago. However, these basic rules continue to inform my driving and life.
- Watch where you’re going.
- Most accidents can be avoided.
- Consider a new direction.
- Maintain your perspective.
Oh, and don’t forget to enjoy the ride!