Jed LaceyIn an interview on May 4, 2017 Coach Jed Lacey talks about finding a girl's soccer team to coach in heaven.
Without fail, every time I interviewed Coach Jed Lacey he talked pointedly about three things: That soccer was his life, he loved what he did and “his” kids were his family.
It would be a difficult task to find anyone who’d disagree that any of those were true.
My first encounter with Lacey was on the sideline of a soccer game he was
coaching and I was covering. His loud and relentless screams at his players
initially took me back.
He sounded angry.
He sounded intimidating.
I’m guessing that the words delicate and subtle have rarely if ever been used to describe the man who was about to enter his 23rd year of coaching the sport he loved.
One evening I showed up to what was my second or third soccer game. I took my usual spot standing on the sideline, but away from the team and the benches.
Lacey spotted me and with what was his usual, stern-looking expression, he began striding down the sideline toward me.
He looked like he had something to say and that I might not like to hear it. Panicked I thought, what did I do? Should I not be standing here?
When he reached me he said in his gruff tone, “I have a chair for you.”
He then proceeded to explain that there was no need for me to stand the whole game while I was covering his team and that he’d brought a seat for me down with the rest of the team and the staff.
I was caught off guard, but it was the first time I began to understand the kind of man he was.
What seemed to be an overly intense person who takes the job too seriously, was actually a man who was not only passionate about what he did, but at his core, relentless about caring for others.
That meant seeing his players be the best they could, both on and off the field.
That meant caring for a reporter who was there to watch his team.
He told me time and again that he lived and breathed soccer.
The better I knew him, the better I understood that this was a calling.
It is the same way that a teacher is called to the classroom to better children.
It is the way that a pastor is directed by God to be in a pulpit shepherding his people.
Jed Lacey was made to be on that sideline and in the halls of Dawson County High School, loving well the kids he came in contact with every single day.
During my second season of covering Lacey-coached soccer, my husband and I got kicked out of a game. (The particulars aren’t important though let's just say there was a grave discrepancy over what should have been a goal.) Regardless, play was suspended while the head ref insisted that we leave.
It was humiliating, mainly because I didn’t want to interfere or be a distraction—and clearly we were.
The following day I texted to apologize for any embarrassment we may have caused. He replied immediately asking me to call him.
I nervously dialed but found him laughing on the other end of the line, saying it was so great that the newspaper had been kicked out of the game. He couldn’t imagine what in the world I had said to warrant it, but he loved it.
He told me that I had become a part of his soccer family. For that I will always be grateful.
What seemed a disgrace became a bonding and even a blessing.
About a year ago, I shared with Lacey that he often made me think of my younger brother—whose name was also Jed, who also shaved his head, who also had his kind of charisma.
I told him that I liked knowing him and that my brother had died in a car wreck in the early hours of a hot Saturday in August. So to be reminded of him was always a blessing to me.
He listened well and then said “let me give you a hug.” So I did.
Saturday my kids came in to tell me that they’d heard something awful—and they had.
I grabbed my phone. The confirmation crushed me.
This was never something I wanted them to have in common.
I went to my audio notes and scrolled to find one of our last recorded interviews—when I talked to him about being named coach of the year for the fourth time.
He told me maybe there’d be a team he could coach in heaven.
After the story about him came out, he texted and said: “Great article by the way. You made me sound nice. That does not happen every day. Thank you.”
I just told the truth.
This week marks 10 years since the death of my own Jed and the similarities have turned brutal, but what seems to be meant for evil will often be used by God for good.
I know this will be true with the life of Jed Lacey and I am thankful I knew him.
Amy French is the sports reporter of the Dawson County News.