Editor's Note: A story in Saturday's newspaper, “Unsung football mentor waits and wonders,” Page A-7, incorrectly stated Anderson County Youth Football coach Melvin Coleman said his mother “had always told him to not trust white people.” What Coleman said was, “During that time, we were taught not to trust white people.” Coleman said Monday, however, his mother never felt that way.
A passion for football and mentoring young men kept Anderson County football coach Melvin Coleman in the game for 32 years. Now, as the Anderson County Youth Football League faces an uncertain future, Coleman wonders if a lifelong mission has ended.
For the moment, the athletic complex is tangled in a lawsuit over compliance with federal disability laws. Like his players and the other coaches, this unsung role model can only wait and wonder.
“Don't know,” Coleman said after a lengthy pause and deep exhale. “Still have fingers and toes crossed we get something worked out. As of now, I look at it as though it's over.
“It's bittersweet. It's sad. It's looking like it's going to shutdown. And to end on my 30th year. But it's been a sweet 30 years. ”
Coleman, 60, fell in love with the football while playing in Anderson County's youth football league.
Growing up in a single-parent household, Coleman heard his mom, Vertie Mae Coleman, stress the importance of “staying out of trouble and surviving.” Football offered him a support system along a sometimes precarious path.
“We had good father figures coaching our teams,” Melvin said. “They were good men. As we outgrew those teams, those fathers were still there. And that made a big impression on me.”
Melvin's football aspirations carried into high school, where he started as an offensive lineman for the Palestine Wildcats. He grew close to his coaches, Jim Stedman and Jim Jackson.
Stedman and Jackson were white coaches who treated all of their players like family during a time whites and blacks rarely mingled.
“I fell in love with them,” Melvin said. “Christmas presents, house invitations, going to church with them and the whole nine. They were always there for us.”
Melvin had always been accustomed to dealing with racial tension. During his time playing in high school, it allowed him to build the necessary social skills he couldn't get at home.
Growing up, it was an assumed knowledge to not trust white people, but later he learned the dangers of stigmatizing people, Even more, he learned, through interacting with his coaches, he also could trust people who didn't look like him. That experience also gave him the confidence and the leadership skills he wanted to pass along to younger players.
At one point, he had dreams of making the pros, but tempered his expectations in high school, realizing the odds of making it to the pros weren't in his favor.
So it wasn't surprising when Stedman asked him about his goals after high school, Coleman said he wanted to become a high school football coach.
However, Stedman heaped a word of advice to Coleman about the politics of the position, including feeling the pressure from parents who want their kids to play.
Even today, after 32 years of coaching, it's the reason he hasn't stepped into the arena of high school football.
After he graduated from Palestine in 1977, he spent a couple of years of playing guard and long snapper for Tarleton State University in Stephensville. Following a semester break from college to help support his mother financially, he returned to Tarleton, His passion for a career in football, however, waned, after two years of impressing coaches as the team's deep snapper.
Coaches attempted to persuade him to stay and work on his studies during the time off. Instead, Melvin returned home to support his mother and hung his pads up for good.
When he returned home, it was back on the grind. He married his current wife, Kathy Coleman, in 1980 and began working at Walmart's warehouse in 1982.
It wasn't until 1987, when a co-worker, Larry Holmes, asked him to help coach his little league football team, did he step back onto the sidelines.
That opportunity led to him becoming an assistant youth football coach under Ray Keith – a head coach in Anderson County's youth football league.
In 1996, Coleman was offered the chance to head his own team but the birth of his twin girls caused him to step back from the sport.
A few years later, he returned as a head coach, along with his twin girls cheering him on from the sidelines.
Over the last two decades, Melvin has preached three things: Courage, commitment, and character. His players have gone onto bigger things, on and off the field, including Grapeland's district MVP Deco Bryant and offensive MVP BJ Lamb.
“My son ended up right where he needed to be” Westwood teacher Jeanie Linam, whose son played under Melvin, said. “He's a man of integrity. He's a great role model. My boy needed that team.”
Jeanie's son, Anthony, went on to play football in junior high. She credits Melvin for giving him the confidence and discipline needed to pursue football.
Many of the area's current high school football players remember Melvin for his honesty, devotion, and down-to-earth manner.
He worked for Palestine ISD, before coming to Westwood ISD in November of 2005 where he continues to drive buses.
“He empowered the kids to realize they have the talent they haven't developed yet,” youth football coach Carey McKinney said. “He was a role model for those who didn't have any male role models in their life.”
When Palestine City Council members discuss the future of the athletic complex Monday night, the work of mentors like Melvin Coleman is something they ought to consider.