The dragon is dead.
But our thoughts are not so much with the legendary fire-breather who has flown off to new fields and battles, but with Yvonne, the dragon’s helpmate, right-hand-woman, and mother of their eight children, grande dame of a huge extended, loving family.
I first met the dragon in 1958. He was my football, basketball and baseball coach, and my world history teacher. There was this gorgeous little woman who danced in his massive shadow. This was Yvonne, who left the limelight to her firebreather and spent a great deal of her life providing love and steel guidance to their eight children while the dragon attended to hundreds, and thousands of children entrusted to him as teacher, coach, principal, superintendent and in larger educational roles.
A stroke took the reach of the dragon’s fire down a bit some years ago, but he never quit battling to get back and he never lost his spirit in the fight, living the very thing he had taught so many of us. With the dragon in a wheelchair, Yvonne remained steadfast, positive, encouraging, loving, and caring a living example of the untranslatable sisu.
The dragon was Ed Jarvie.
He died yesterday in Traverse City.
He was 87.
I have had the privilege in my life to serve three men, three amazing leaders, I would willingly have followed anywhere. And did. Ed Jarvie was the first.
He was physically small, had a kind of chip on shoulder and fire in his eyes and voice, which could empty a room, or silence a classroom, a gymn, an auditorium, a stadium. He could have silenced a crowd in Grand Canyon if needed.
Coach not only demanded all-out, balls-to-the-wall effort, but a focus for that effort on excellence.
He was not a man so focused on outcomes as much as on preparation, believing that if he could help make his teams the best conditioned, best trained, most disciplined, and played every minute of every game at maximum effort, the outcomes would take care of themselves.
Coach was right. We lost only six games in three seasons and once ripped off a skein of 22 straight. Never did I hear him down on us after a close loss, and they were all close losses. In our hearts we never actually lost, only ran out of time. Sisu, eh?
We played in a giant log cabin, which is gone now.
We shot and charted free throws every day. We ran every day. We had double practices on most Wednesdays, the standard practice after school, a quick bite to eat at the café in town and back to the old log cabin for the Wednesday picnic where we focused on technique and on being together.
Every drill and exercise had a game-related correlation and purpose.
Folks think Tom Izzo invented jungle basketball. He didn’t. Tommy grew up playing U.P. basketball where jungle rebounding and hard, unrelenting physical play were the norm, games the equivalent of wars between city states.
Ed Jarvie instilled in me several enduring life lessons.
You play as you practice, so practice honestly, and hard.
Detail is the face and force of preparation.
The game is won in the mind and heart, but carried by the legs and lungs.
Officials are to be respected at all times.
All teammates are equal.
Our foes are honorable and should be treated thusly
If you give your all, accept the result.
These were wonderful lessons to learn when we were so young.
But Jarvie was every bit as much demanding in the classroom as in the gym or on the playing field. I took world history from him 57 years ago and I swear I still think about Hammurabi’s Code and fist hatchet, every bloody day of my life.
Only this morning did it finally dawn on my why these two very disparate facts.
Hammurabi made 282 laws. Jarvie had nearly as many and, like Hammurabi, he believed in innocent until proven guilty. Do you understand? he would ask a player and student. If not, he would go over it again, and as many times as needed until whatever it was finally got driven into a skull. From then on, you were responsible for maintaining and using that knowledge. I tried to work with my players in the same detailed, unrelenting way. Jarvie taught us that the games would be highly physical, but winning would come out of mental preparation. We changed offensive and defensive schemes after every basket, after our baskets and after our opponent’s. We were by design damn near impossible to prepare for. The outcome of the game, he taught, always came down to change and how quickly a team could adapt, and to momentum, How fast you could grab it and how long you could hold on to it.
The “fist hatchet” (also called a hand ax) was the most advanced weapon of the Stone Age. It was made of flint and had a sharp edge, but that edge had to be created and maintained and the tool took smarts and muscle to employ. We were Jarvie’s fist hatchet. Flint is one of Nature’s hardest and most enduring substances. That fits.
And now Ed is gone, our magnificent dragon, and we mourning his passing and celebrate his life and love, his attention, and his respect, and send our sympathies to Yvonne and the Jarvie clan.
While he may be gone, the dragon will live in my heart. Ed helped make me who I am. His memory will keep me on course. We began as teacher to student and ended as friends.
Thanks my Friend and Coach: I hope your new team’s got a whistle for you.
Bites and barks are different animals. And a dragon’s fire-spitting may warm your behind, but it will never burn you. Most people never get to have a real dragon in their lives. Lucky me. Damn, inexplicably, blind-ass lucky.
So few words as a remembrance of Ed Jarvie, a remarkable man who masqueraded as a dragon: It doesn’t seem nearly enough.