Tomorrow they will hold a memorial service for one of the most influential men in my life. He will be celebrated by his family, friends and the city that loved him, and that he loved. The flags are being flown at half-mast in Regina, Saskatchewan. The service will be held at the biggest venue the city has to offer, the same one the NHL uses when they are in town. It will be televised because Terry Hincks has indelibly touched that many lives. No one wants to miss it.
I met him in the fall of 1975. That was the first year he coached my high school football team.
The year before, under a different coach, and winding down some of the toughest years of my young life, I was drunk or stoned every day of school. I was breaking into houses and cars, and dealing drugs. The consensus held by me as much as anyone else, was that I would end up dead or in prison. I had gone to a bar before a football game, showed up drunk to dress for the game, and got kicked off the team. There weren’t counselors then or training to pick out troubled kids like me, just bad report cards, and shuffling your ass out the door if you didn’t keep up. I was self-destructing and in deep trouble.
I had no father and my mom was everything a mother shouldn’t be. I had no one else. No one noticed that I had a substance abuse problem because no one cared. I failed everything the first semester of grade ten except music class. A rather generous Miss Burroughs gave me a passing grade because I was tolerable in her class despite my problems, and she was able to teach me how to play the trumpet and drums. That was about all I learned that year.
The next year I tried out for football again. Terry Hincks, the legendary Northender, a tough guy, had taken over as Head Coach. We all knew and respected him. To the day he drew his last breath, he never lost a fight and fighting was a way of life in Regina back then. We didn’t hire lawyers, never called the cops, and didn’t even consider complaining to someone else hoping for them to solve our problems. We sorted things out on our own and either you won, or you suffered the shame and consequences of losing. We lived in the north end of our city, the blue collar side, the hard working side, the side that the rich kids avoided at all costs.
Coach Hincks set the bar high from day one. He expected nothing short of greatness from us. He instilled a tireless work ethic and toughness. He taught lessons about loyalty, honor, and being a valuable part of something much bigger than all of us. We practiced long hours, we hurt and we bled, he insisted on it by the standard he set. Fighting among players was expected, and half-efforts were vehemently exposed. He would come toward you as if he were about to rip your throat out. I remember his raging eyes, they burned holes through your soul. We stood there and took it because he had our respect, and we wanted to earn his. His berating exorcised weakness from our minds because the expletives and spit and passion wasn’t meant to reveal our shortcomings, he used them to illuminate our potential. We had let ourselves down, and that’s what mattered to him the most.
He taught us the truth about life; that there are no participation medals. There is either do or don’t do. Excuses are not results or partial results; they are a failure to be your best, a lost opportunity at immortality. That’s what Terry Hincks did to people. He taught us that nothing that comes easy is worth having, a twist on an old axiom. He made things important, and hard to attain so that when we did, it meant something. He taught us to be Northenders.
He was the first man in my life that was there and cared consistently. He didn’t accept weakness in anyone. He inspired courage, excellence, and a to-the-death fighting spirit. We learned to never quit. He had a way of shaping boys into men on that beleaguered crucible they called a practice field that won’t be found in any child rearing books, and it was infinitely more effective. He was relentless in his pursuit of our excellence. He taught us to be a team, and outstanding men, on and off the field.
To this day the values, principles and morals that Terry Hincks instilled in me as a boy, and then a young man, are still with me. I’ve used them many times when tasked with influencing other young men that stood at the same crossroads I did in life. Every one of those young men has responded much like I did, and have prospered in life ultimately bearing the fruit of Terry Hincks influence on my own life.
Terry spent the last three years of his life fighting a cancer that was supposed to consume him within six months. He was a respected leader in local politics, choosing to advocate and fight the tough fights for the city and people he loved rather than sit back and play politics to his personal benefit. He was successful in business, not because he took advantage but because he did the right thing, and he called bullshit when he smelled it. No one crossed Terry Hincks; you learned that very early in the relationship. He did things the right way for the right reasons and never compromised. He was a beloved family man, a friend, and a positive influence on the world around him.
I’ve spent the past few days contemplating the influence he had on my life. I’ve cried, and laughed, and thought, and cried some more. His impact on my life has been immeasurable. He changed my destiny in two football seasons by giving his absolute best and caring about turning me, and my teammates, into men.
An entire city is mourning the loss of a rare and great man. A King.