I was in my second year at Oviedo High School, and just watched our freshman team drop their first game. I was talking to freshman assistant, Scotty Rodman, about the game when he mentioned their best player missed the game. He pointed over to the bleachers at Qamar Lewis, who in my first impression looked squat and not much like a basketball player. Qamar started playing shortly thereafter, and by season’s end led the Lions to the freshman tournament championship. He was a point guard, couldn’t shoot or use his left hand, but he was a leader and winner.
I took over the JV team in the spring and built a rapport with Q. He had developed a reputation at the school as a knucklehead indifferent to academics and a rebellious to authority. I saw those trait as well, but felt I had his attention, and his leadership of my group was beyond dispute. To coach him effectively, I would have to give him space. Our first summer game was a nightmare. We were a JV team playing Olympia’s varsity, a team that would lose the 6A final after leading in the fourth quarter. Fortuitously, the game was played at our gym at 8am. Olympia was sleepwalking to a 22 point win, but we fought and got their attention. Q led us dribbling right nearly every possession, but getting in the lane causing Olympia’s coach to berate his guys. After the game, the varsity staff told me they thought Q could help them.
He spent the rest of the summer playing varsity basketball, (and JV whenever there wasn’t a direct conflict). He never left our group in spirit. When the season started, he was with the varsity, but ever-hard headed, quickly fell out of favor. By Chistmas, he was back with the JV and we became special. We entered the break 4-3. With Q, I had a deep team with ten players deserving of minutes. I created Team One and Team Two. Q was on Team Two with Blaine Smith, John Boston, Whip Green and Scott Dangel. They didn’t start. They entered four minutes into the first quarter and blew the doors off Winter Springs. Leaving the floor for halftime, Winter Springs athletic director Ted Jones, simply said “I love your team.” I did too.
Our practices involved little more than some skill work, and live fighting Team One against Team Two everyday. It was heated, competitive and some of the most fun I have ever had as a coach. My initial website FBGMcoaches.com was a tribute to this group and our chant breaking huddles. We won our last eleven, but Q missed our last game, grades.
He never played basketball for Oviedo again, battled eligibility the remainder of his high school career, but made it. He graduated, the only of his siblings to do so, and was a key player for Wes Allen’s Oviedo Lions football team. During his junior year, he suffered a couple of seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy. Though he played football his senior year and had a chance to play in college for a small school in Texas, it wasn’t worth the risk to his health.
I have stayed in contact with Q since I left Oviedo. He is one of the most interesting players I have ever coached. Talented, a natural leader with compassion for his teammates. He would often sit next to me at the gym and talk about his peers, and I would swear he was closer to my age than theirs. All of his gifts remained imperiled, by his stubborn nature, resentment of authority and selfishness. Since graduating high school, I have noticed a maturity in Q, a sense of purpose and mission. He is going to school, working at UCF and coaching defensive backs at Oviedo. I am proud of him and what he is becoming. This week, we sat down and talked. He shared his story.
Q’s father was not a part of his life. He was in jail for 20 years, and was released last year. His mother and grandmother raised him. In the sense of compensation that only parents know, and for exact reasons only him mother would know, she showered him with material things as a child where she couldn’t or wouldn’t spend the time to mentor him. In middle school, she was convicted of a crime and served three years in jail. Q lived with his “second mom” Jill, and developed as a two sport athlete for whom expectations built. Through it all his grandmother had his back and told him the truth, good, bad or otherwise.
By the time he got to Oviedo High School, Q was living with his mom. She never apologized to him, but he could tell she was remorseful. Interestingly, the week before we met, Q met with his father for the first time in 20 years. They met for “three minutes”. There was no apology, some idle words, and an invitation to “party” to commemorate the anniverary of his release from jail. He turned it down. Despite the road his parents traveled, Q doesn’t drink, smoke or party.
He cites his father in absence and his grandmother for having his back as the twin motiviational factors in his life. With such conflicting motivators, it is easy to see the paradox of his personality. He is aware of this conflict, and knows it is something he must manage to be the person he wants to become.
In the fall of 2011, Q was treading water. He wasn’t enrolled in college, and didn’t have a plan. He attended an Oviedo football game, and Coach Allen asked him to hold play cards. Q was drawn back in to the comraderie of the team. He started helping out and coming to practice when he could. At season’s end, Coach Allen made a deal. If Q would go to college, he would put him on the football staff and help him find a job. He accepted. He has a passion. It is coaching. We share that.
Q will be back on the sideline this fall for the Lions, and is working toward a PE degree so he can be a head coach. The classroom isn’t much easier for him now than it was in high school, but he isn’t giving up. He owes it to those that have invested in him. There is an honesty to him that for me is his greatest feature. He transcends his faults and draws people to him…myself and those that have done so much more for him, Jill and Wes Allen. He knows and appreciates those that have helped him, and cites it as the reason he is committed to helping others. He feels he can do this by coaching, and knows that coaching isn’t just what you do on the field, but it’s the connection and bridges you build with those you coach off the field.
He gets it.