Ag Class vs. Pythagoras: An Easy Decision for Me

dam thoughts, barry currin, beaverdamusa.comI remember the first day I walked into college algebra at The University of Tennessee. By the time the professor was 5 minutes into his first lecture, I got up and fled to my advisor’s office to beg out of it. I was studying journalism for Heaven’s sake, and X always equaled 1 anyway. So why am I being subjected to this?

In fairness to me, I didn’t have the prerequisites to be in the class simply because I didn’t take them in high school. Instead of taking trigonometry, geometry and calculus classes like the rest of my college-bound classmates, I took four years of agriculture.

I didn’t know how I was going to make a living, but I did know it wouldn’t have anything to do with Mr. Pythagoras, his theorem or its converse. So I stayed in ag, learning about livestock, wood shop, electricity, small engine repair, and so forth. Ag was taught by Mike Owens, and that’s probably the main reason I re-upped. Mr. Owens loved teaching, and he worked hard to do it exceptionally well.

He was a young guy, but he commanded respect. I guess he had no choice since he would be turning loose a bunch of silly 14 year olds with power tools. We were one wedgie away from amputation, and it was his job to keep it from happening. And he did it all before the days of Prozac.

Once I brought in the gas tank from our lawnmower at home, because some idiot kid told me I could weld a broken fitting back on if I filled it with water first. Mr. Owens vehemently and quickly shut down that little plan, and in doing so most likely saved me from going through life looking like Beetlejuice.

Because of his focus on safety and discipline, I don’t think we ever had an accident during my 4 years. I still own and use lots of tools, electric saws, a bench grinder, and so on. And to this day I have never walked away from a saw until the blade had stopped turning completely, because that’s what he taught us. (The grinder is another story. That thing goes on for days, and I’m not getting any younger.)

Though he was all business when he needed to be, Mr. Owens also had a fun side. He let us upperclassmen see it more as we got older. During the first day of wood shop each semester, he would send some unsuspecting freshman in search of the “wood stretcher.” The kid would ask one of us older students, and we would send him to another, then another. If the kid was especially naïve, it could go on for most of the period. More than 30 years later, I still remind myself to stop looking for the wood stretcher when I realize I need to let go of some wild goose chase.

Incidentally, my UT advisor let me substitute college accounting for that algebra class. Accounting ended up being substantially worse, I am convinced to this day. And, I find myself needing to use algebra or one of its ugly cousins more than I would like to admit. But those pale in comparison to how much I use what I learned in Mike Owens’ ag classes.

I sent him a message yesterday to warn him I would be writing this, just in case he was in a witness protection program. He graciously said that he learned more from us than we did from him. If he truly believes that, I need to send him in search of the wood stretcher.

Updating the Marion County, Tennessee, big, big mess coach billy jack hooverUPDATE: We’re not a news source here at, but since I wrote about the Marion County, Tennessee, school vandal scandal when it first broke, I feel obligated to bring you up to speed on this crazy story. It started with Marion County HS assistant coach Michael Schmitt’s arrest for allegedly vandalizing his own team’s field house  before a rivalry game to motivate his team. That’s what my original blog, below, talked about.

Within the past 2 days, another assistant coach, Joe Dan Gudger, was also arrested and charged with vandalizing the Marion County Warriors’ field house and being in illegal possession of alcohol on school property. (I’m not sure the old “I was drunk” defense will work, but at least he can give it a try.) . And a third assistant, Tim Starkey, was fired for allegedly breaking into another school’s field house and stealing a playbook.

The following day, head coach Mac McCurry resigned to avoid being fired, according to news reports.

And you want to know how it all fell apart? Text messages. Freaking texts obtained by the cops between Starkey and Schmitt in which they implicate themselves, Gudger and McCurry.

See the texts here on

In the original blog, I took Schmitt’s side for being a master motivator. Sure it was 90% tongue-in-cheek, but I did think he was creative. Now, with the smoke (hopefully) cleared, it’s just a big mess created by by what called “the worst coaching staff ever.”

ORIGINAL POST: I once heard of a coach who rammed his fist through the locker room wall to motivate his team. Broke it in 3 places. He never played the violin again.

Image via, credit Doug Strickland

Image via, credit Doug Strickland

That’s pretty neat trick. But if the Marion County, Tenn., Sheriff’s case against coach Michael Schmitt holds up, this will make that look like a broken fingernail.

In the early morning hours before the Marion County vs. South Pittsburg rivalry football game a couple of weeks ago, vandals defaced Marion County’s field house and adjacent buildings with orange and black spray paint — South Pittsburg’s school colors. In a photo from The Chattanooga Times Free Press web site, the graffiti included “SP” and “(seven) and counting” in reference to South Pittsburg’s 7 straight victories over Marion County.

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Now, however in a crazy turn of events, Schmitt — a Marion County assistant coach — has been arrested for doing it. According to the newspaper, “Officers involved in the investigation believe the vandalism was an attempt to inspire the Marion County football team before its game against county rival South Pittsburg.” The paper also mentioned that the Sheriff’s department would not confirm or deny whether other Marion County coaches are suspected of being involved.

The paper quoted the Marion County Schools Superintendent as saying whether Schmitt keeps his job depends on whether he is found guilty of the charges.


Do you want a run-of-the-mill coach or a motivational mastermind on your staff? Give me Coach Schmitt any day. If you did it, you’d better own it. Write a book. Hit the speaker’s circuit. This is pure sports motivation gold. Coach Schmitt, I want you in my fox hole.

Who won the game? South Pittsburg. Is anybody going to remember that 25 years from now?

Just ask the coach who broke his arm. Finest Craft Beers from America’s Best Micro Breweries- 728x90 banner