Whistling A Happy Tune
Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury
Many lessons awaited a baby born in 1935 on a dry land farm in West Texas’ Tom Green County. Jimmie Royce Keeling calls all of them “blessings.”
That’s how he has sized up life so far, and it’s hard to dispute him. He’s shown dogged determination to give a heap more back than he’s taken away. Maybe he is “the luckiest guy in the world,” or nigh unto. One of eight children born to Mr. and Mrs. Hubert Keeling, he learned these lessons by helping his family to hack out a living, deeply relying on God’s providence that included a bevy of work with beef cattle, dairy cows, chickens, sheep and goats.
What they most prized was their familial love in a little house that had running water and glass windows, but no bathroom until his eighth-grade year. Bigger blessings would come later.
Humility runs deep in this man who coached for 35 years in Texas high schools plus 21 more at Hardin-Simmons University. Abilene is where he and his wife of 46 years continue to reside.
He coached until age 76, admitting that he was enjoying it as much then as he had at age 20.
His decision to walk away came after a close loss to Louisiana College following a rainstorm. The loss cost his Cowboys a slot in the NCAA Division III play-offs. He reasoned that he was overdue in making time for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. On weekends, though, he tunes in to several games via Internet, radio and television to “see how the kids he’s coached are doing on the sidelines.”
Wins came in bunches for Keeling, whose life impacted thousands of young men and generated excitement in communities where he coached. All this at the hands of a man who attended two-room schools until he enrolled as a sixth -grader in Miles. (He still considers “Mrs. Hart,” who taught all the grammar school grades, his best teacher ever.)
Oh, he did finish college, piecing together summer school classes from Texas Tech, McMurry, Mary Hardin-Baylor and Howard Payne, where he graduated in 1958. In those days, school employment required 90 college hours, and Keeling’s two years at Tarleton accounted for most of those. At age 20, he had the opportunity to join the coaching staff at Evant, where he had been a player three years earlier. He’s been inducted into the HSU Sports Hall of Fame for his many coaching accomplishments.
Claiming to be “at the right places at the right time,” Keeling built a resume of distinction. Deep friendships with several of Texas’ most revered football coaches–including the legendary Gordon Wood, who won eight state championships–are highly valued.
Stats are important to many coaches, but not to Jimmie. They’ve been way toward the bottom of the page for him.
He’s not even sure he can “rattle off” all the places where he’s coached, but he can name hundreds of former players who have “made good and stayed in touch.”
Many of his contemporaries have “gone on,” but he remembers them fondly. Of Gordon Wood, he remembers the night his Lubbock Estacado Matadors defeated Brownwood, 49-8, in the state playoffs. “Gordon came to our locker room, telling our kids they’d win the state championship, and they did.” (He and Woods were on opposite sides of the field when Keeling coached at Andrews, San Angelo Central and Estacado, and they “came out about even, these best of friends.”)
He’s hesitant to call out his best teams or best athletes. One, however, played center at Andrews, and the youngster went on to gain worldwide acclaim as an author and preacher. “I well remember the red-headed kid who always gave his best; he was a ‘good ‘un,’ that Max Lucado,” Keeling said, words spoken slowly with deliberation.
During his HSU years, he won conference titles more times than not, advancing to national competition, but he “forgets how many times.” What he remembers most is teaching without apology Christian life lessons, laced up by faith, a prayer he has for his 11 grandchildren and six “greats.” Susan confirms that he has those numbers down pat.
Dr. Newbury is a former educator who writes weekly and is a longtime public speaker. Comments/speaking inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 817-47-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: don newbury