I have just completed the most fulfilling track & field season of my 18 years as a coach. I was honored this season with the opportunity to coach several new school record holders, All-State athletes and our programs' eighth league title. It was one of those seasons where everything came together in the way that every coach hopes. The friendships made, the goals met, and the list of awards were many. I could not be more proud of this group of young men and the commitment they had to becoming the best track & field team they could be. Mission accomplished.
Though very rewarding, it was not these accomplishments that made this season so important. This was my first track & field season as an out gay coach. Though I had come out last fall during cross-country, I was honestly terrified as the spring track season crept closer. The nature of track & field is significantly different than that of cross-country. It is a much more aggressive, alpha-male culture. Many track & field athletes and coaches are also football players and coaches. Throwers and sprinters are a very different breed than the calm and timid nature of a distance runner.
What I feared the most after coming out to the athletic community was being rejected by my coaching peers for whom I have such great admiration. I feared that my sexuality would be a stigma turned against my team and my coaching reputation. I feared that some of my athletes from last season would not join the team. I feared that being a gay coach would lead to the destruction of the program that I had spent nearly two decades building.
What I have learned from this season is those fears were completely unwarranted. The fact that I was gay had absolutely nothing to do with where I fit into the larger athletic and coaching community. Coaches gave me hugs and high-fives at meets. All returning athletes, and then some, joined the team. We were better, stronger, and more accomplished than many of our seasons before. Our new throwing coach, a rugged, ex-football coach, who is an "in-your-face" kind of guy, is now one of my best friends. I have learned that the changing and dramatically improved culture of acceptance of LGBT athletes and coaches is real. I saw it, felt it and lived it.
Just this week I was humbled to have been voted Jefferson County Boys Track & Field Coach of the Year. This accolade is voted on by all of the head coaches in the county. I have been awarded this honor before, but this time it felt different. Very different. Having been selected by my peers, for whom I have such high esteem, was the final affirmation that we are truly living in a time in which acceptance, inclusion and tolerance of LGBT athletes and coaches is a reality.
Just a year ago, I seriously considered retiring the clipboard and hanging up the whistle. Now I am planning summer running for our cross-country team and imagining what the next season will bring.
You can find Micah Porter on Twitter.