The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest

SMNW

The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest

SMNW

The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest

SMNW

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Coach Spidey

“If you fall and never rise, you will never succeed.”
Senior+Elijah+Locke+signs+senior+Eli+Rice%E2%80%99s+arm+Sept.+15+at+SM+North+District+Stadium.+Locke+is+known+by+the+nickname+%E2%80%9CCoach+Spidey%E2%80%9D+at+the+varsity+football+games+because+he%E2%80%99s+a+student+coach+for+the+team.+%E2%80%9CI+was+already+nicknamed+%E2%80%98Spidey%E2%80%99+but+then+I+jokingly+called+myself+%E2%80%98Coach+Spidey%E2%80%99+to+someone+and+it+just+spread+everywhere%2C%E2%80%9D+Locke+said.+%E2%80%9CNow+it%E2%80%99s+on+the+back+of+my+t-shirt.%E2%80%9D+Photo+By+Kara+Simpson
Senior Elijah Locke signs senior Eli Rice’s arm Sept. 15 at SM North District Stadium. Locke is known by the nickname “Coach Spidey” at the varsity football games because he’s a student coach for the team. “I was already nicknamed ‘Spidey’ but then I jokingly called myself ‘Coach Spidey’ to someone and it just spread everywhere,” Locke said. “Now it’s on the back of my t-shirt.” Photo By Kara Simpson

 

Senior Elijah Locke doesn’t get a lot of stage fright. But sometimes, the hair on his arms will rise. He wonders if anyone looks at him funny. If he should just quit.

Then the words of a former coach ring in the back of his head, a reminder.

“Never give up,” he said, so Locke breathes in.

“Persevere,” he said, so Locke breathes out.

“Keep going until you can’t anymore, until you’re on the verge of collapse.”

Locke picks up his flag and adjusts his jersey.

“If you fall and never rise, you will never succeed.”

Once Coach Anthony Ybarra’s voice fades away, it is replaced with the sound of the crowd shouting the nickname everyone knows him by. The football game is about to begin.

Everyone knows Coach Spidey–but do they know Elijah Locke?

***

Locke didn’t become Spidey until his sophomore year when he always wore a Spiderman shirt to school.

“Just four boys at a lunch table started calling me Spidey,” Locke said.

Those four boys then told their friends, who joined in on the nickname. Word spreads, until all of a sudden, everyone’s calling him Spidey.

Including everyone during football conditioning the summer before his junior year. He planned to be a wide receiver, despite Coach Bo Black asking him to take the manager position for his safety. And over the course of the summer, the team became like family to him.

Locke can’t help but thank Coach Ybarra for that summer. For helping him out during his freshman year, every day practicing a new technique. He encouraged Locke to step out of his comfort zone and pushed him to accomplish what he thought he couldn’t.

Locke met Coach Ybarra through a program called ‘The Move’. The program was held during the first semester of Locke’s freshman year, just after COVID-quarantine, as a way to help high-functioning special needs kids stay active. Ybarra just so happened to be one of the teachers helping out with the program.

Every day Ybara helped Locke practice something new. He learned how to pitch a baseball, throw a spiral, and shoot a basketball. During these practices, Ybarra became more than a coach to Locke, he became a mentor. 

“He is a legend in my life. And I tell stories of him,” Locke said.

Like the one time, he crawled into the nurse’s office–exhausted from running and feeling the most hopeless he had ever felt–and started barfing in the trash can. Breathless and drowning in the sour stench of his leftovers, he started telling Coach Ybarra:

“I don’t know if I can do this. If I have what it takes.”

Coach Ybarra, holding ice to Locke’s neck, responds with a question.

“You wanna be an athlete, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

Ybarra thought for a moment and began to encourage him with words that Locke, still, has never forgotten. The first speech that was ever given to him.

“Never give up Keep going until you’re on the verge of collapse,” Ybarra said. “Keep going till your feet are on fire. Keep going till you can’t anymore. For when you fall, you must rise. Because if you fall and never rise, you will never succeed.”

Locke admits that he used not to believe he could do many things. He used to constantly doubt himself and his abilities, especially because of his autism. He was quickly ready to give up, quickly ready to lose his dedication. Until Coach Ybarra, whose words still help him overcome today.

***

Locke didn’t start practicing football until the summer before his junior year. He still gave it his all, though. He was determined to be a wide receiver.

Sam Baldwin, the wide receiver at the time, even helped Locke to overcome that setback. Staying over once or twice a week, for hours at a time, to help him practice. The two became like brothers. And Locke was getting closer to achieving his goal.

Yet still, he couldn’t remember all the plays. Catch all the throws. Learn all the forms. His autism affected how fast he could learn.

“You know, there’s always that manager position,” Black would say.

“I thought he was being rude, too, for a while,” Locke said, “ he didn’t want me to get hurt.”

Then, once football tryouts begin, Locke has to make a decision. He walks up to Black and asks:

“Is that management position still open?”

“No,” he says, “But the assistant coach position is still open.”

“Persevere,” Coach Ybarra had said. So Locke did.

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