Remembering Friends: Coach Cottrell
In the fall of 2007, I tried to photograph Shelby County High School's head coach, Todd Shipley, for a Coach project in college. He denied me instantly. I tried to weasel my way in, but he was relentless in not wanting to be photographed and passed me on to George Cottrell. I was a little bummed, because I had planned on photographing a head coach and I think George was a little bummed that he'd essentially been assigned a shadow for a pretty long amount of time. But we got along quite well. He and his wife, Andrea, let me into their life. They invited me everywhere and introduced me to countless friends and family. I tagged along to so many football practices, games, church services and singing engagements. I got to see the plethora of relationships that George had built and grown in our community. I also got to see many sides of a man so many folks shared a great affection for. He was much more than a teacher and coach.
Earlier this week our community lost a great man. In my time with George, I watched him pour himself into the lives of his students. I watched him love his family and encourage his sons. He treated everyone with respect, regardless of whether they had earned it or not. He was constantly making jokes, encouraging others and pushing his students. He worked hard and spent countless hours of his life serving others. There were many late nights and early mornings during this project, that's for sure - because George was committed to the kids that played football for him, the family he had made and our community that he served. He was committed to loving and serving each day - there were many times we were late to our next engagement because George was talking to a kid or listening to a friend. He genuinely loved people.
It's not everyday you come across someone who is not only selfless, but selfless for those who don't or can't appreciate the commitment that's made in serving them. George was that kind of guy. He stood in as a Dad for countless kids, was a light to his fellow teachers and met needs when he saw them.
Today, George's great friend and fellow Coach, Todd, stopped by my office to pick up the pictures I made of George during that time, and he was quick to point out that the Lord knew what he was doing when he denied my shooting a story on himself and pointed me to the Cottrell family. So true. In my own life, my time photographing him certainly grew my own love for football and kids - which God later stirred through another coach story, Carother's Cause. I also learned much about loving on people, investing in others continuously, genuinely and not giving up - George was a constant example of these characteristics. Though he passed away this week after a battle with Lou Gehrig's Disease, I am sure our community will be sure to spread stories of a life well-lived for many, many years to come.
George, thanks for loving our community for so very, many years. You were such a servant to so many of our community's children. I'm super sad that you won't get to sing at my wedding, like we planned, but I know you'll be there and at a plethora of other folks' life events, watching over them, proud and laughing with that kind laugh of yours. You better get to singing in heaven, because that voice is too great not to share. Andrea, I'm so thankful that you let me into your home and made these pictures possible. Passing along these pictures today is a huge part of why I love my job so much. Thanks for letting me join your family for a short while.