When people ask me where I went to high school, a feeling of pride swells up inside me when I respond, “Woodberry Forest School.” I explain that no, I didn’t do anything bad and that an all-boys school really did work and that our weekends were actually pretty fun. I wear my striped Woodberry shirt with satisfaction, and I relish the opportunity to share stories from my time up in Middle-of-Nowhere, Virginia. I love Woodberry. I consider it my second home. Today, though, I woke up as an alum and, for the first time, felt uncertainty.
Varsity football coach Clint Alexander and Woodberry are “parting ways.” That’s the only way I can put it, I guess. While I haven’t spoken directly to Coach, I’ve spoken to many of the players that were at practice on Thursday when the announcement was dropped. As anyone familiar with the Tiger football program can imagine, the emotions in the circle were high as students and coaches alike tried to digest the shocking news.
“When the whole school is mourning, that is when you know it’s bigger than just football.” That tweet from a Woodberry sophomore stuck out to me as I watched social media explode once the announcement had been made. Texts and calls came in, from alumni and students alike. Former Tiger stand-out offensive lineman Clark Yarbrough, ex-Woodberry soccer player Jimmy King, and my old roommate William Hunt all texted me, asking questions that I didn’t have answers to. Tweets surfaced of former players and personnel involved with the program voicing their shock at the news. One text I got from a faculty member put it perfectly: “It was unexpected for us all. I did not see it coming.”
Everything good that happened to me during my four-years at the Forest happened because of Clint Alexander. My first direct encounter with Coach happened during an episode of “Gray’s Sports Update” when I interviewed Jacob Rainey about the E:60 story done on the former Tiger quarterback. I did the usual—asked questions, held conversation, and then sent the two of them on their way after the segment was done. Coach would later tell me that my professionalism as a freshman impressed him, and that he knew I was special after that show.
Our friendship grew when he asked me to help put together game previews during my sophomore year. Then, heading into my junior year, he suggested that I coach the JV quarterbacks. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I learned fast and grew into the role. By senior year, I was calling plays for the Bengal team and I had a great relationship with my JV quarterbacks (still proud of my boys…you know who you are).
Maybe the biggest impact Clint Alexander has had in my life was a little suggestion he made one day at practice during my junior year. “Hey Gray,” he said, “what do you think about this?” Coach detailed out a way for parents to have an in-depth look at Woodberry athletics through some kind of online stream. “This could be your legacy,” he told me over and over. I jumped at the idea and, after months of planning, WFSPN was born. People may give me credit for running it, but anyone close to the network knows that Clint Alexander is the real genius behind the organization. He’s been one of our biggest allies since its inception and without him, WFSPN never would have happened.
On November 12th, I’ll be back where I’m familiar—in front of a camera talking about Woodberry sports. Gameday at the Forest will be going live from the tailgates before The Game, and I’ll be there in my school tie standing alongside all of my former broadcast partners previewing the rivalry. Then, I’ll back in the booth with Dr. David Smith and Greg Jacobs calling the 116th Game on WFSPN Radio. It’s a day that I’ve had circled on my calendar for months. Now, I honestly don’t know how I’ll get through it knowing that once I say “Have a great night, Tiger Nation,” Clint Alexander’s career as Woodberry head coach will be over. I hope that the ever reliable Mr. Zaytoun or maybe one of my press box friends will provide a tissue box for that particular John Reimers Postgame Report.
I don’t want to comment on the mysterious nature of the press release from the school or the rumors circulating Woodberry because I don’t think that does anybody any good. I also urge all alums, especially my Class of 2016 peers, to do the right thing when we all reconvene at the Forest for the bonfire and The Game with Episcopal. EHS Weekend 2016 needs to be about honoring the career of Clint Alexander, and I hope that my classmates will celebrate all that he has done for Woodberry instead of doing anything ridiculous. Sending out Coach with a victory over the Maroon is the best way to honor him. However, as an alum, I’d like to voice an opinion that I know many of us in the community share. We’d like to know why. There has to be a reason why this is happening, why conversations about “the direction of athletics and the leadership of the football program” even began, and I think most of us in the community would like to hear an explanation at some point in the future. That point isn’t right now; these next few weeks should be focused on honoring Coach Alexander and on finishing the season 9-1. However, the time will come when the Tiger Nation will need to hear why.
Last night, I sat in my dorm and talked with my roommate Thomas Radke about our favorite Clint Alexander memories. Tears gathered in our eyes as we laughed and reminisced and, before Thomas went to bed, he looked at me and said, “I owe everything to him.” If you’ve ever sat in on senior goodbyes, you know that many others feel the same. I certainly do too and instead of toiling over the uncertainty, I choose to relish the memories that I have of Coach Alexander ribbing me about Alabama, asking for my take on opponents, and even laughing as his dog Maggie steals chicken off my plate. We love you Coach, and I know that I’ll have tears in my eyes after we beat the Goons on November 12th.