One year after he introduced Channel 8 personality Dale Hansen at the First Christian Church’s motivational evening for local athletes, legendary former football coach Gene Stallings took the podium to deliver a message.

Speaking Monday to coaches and students from Paris High, North Lamar, Chisum, Prairiland and Detroit, Stallings called the moment a “real joy.”

“The game is for the players, not for the coach, but I do like to talk to the coach and encourage the youngster they go to college and high school for an education, not just to play football,” Stallings said. “He plays football while he’s there. Education is the key, but I’m going to emphasize that to the players from time to time.”

Stallings planned to share stories both good and bad from his coaching experiences at the collegiate and professional levels, hoping to encourage the players to be better and to enjoy and appreciate their high school experience.

“The local coaches are the key, not me — it’s been a long time since I’ve coached,” Stallings said. “I never did coach in high school. I coached pro ball for 18 years and in college for more than 20 years, so I never had the privilege to coach at the high school level. But the most fun I’ve had participating in athletics was when I was in Paris High School. I thoroughly enjoyed it. When I think of all the experiences I’ve had, the real fun times were when I was playing for Coach Berry in Paris High.”

First Christian Church provided each athlete and coach with two bracelets. One said “Make a Difference” and the other said “Be Kind.” Both short, simple messages resonated with Stallings.

“We just need to show a little bit more kindness,” Stallings said. “This whole world of give and take, there’s not enough people to give what it takes, really. Now, kindness is extremely important whether it’s to your neighbor, to your church, to your church, to the people you go to church with — there’s no substitute for a little kindness.”

The key for Stallings was not to impress the crowd with his stories and wisdom, rather to ensure they gain something out of it — that they benefit from the speech and reflect on what they should do and improve upon.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve coached and I’ve had a lot of experiences, but if they’re wise, they’ll listen to their high school coaches,” Stallings said. “They may pay little attention to me because of the experiences I’ve had, but if they’re going to listen to someone, they need to listen to their high school coach.”

Among the wisdom shared Monday by Stallings were these messages: “You get better good going against good,” and “If you can compete as hard as you can on every down, on every play, you’re going to be hard to beat.” He reiterated how invaluable work ethic is, and said his proudest moments were seeing his athletes earn their degrees.

“I enjoyed the speech from Coach Stallings,” North Lamar head softball coach Ashley Endsley said. “It was good hearing about making a difference as a coach and day in and day out to push them, but to make sure they are competing at their level. They may not be the same athletically, but we can still push them to be great athletes and great students in the classroom. He said graduation is key, which it is. If they go to play college, they only play for four more years, but their education is what they need for the rest of their lives.”

Geoff Heppes is sports editor for The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6967 or at geoff.heppes@theparisnews.com.

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