Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The 'Handyman' can

LELAND — Eugene Sanders calls himself the Handyman.
No, he's not your usual fixer-upper. You won't find him underneath a sink or fixing a water heater.
But chances are you might see him doing almost any and everything else.
For the last 18 years, Sanders has served as head football and boys basketball coach, an assistant to the athletic director and a full-time bus driver at Leland High School.
"Around here, I call myself the Handyman. Just real modest, I just help to make the school day go smoothly," said Sanders, who has coached and drove buses for the last 29 years.
Before landing at Leland, Sanders coached at Leflore County, Ray Brooks, Shaw and Brookhaven. And like his current job at Leland, Sanders' took on a range of job duties including bus driver, football coach, track instructor and boy's basketball coach.
Are the 10-12 hour days -- and even more on game days -- tiring to the old ball coach?
"Naw, because I don't have any bad habits," Sanders joked.
The day starts at 5:30 a.m. for Sanders, who afterwards begins his bus route at 6:45 a.m. As the majority of Washington County residents are just awaking, the Shaw native heads over to Leland High to begin a day of securing the hallways and being the "handyman" the school needs.
Sanders said the position he's in now is a dream come true. Since high school, he has always longed to be a coach.
"I always knew I wanted to be a coach," Sanders recalled. "My high school mentor, Herman Smith, at Shaw inspired me. I always loved the way he motivated kids. He used athletics, but he always motivated kids to be more than they could be be in whatever they were good at, not just sports.
And that's what I try to do at (Leland). I try to motivate kids to be the best they can be - not just in athletics."
As for the weekends, that's the time when Sanders visits relatives and relaxes for the upcoming week.
"I go two places: my mom's house in Shaw and church. I go to my mom's house on Saturday and on church on Sunday - usually I'm done by 1 (p.m.). And after that I just relax."
And no, Sanders doesn't kick back and relax in the summer, either. He spends his summers training and re-certifying Delta bus drivers.
"All the bus drivers in the Delta," Sanders said, "I've either re-certified or I've trained them."
Since his coaching career began 29 years ago, Sanders has had the pleasure of coaching several NFL players including Antonio Johnson who was the starting defensive tackle for the Indianapolis Colts in 2010 Super Bowl.
Sanders said he has enjoyed every moment of coaching, but it's not the most rewarding part of his day.
"A lot of people probably think its coaching. But the best part of my day is driving the bus," said Sanders. "Because a lot of the time I'm supervising. When I'm driving the bus, I get to see the community and you get the children outside the classroom."
With 29 years in education, Sanders admits he's not the same guy who begun it all back at Leflore County in 1981. And when the time does come for him to hang up his whistle and bus keys, he knows exactly how he would like to be remembered.
Sanders said, "I would love to be remembered as a coach that always tried to do it the right way. That's all."

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