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Yes It’s True: I thought I knew you. What did I know?

“Anyone can tell, you think you know me well. But you don’t know me.” — Ray Charles, 1963

Mark David Chapman

My first meeting with Marty Andrews was shrouded in controversy because he had been named head volleyball coach at Albion High School though someone else had been promised the job.

The woman who originally was supposed to guide the volleyball team instead was moved to an assistant coaching post for the swim team. Naturally, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth about fairness.

But Andrews turned out to be an interesting coach, a true volleyball freak who got the most out of a rag-tag Albion outfit. He even was able to talk state volleyball mucky-mucks into naming his top player, Michelle Smith, into all-state accolades and she went on to play the sport at the University of Nebraska.

Marty was a mustachioed little guy, no taller than 5-foot-6, and he sported a winning smile that made him look a little like a leprechaun. He moved into the upstairs of then-head baseball coach John McGonigle, with whom I drank a lot of beer and chatted with in efforts to obtain scuttlebutt about goings-on in the community.

So I got to know Marty Andrews a bit, at least so I thought.

He did his practice teaching at Albion and afterward landed a junior high social studies teaching job at nearby Concord. He did such a good job at Albion High that he was asked to take on Albion College’s squad, which did not turn out well because the ladies just weren’t used to somebody insisting they play like athletes, not girls’ in a sorority social club.

So after Andrews became a teacher at Concord, the school system offered him the head volleyball post.

Within a couple of years Marty turned Concord into a Class D powerhouse, challenging the best to the point he annexed a bunch of conference, district and regional championships.

Yet one year in particular he went into a funk after losing in the state semifinals to Hanover-Horton.

Meanwhile, Marty and I every week would meet in a spiffy house where he was staying overlooking the Kalamazoo River and we’d watch “Hill Street Blues,” marveling at the little things producer Steven Bochco was doing right.

Perhaps once a month, he and I would travel to Angola, Ind., to buy really cheap beer, his beloved cigars, and we always stopped in at the Wharf restaurant and bar in Coldwater to consume its famous Wharfburger.

Marty and I would chat about many of the issues of the day whilst traveling, but I didn’t realize until long afterward that he rarely talked about himself. He lived alone and seemed consumed by teaching and coaching. He did once mention the horror of watching his mother suffer through chemotherapy before dying at home.

Do I really have to identify this guy?

The most bizarre conversation I had with him was sometime in 1981, when he came to me to tell me the story that he believed he knew Mark David Chapman, John Lennon’s killer. Of course, I was skeptical.

He did prove to me that he went to Lebanon in the mid-1970s as part of some kind of youth exchange program and to work with Lebanese children. He said for a brief period he was roommate with a Mark David Chapman, who was working as a children’s counselor.

It wasn’t until afterward that I came to understand that the murderer of John Lennon indeed spent a brief time in the mid-1970s as a counselor for Lebanese children. How many Mark David Chapmans could there have been doing exactly that?

So it appears, in my advancing age, I now realize that I brushed aside a big story. And that and 73 cents would have gotten me a senior’s cup of coffee at McDonald’s.

After I moved away from Albion, his success as Concord’s volleyball coach went up to the highest notch. He and the Yellowjackets captured the Class D state championships back to back in 1986 and 1987.

Meanwhile, not being around, it was only later that I learned he allowed his teaching certification to lapse.

It was in July 1987 that my former sports editor, Chip Mundy, called me to report Marty had committed suicide. The deed was entirely deliberate and well thought out. He left written messages explaining what he wanted done for his funeral.

He parked his car behind a secluded spot near the Albion College campus, but where it would easily be found. He ran a hose from his exhaust pipe into the front seat of his car.

One of the saddest things I ever saw was visitation for Marty Andrews at Tidd-Williams Funeral Home in Albion, where the entire Concord volleyball team entered the chapel together. They were not pleased.

And as Marty’s sister told me, Marty wasn’t one to talk about himself and she wished he had reached out to somebody who might have helped him. Many stories just like this one get repeated all the time.

And those of us left to mourn still wonder what the hell happened.

2 Comments

    • Mr. Young can, and should, certainly correct me if I’m wrong, but what you deride sarcastically as “another feel good story” is an important cautionary tale about how little we know about each other until one does something as extreme as do himself in.

      Mental health is still a hidden affliction, and one that still has something of a stigma attached, much to the dismay of those of us who struggle with mental health issues, or have loved ones so afflicted.

      No, it’s not a feel good story. It’s, as I said, a cautionary tale, intended to keep us mindful of those around us, to be aware of some of the more observable symptoms, such as isolation from others, and the hesitancy to share knowledge of oneself despite being intimately involved in an aspect of society.

      If we pay attention to such tales and act on what we learn from them, perhaps we can eliminate the lingering stigma, and encourage more research and intervention into mental health care.

      Peace.

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