In 2004, former U.S. House speaker J. Dennis Hastert published a memoir titled “Speaker: Lessons from Forty Years in Coaching and Politics.” Hastert, who was a high school teacher and coach before entering politics 35 years ago, was indicted Thursday on charges that he broke banking laws and lied to federal investigators in an effort to pay large sums to an unnamed individual to cover up “past misconduct.” The unnamed person has known Hastert for most of his or her life, the indictment states, and grew up in Yorkville, Ill., where Hastert worked at Yorkville High School from 1965 to 1981.
In the book, Hastert recounts his years as a teacher (his subjects included history, economics and sociology) and football and wrestling coach. Indeed, he dedicates the book to his family, the citizens of his congressional district, the members of the U.S. House of Representatives — and to the team he led to a state wrestling championship:
TO THE YORKVILLE FOXES OF 1976:
While many of our teams did well, you were the very best. For me, winning the state championship was among the finest moments of my life. So many of the fine athletes I had the good fortune to coach are today raising and coaching boys and girls of their own. They’re mentoring the next generation. For me, it doesn’t get any better than that.
In the memoir, Hastert describes his efforts to teach values to his students, his far-flung travels with the wrestling team (including a visit to Washington, D.C., on the day President Nixon resigned), the principles guiding his coaching, and his views on dishonesty.
On teaching values:
Sociology was fun, too. I didn’t teach it out of the book because academic sociology can lead you into social theory and statistical theories that sixteen-year-old kids really don’t relate to. What I taught was values and value formation — not my personal values but what core values were and why they were important. That included how you deal with your problems and with other people — conflict resolution, some might call it today. . . I’d spend hours and hours listening to the kids talk and trying to pull their thoughts together. Every now and then, I’d sense the light bulbs were starting to flick on in their minds and that made all that time together worthwhile.
On team travels:
Another program attraction was the trips we took. I piled some kids into the van and drove nine hundred miles to a Granby clinic in Hampton Roads, Virginia. My kids, flatlanders all, had never seen a coast or an ocean or Navy ships before. They’d be looking out of hotel windows at the submarines and aircraft carriers below, and it was just amazing for them. . . .
For almost a dozen years, I drove my kids to the Rocky Mountain Wrestling Camp in Gunnison, Colorado, on the Rockies’ western slope. We carried ten or twelve kids in the van in each time and everyone chipped in fifteen dollars for gas. We removed the seats so they could pack their sleeping bags and gear and then sit on them. The more kids you had in the van, the less trouble they’d get into. . .
Hastert would also have the kids visit historic sites — Gettysburg and Yorktown — as well as Washington. He was in the nation’s capital on one of these trips the day Nixon stepped down as president:
You could drive around the White House back then, and I was doing that in the van just as Nixon was leaving in his helicopter. That night we stopped in a motel in Maryland and watched his departure from the White House lawn again on TV. As a history teacher, I knew this was important and that we’d be talking about it for years to come.
On his principles of coaching:
I felt a special bond with our wrestlers, and I think they felt one with me. In my talks with them, I stressed how important it was that they learned to do a few things well. That was better than trying to do everything halfway. “It’s work and not talk that wins championships,” I kept telling them. “Perseverance is the key in whatever you do.”
. . . In my years as a coach, I developed half a dozen guiding principles that affect how I think, plan, react to disappointment, and feel about victory and defeat. They apply not only to sports but also to life itself:
(1) You never win the big match the night before. So never go into a contest unprepared. Focus, discipline, patience, courage, and diligence are virtues in this respect.
(2) Never underestimate your opponent. No matter how experienced or rich or important you are, you can be beaten. The unforeseen can and will happen every time. It’s how prepared and flexible you are that counts.
(3) Always under-promise and try to over-produce. (As a coach, when asked what kind of team I was going to produce, I always said, “Oh, man, terrible year, we lost so many of our good kids.” I knew what we had coming up, but I never advertised it. I’d rather say we were going to have a so-so year and wind up being conference champs than say we were going to win the title and then not do it.)
(4) Do your coaching during practice; coaching from the sidelines in front of the fans is too late.
(5) Never rely on your opponent to help you win.
(6) When you are in a position to score, you had better put points on the board. You may never be there again.
The indictment against Hastert charges that he “did knowingly and willfully make materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements and representations” when interviewed by the FBI. In the memoir, Hastert recalls an episode during his college years, in which he broke his nose while boxing and tried to hide the fact from his family. He ultimately admitted to his mother what had happened, and the incident shaped his views on truthfulness:
I was never a very good liar. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough. I could never get away with it, so I made up my mind as a kid to tell the truth and pay the consequences.
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