Six Hundred Moments

by Billy Watterson '15
November 30, 2015

As a junior, Billy launched Beat the Streets Providence, a non-profit with the mission of starting co-educational wrestling teams in order to inspire at-risk youth and provide them with the resources they need to succeed on and off the mat. Since then, Beat the Streets has started programs at 13 sites across the greater Providence area and this year expects to work with 600 students. BTS works to not only help students succeed on the mat, but also to help them improve their academic performance, school engagement, health, behavior, and, most important, their belief in just how great they can be.

After graduation Billy received the Embark Post-Graduate Fellowship which has enabled him to work full-time on Beat the Streets after graduation. Applications are open for the Embark Fellowship until 12/18.

Rain was coming down hard on the car windshield, and all I could see ahead was the glaring red of brake lights. I had to stop myself from emitting a string of curses. I was driving two of our Beat the Streets students to an event in Boston, I was frustrated, and we were late – a 45 minute trip quickly turning into a three hour after-school odyssey.

I think I made something like a growl, and Frederick, the student next to me, laughed, which did not help. I said, “We’re going to be late, buddy, and I really hate traffic.” The student just laughed again and the other student in the back seat just kept bobbing his head to loud music blaring from his headphones, unfazed. Then, seeing what must have been a look of abject frustration on my face, Frederick said, “Coach! It’s just like when I wrestle. You can’t be nervous, or uptight. We are way too blessed to be stressed! There is too much good to worry about the bad. Now we get to hang out in the car for three hours!”

With that, an eighth grader once again provided me with a fresh perspective on life and one more of a thousand lessons that the students I’ve had the chance to work with impart to me every day.

I am blessed in six hundred ways and more.

I have six hundred students like Frederick, who remind me how blessed I am on a daily basis. I am reminded through text messages in the middle of a horrifying work day:

I am reminded late on Sunday night through a too-late phone call – “Coach! I wanted to let you know I’m excited for practice this week! I went on a run today!” – that the Mondays might not be so bad.

But, mostly I am reminded through the special moments like that one in the car, where my students renew my belief in both them-- through their amazing resilience, insight, and potential--and in myself.

A few moments:

The student who said to me, “You know what, Coach? I didn’t think we got to go to college, but I think I am going to. I am going to wrestle for Brown.”

The student who told me, sitting in a diner, that the only reason he hadn’t been coming to school was because his mom didn’t want him to. That she was sick and needed help taking care of his younger siblings. That he had to walk 40 minutes to school, but that he had been making that walk every day for the promise of practice and the slight bribery of a diner breakfast if he had perfect attendance.

The student walking off the wrestling mat, out of breath, who didn’t realize how great he could be, and then did. “You know, Coach, before I started wrestling, I really didn’t believe I could be good at anything.” Words which brought an ethos into sharp reality and made it possible, attainable, worth every moment.

The student who gave me a dream. Sitting next to me in the car silent for a while before saying, “I am going to be the first Olympic gold medalist from Providence, it’s my dream, and I’ll do whatever it takes to do it. You are going to watch me on the stage with a flag wrapped around me. I’m going to make you proud. I know I can do it.”

These are only my moments, and while they matter intensely to me, there are many more of them with our other coaches, and there are many more of these moments which need to be had. This is a constant reminder to me that there is more that needs to be done, even if I have to run headfirst through a wall to do it.

Some days I feel the pull of inertia. Then I feel myself starting to move forward, because it is the only way to go.

Unlike many people, I have these daily, constant reminders of why I am blessed. Constant reminders that turn inertia into momentum, momentum into purpose, purpose into passion, and passion into change.