• Jerrad Hardin

Jenna Missed the Bus

Updated: Feb 24

by Jerrad Hardin


A two-hour bus ride awaited the Lady Falcon Softball Team. The first pitch would spin toward the plate at 7:00 p.m. It would be the start of an important game, for the winner would be advancing to the state tournament.


Coach Evans liked to arrive early to the fields. He always felt as though being early gave his team a chance to get acclimated to the surroundings before competing. After a decade of coaching, it had always been this way. So, he scheduled the bus departure for 3:30 in the afternoon.


That Saturday morning, he woke a little late, after staying up the night before playing potential game scenarios in his mind. He was going to be late for a 10 a.m. batting practice, he now regretted having scheduled.


When he arrived at the field, Jenna was the first to approach Coach Evans. Before he ever stepped from his truck, Jenna was knocking on his window with a wide smile, playfully admonishing him with a squint of her eyes and a long wagging finger.


When Coach Evans opened his truck door, Jenna wasted no time. “Coach, you’re late - that’ll be ten foul poles – or you could do push ups – your choice – let’s get to it!” She clapped her hands in rapid succession and laughed along with a chorus of teammates who joined in.


Okay, Okay, Okay,” Coach Evans dismissively waved his hand and ushered his team toward the field.


Jenna was the team’s best player, a senior pitcher who had earned the right to joke with her coach. They had known each other well before Jenna ever played softball. Coach Evans had been Jenna’s grade school P.E. teacher and they had formed a special bond.


As a fourth-grader Jenna would often be late for gym class, something Evans eventually learned to deal with – but never accept. Consequences never seemed to work – so, instead of getting mad, Evans nicknamed the young girl “JJ – ‘Just Jenna’” – implying everything was “Just” on her time.


When Jenna took an interest in softball, Coach Evans was right there to teach her about the game. When she decided to pitch, he made sure to show her how. Coach Evans began to see her as the daughter he never had. He developed a soft spot for Jenna and became tolerant of her ways – except when it came to being late for a softball-related activity. In those cases, she was made accountable and punished on each infraction.


Jenna poked, “So, Coach – is it time for a nickname for you? How about ‘Maybe Evans’?”


Several laughed with one explaining, “Like ‘Maybe’ he’ll be on time.”


Jenna added in a charming tone, “Or, ‘Maybe” he won’t.


Evans ignored them by waving them away and moving on with practice.


After the workout, final instructions and reminders were given as the team huddled together in front of the dugout.


“Remember, 3:30 sharp – and if you aren’t there by 3:15, you’re late. And if you aren’t there by 3:30, the bus will roll – doors shut – don’t bother following it – because you won’t play.”


Jenna couldn’t help herself as she started to joke, “Maybe –


But Coach Evans wasn’t joking as he interrupted, “No, Jenna, I’m serious about this. If a championship game isn’t enough to get anyone excited about being on the bus early, then that person doesn’t deserve to go – end of story.”


Each team member, even Jenna, conveyed agreement with nodding heads.


Later that afternoon, Coach Evans paced impatiently up and down the bus aisle. He counted heads and asked questions of his team, all the while trying to reach Jenna on her cell.


He read his watch, it was 3:45.


He left a voicemail on Jenna’s phone. “Jenna - I’m so disappointed in you. I thought you would care enough to be on-time. You've left me no choice, we’re leaving you behind. I hope you know how much you’ve let us down.” With that, he ended the call and shoved the phone in the pocket of his pants.


Evans tried to hide his anger, but it seeped through his tone as he announced to the group, “We’re leaving. Jenna isn’t here and we all know it’s not the first time we’ve had to leave without her – but I never imagined she’d do this to us, today. It’s selfish…But let this be a lesson to all of you – never put your hopes in someone who doesn’t care enough about you to show up on time or even have the decency to let you know – Jenna’s not part of this team, anymore.”


Two hours later, the team arrived at the fields, piled off the bus, and started warming up. The team felt glum knowing their chances for winning were going to be less without having their star pitcher in the circle.


Just before the game started, Jenna’s mother approached Coach Evans and spoke to him through the fence.


“Hey Coach, I just got here. Where’s Jenna? Is she sick with nerves in the bathroom?”


“She never made it to the bus – so we left without her,” Evans shot back.


The mother’s face scrunched with worry and she shook her head.


“That’s strange - She was probably running a little late, but no way she would have missed the bus.”


Evans, suddenly concerned, rubbed his head. “We waited until 3:45. I tried calling her as did others on the bus – nobody could reach her.”


Jenna’s mother called from her cell but received no answer.


She ended the call as she stood before the coach with a concerned look.


Coach Evans didn’t know what to say but tried to calm the mother. “It’s Jenna. This isn’t the first time. You know she probably got sidetracked, felt a little guilty about being late, and decided to ignore all of it rather than face it.”


The mother thought it plausible, reluctantly nodded, and stepped away just as the game was about to start.





By the fifth inning, the Lady Falcons were getting beaten badly. Jenna’s absence was being felt and Coach Evans suddenly let his frustration overflow by kicking a bucket in the dugout.


He plopped down next to his assistant coach and vented. “We win this game if Jenna’s here. What she’s done to us will never be forgotten. I’m not sure I can ever forgive her.”


The game mercifully ended two innings later. The Lady Falcons, heads down, climbed aboard the bus in defeat.


Standing before the team on the bus, Coach Evans issued few words but clearly laid the blame for losing on Jenna for not being there.


Everyone settled in and the bus driver started to shift gears when a set of knuckles rapidly rapped against the folding doors of the bus.


It was Mr. Jurnigen, the school’s principal – who also happened to be the biggest fan of the softball team.


The burly principal motioned for Coach Evans to step off the bus, where Jurnigen ushered him away, out of earshot of eavesdroppers.


“Coach, I just found out why Jenna missed the bus.”


Evans shifted his weight and stared blankly at Jurnigen.


Jurnigen paused before finding some courage. “She had an accident, coach… Jenna’s car was found upside down off the highway, out of sight from traffic.”


A tremble rippled through the coach’s body. Immediately, he asked, “Is she okay?”


It was now Jurnigen’s turn to shift his weight as he glanced off in the distance. “No, Coach…Jenna’s dead.”


Coach Evans buckled and caught himself at the knees. Waves of grief flooded his eyes.


Jurnigen moved next to the coach and consoled him. Eventually they hugged and talked about how to tell the team.


As Coach Evans collected himself and started to walk away, Jurnigen stopped him.


“Look, I know you were mad about Jenna missing the bus… But you should know, they found her phone in the wreckage. Apparently, there was an unsent text…” Jurnigen looked down at his feet before finding a way. “....Coach, she was sending it to you – she wanted you to know she was on her way, hurrying, and probably wouldn’t be there until right at 3:30 – she didn’t want to be left behind.”


Upon hearing it, Evans froze in place, overwhelmed with grief and unable to take another step.


A few weeks later, Coach Evans stood at a podium, facing his team. It was the end of the year banquet and parents and team members sat silently waiting for his words. When he spoke, he did so with a weak voice but delivered a strong message.


As a coach, I care – yet, I am not perfect.
I set rules – yet, sometimes, I break them.
I issue consequences – yet, I am not accountable.
I have thrown tantrums – yet, I don’t allow them.
But worst of all, I have been quick to assume and quicker to judge.
Losing Jenna has made me realize just how unreasonable, rigid, and foolish I’ve been.
Moving forward…
We will have rules, and when broken – I will consider your explanations.
When you have outbursts and show emotions, I’ll try to understand why.
I will no longer make assumptions – Instead, I’m going to be patient – kind – compassionate...
And should anyone ever be late for the bus – please take your time - we’re going to wait for you – because we are a team and a team is a family – without one, we are none.
From now on, nobody will ever again be left behind.

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