Jefferson football coach Gene Cathcart opens up about childhood struggles

Gene Cathcart is ready to speak.

For years he has pushed back shame, embarrassment and guilt, but now is the time to remove the stigmatizing layers that have long weighed him down.

As a head football coach for 17 years, the last five at Jefferson, Cathcart has always believed that suppressing your emotions is what you do in a men’s sport focused on testosterone.

He finally realized he was wrong.

It was time to talk about his past.

Parents who loved her but created a dysfunctional family through alcohol abuse.

The times as a teenager he would look around the stands hoping his mother wasn’t there because he knew she would be buzzed.

About the death of his alcoholic father while Gene was in fourth grade and how his drunk mother died in a house fire shortly after graduating from college.

It was time to talk about all the pain he was hiding, expecting it to go away someday.

He learned that it would never go away and that it takes a strong and courageous person to open up and discuss his failures.

“It’s almost a secret based on paranoia – you want to hide from the world,” Cathcart said. “At the end of the day, it just doesn’t work that way.”

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“I had a hard time with that”

Cathcart grew up in Central, SC, a small town just outside of Clemson where he became an accomplished athlete and the sport became a way of escape.

“Going to the games were the happy times,” said Cathcart. “It was coming home that wasn’t always the best part of the day.”

Her father’s alcoholism began at a young age and eventually took hold of her mother’s life, increasing exponentially after her husband died from health complications attributed to alcohol and smoking.

“My mom and dad were good people and they loved me a lot,” Cathcart said. “But I know life was tough for them. They had to deal with demons and that’s just one of those things.”

Cathcart and her sister bounced from house to house as their mother walked in and out of treatment centers.

Some weeks high school coaches let him stay at home while other times he asked friends if he could hang out with them.

Cathcart, a three sports star at Daniel High School, played most games without a parent in the stands. Part of him wanted his mother to show up, to see him achieve athletic success. But if there, he wondered, would she be in the right frame of mind?

“It was always a great fear that my mom would show up to a football, basketball or baseball game drunk,” he said. “In the times when she could, she was exceptional. In the times when she couldn’t, like all of us, she just wasn’t available.”

When their mother died in the fire in her childhood home, the coroner told Cathcart and her sister that she was found in a room where it appeared she was disoriented and desperate for help. .

They believe that, in a drunken state and alone, she was looking for Gene to help her out.

“I’ve struggled with this one over the years,” Cathcart said. “It’s just stuff that overlaps over time. When you’re conditioned to hide it, keep it a secret, or run away from it, sometimes it’s a little difficult. I don’t run away a lot, but sometimes the past is what makes you run faster. “

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Playing the hero

Mental therapist Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse classifies dysfunctional family members into six roles.

The first two are addict and facilitator, and the other roles include the scapegoat, the mascot (clown) and the lost child. Finally, there is the hero, a person who tries to be a gifted and perfectionist and who is seen as the most responsible member of the family.

Throughout sport, especially soccer, Gene has played the role of the Cathcarts hero.

“It’s really not as Superman as it sounds,” he said, “but I was constantly trying to fight the shame of the family by bringing good things into the sport. When you do. you put a lot of pressure on yourself. “

This pressure has never left Cathcart.

He constantly struggles with desperation in an attempt to be a perfectionist as a football teacher and coach.

Cathcart finds it hard to come to terms with situations beyond his control and finds himself correcting problems that, in retrospect, are tiny.

He tried to run away from his past by coming to Georgia and coaching for six years at Habersham Central in the early 2000s before returning to South Carolina for another six seasons.

As a coach he always blamed himself for calls he made during games or tough losses. He struggled with everyday situations at home or in the classroom.

He has long struggled with anxiety, depression, apprehension, regret and a number of emotions that surface because, even today, he wants to be the hero of the family.

“You are self-critical – and I still am,” Cathcart said. “My wife’s favorite thing to say to me at times like this is’ Will you please stop beating my husband?” I smile, but I know she’s right. a fight you still have to fight.

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“This game loved me back”

Gene Cathcart’s dad won a state championship playing at Rock Hill High School (SC) and his grandfather coached and played Clemson in the 1920s, so football was instilled in his life.

When his family weren’t there to support him, Cathcart relied on those around him, coaches and teammates who greeted him when he needed a place to stay.

“My footballing families have always been things to be proud of,” said Cathcart. “I was treated like someone’s brother by guys who were my teammates. Sport was family and I was treated like someone’s son, by men and women other than my parents. . “

Jefferson this season is 8-1 and, despite losing the Regional Championship 8-4A on Friday to North Oconee, one of the favorites to win the state title. But Cathcart sometimes wonders if being a high school coach is what he’s supposed to do.

“I’m still incredibly hard on myself and sometimes I wonder if I still love this game,” Cathcart said. “This game just beats you up.”

Whenever he thinks about his goal, he thinks about the players and students he impacts every day.

Student-athletes like Jefferson senior Malaki Starks and Jordan Perry, players who called Cathcart to watch him one night their head coach was unable to attend a game for family reasons.

“Coach Cathcart is everything for us as a head coach,” said five-star senior Malaki Starks. “He always supports us. He’s a really good man.”

Inspired in part by Cathcart and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, whose brother died struggling with mental health issues, Starks wrote “Ask 4 Help” on his wrist before every game. It’s a slogan launched by Prescott that encourages anyone who has a hard time asking for help.

“I write it on my wrist and it’s for mental well-being and for people who feel like they can’t go to someone,” Starks said. “I saw Dak Prescott do that, so I started doing it. Just (Cathcart) being the guy he is, that’s huge.”

Despite the anxiety that accompanies the training of the State’s No.1 team, Cathcart sometimes stops to think about his luck.

He reflects on what football has given him over the years and wonders how his life might have turned out if he hadn’t had a football family to lean on throughout his life.

“I love this game and this game definitely loved me back,” Cathcart said. “It’s been a constant. Through ups, downs, positives and negatives, this game has always loved me back.”

Wash diapers

On October 10, World Mental Health Day, Cathcart took to Twitter to say “hiding my upbringing and my flaws that I thought made me (strong), but genuine (strength) had to admit my struggles with it. ‘ACOA and my mental health issues. “

There are 14 traits characterized by Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), a program that enables people who grew up in dysfunctional families to mourn their childhood and share their experiences of growing up in an environment of abuse, neglect and trauma had an impact on their lives.

The program has been helpful for Cathcart, who has found that opening up to counselors, groups, and even his players and coaches has helped him cope with his past.

“I had to get over it to talk to counselors and medical professionals and things of that nature,” Cathcart said. “It’s not something I’m too proud of, but it’s part of who I am and it kind of got me where I am today.”

As a professor of psychology, Cathcart has been open with students about his education in the hope that his story will reach a student in the same situation. He shared a part of himself with FCA groups and at church. Each time he feels a little of his burden disappearing.

“Not only is there someone in this band who maybe a little Gene or just needs to hear that,” Cathcart said, “but I feel like it cracks a diaper or washes away a layer of that guilt. “

Over the years, he discovered his past more easily.

A past that he no longer runs away from but that he embraces because he made him what he is today: a loving husband with a family he cherishes and the coach of a team with great chances of winning a state championship.

He knows there are tough days ahead. Speaking out, however, he learned that he is not alone in his struggles. He realizes that he doesn’t always have to be the hero.

He is no longer ashamed of who he is or of his childhood. He is not afraid to ask for help and he no longer hides his secret. He now looks at himself in the mirror and likes the person to look back.

“Everyone has their bag of stones,” he said. “Some people are heavier than others, but we all have to carry them. In some ways, people have helped me carry mine, and I still do … I think I’ve made some progress. , but I still have light years to go. “

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