The police officer asked him to turn around. He complied and the cuffs clinked together around his wrists.
The police officer then said, “Young man, this is the last opportunity that you get. If you do anything, I’m talking about the smallest thing, I’m going to take you to jail.”
This is the scene Gordon Central head football coach T.J. Hamilton recalls from childhood. Earlier that particular day, Hamilton had stolen a piece of candy from a convenience store because he was hungry and did not have money with him.
An harrowing experience like that might cause a sense of embarrassment, something to hide away from the rest of the world and not bring up again. However, Hamilton sees it just the opposite. He said he has shared this story countless times with others.
“In that moment, at a very young age, I had to make a decision,” Hamilton said. “Either I was going to do the right thing or I was going to continue to do the wrong thing.”
Hamilton said, as a child, he was constantly in trouble, facing disciplinary action and in-school suspensions.
“I had to make decisions that would’ve either make me go to jail, because at one point when I was younger … I was bad,” Hamilton said. “My decisions at a young age were putting me down a path that I wouldn’t be able to come (back) from.”
Hamilton’s mother was a single parent, working two jobs and raising T.J., his brother and sister. Hamilton said his mother first pushed him into sports due to the structured environment that comes with athletics.
“Before she met my step-dad, … we either lived with someone or we grew up in housing projects,” Hamilton said. “She worked her tail off. She didn’t let that stop her from making sure I got everything I needed, for sports especially. She is the rock for me.”
Hamilton said sports became his outlet, a place where he could release any negativity. The football field became the release.
“Football was my escape,” Hamilton said. “Whenever I got on the field, you could hit as hard as you wanted to. It was legal and I took advantage of that. Sports gave me an outlet to harness everything I was going through at that time.”
Hamilton said he has shared these stories with his team as well, explaining to them they make decisions about everything in life, especially now on the team.
“I tell (the team) all the time, ‘You make decisions about your life,’” Hamilton said. “You can figure out what you want to do with yourself. Don’t come with excuses. You decide if you’re going to do that.”
Hamilton said an acronym that has had far-reaching impact is P.O.O.R. He first heard about it from listening to Willie Spears, a public speaker.
Hamilton said Spears explains people say they are poor, in the sense they have less than others, etc. However, instead of using the word “poor,” Spears uses the acronym “P.O.O.R.,” with the meaning “passed over opportunities regularly.”
“I listened closer and he said, ‘All poor means is that you passed over every opportunity that you had,’” Hamilton said. “You made a decision to pass over the right opportunity.”
Hamilton said he has the acronym written down on the board in his office and plans to put up a “P.O.O.R.” sign as he is a true believer in the acronym.
“I used to say that I’m poor, all the time,” Hamilton said. “I was just passing over opportunities, and then when I started taking advantage of the opportunities I had, that’s when everything started happening.”
The Translation to Now
Hamilton shares these stories with his team and his own children because there are lessons within about the choices we make in life and their impact.
“All the good and all the bad I’ve gone through personally in my life, I share it because some of them are going through the same things,” Hamilton said. “The things I’ve gone through, I just don’t want them to have to go down the same path that I did, and if I can help one of them do that along the way by sharing my stories, then I will.”
Hamilton said the best part about his job as head coach is he gets to help mold the team into young men for life after high school, striving to be a positive influence.
“If I can help these kids be better students, better fathers … and if I can be a staple in their life, whether that’s for the now or later on, at least I’m impacting their life in some form or fashion,” Hamilton said. “I don’t want them leaving this building feeling like I have not impacted their lives in a positive way. We can impact these kids lives in a positive way where they can go off and be better citizens.”
Through the ups and downs of his path, one of Hamilton’s life-changing moments came from that encounter with law enforcement years ago.
“In that moment, though, being with the police officer, it really shaped my life,” Hamilton said. “It forced me to make decisions in that time that were grown-up decisions that I should’ve never had to make, but it put me down the best path for me and my life.”
Hamilton is soon to begin his first season as head coach of the Warriors, but there’s more behind the man himself than just the job title. One of Hamilton’s goals is to mentor his team to make decisions for themselves and not, to use the acronym, Pass Over Opportunities Regularly.
“Your decision to get up in the morning, to come to workouts, your decision to sit in a classroom and to respect your teacher, that’s your decision,” Hamilton said. “Every decision that those guys make, no matter what, they can choose to do the right things, and it’s totally up to them. They just have to be able to take advantage of the opportunity when the right thing is there.”