The beginning of a new year at schools across the land ranks high on the excitement scale. It is a national focus, in the smallest communities and bustling urban centers, as millions of Americans share a renewed sense of the possible.

As the motivational speaker for several schools, I again noted much enthusiasm and excitement as educators gathered to kick off another school year.

Again, their excitement “rubbed off,” re-kindling warm memories of my four decades in higher education…

In Lampasas, they buzzed about the new high school under construction. Hallway laughter came at the expense of their good-natured superintendent, Dr. Brant Myers.

He’s taken quite a bit of kidding about a recent household “plumbing problem.” He couldn’t get any hot water as he readied for the day.

“Wound tight” with anticipation of a busy schedule, he sought help from his wife, Tracey.

He was about to call a plumber, but she told him to put down the phone. “You have to turn the handle with the ‘H’ on it,” she smiled…

Heading toward West Texas, I thought of challenges bound to be faced by Baird’s Kevin Hill.

Two years ago, he hired on as head football coach; last year, he assumed added duties as athletic director.

He will long remember the 2007-08 school year. He’s now head football coach, AND athletic director AND high school principal…

At the Sweetwater, Texas, Lions Club luncheon, Head Foot-ball Coach Kent Jackson was the speaker.

Exuberant and informative, he said that he and his staff are committed to training the youngsters for “life after football.”

I hope his goals are shared by coaches — and all educators — across the land. “We’re more interested in ‘Jims and Joes’ than X’s and O’s,” he stressed. Bravo!…

Following a recent week of tough practices, Sweetwater coaches planned to take the footballers on an all-day park outing. They planned activities to underscore the importance of team-building, attainment of goals and sportsmanship.

Flooding trumped Plan “A;” Plan “B” shuffled them to the field house.

One competition didn’t work out as planned…

Six players were assigned to fill pint containers at the ice cream freezer. Their challenge was to eat their ice cream faster than a coach whose carton was already secretly filled with mashed potatoes.

Something went haywire in the freezer, or maybe the recipe was wrong. Whatever, the ice cream didn’t freeze; it was the consistency of buttermilk.

The players chug-a-lugged the stuff while the coach spooned the potatoes. The coach finished seventh…

Educators from Bangs and Coleman gathered in the BHS gymnasium, all seated on the “home side.”

The speaking lectern was on the walkway, so front-row teachers were just a yard or so away. I asked them if they’d used breath freshener spray; they wanted to know if I sprayed when speaking.

“Hey, I’ll be 70 years old in a couple of weeks,” I admitted. “And I often tangle my tongue. Draw your own conclusions.”

En route to Forsan for an engagement with their school folks (and others from Stanton and Grady), I had a wonderful visit with Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Fishback in their Coahoma home. He was my seventh grade teacher in Early, Texas, 57 years ago.

During dinner in Big Spring, several individuals approached our table, all wanting to greet Mr. Fishback, longtime Coahoma principal.

The sun was about to take its repose as we arrived back at their home, where a neighbor had just finished mowing their yard. Providing the “courtesy mowing” was yet another grateful former student, one of thousands the 86-year-old retired educator has imbued with a sense of the possible.

We sat on the porch and spoke of long ago days. As stars appeared for twinkling duty, we went inside. I thanked the Fishbacks, emphasizing that I would arise around 5 a.m. and slip out quietly

I tried. Coffee had been sipped, cake consumed and luggage rolled to the door. I heard footsteps in the hallway. It was my mentor; he urged me to join him for a cup of coffee before departing. So I did.

He made sure that I didn’t forget my gift — three bags of tomatoes grown abundantly in their front yard. Then, we said good-byes…

Don Newbury is a speaker and author whose weekly column appears in 125 newspapers in six states. He welcomes comments and inquiries. Call him at (817) 447-3872, or send e-mail to newbury@speakerdoc.com His Web site is www.speakerdoc.com.