By: Tibebe Gebiso, Gaurav Bhanot, and Giquan Williams
Fathers-and-son duos in sports are often overlooked, because, in all of professional athletics, fathers and sons working together is a very rare sighting. Yet, at T.C Williams, there is not one, but two duos taking over in sports.
James Longerbeam is T.C.’s Varsity Football head coach and his son, Robert, plays by his side. Since coming to Alexandria from Panama City, Florida, James has brought the varsity football team to two straight playoff appearances. He has coached in a variety of positions for the last thirty years and has another son, who played for the high school where he used to coach. He coached his older son for four years in Panama City, and has been coaching Robert, the younger, for two years. Even though he’s only been coaching Robert for a short time, he said, “The thing is that they have been involved since they were little. They started off as water boys and then became ball boys. Then they started doing headcount stuff.” James said that it was a little odd at first when he began coaching his oldest son. It was a strange transition but he began to love it. James said, “I love coaching both of them. It’s just a lot different because you develop a different bond rather than just a normal father and son relationship. You get to watch them grow on and off the field.”
When fathers are involved in their son’s athletics, it’s usually because they have influenced their child to become a fan of that sport. Robert was always around football, which was one factor that led him to play the sport. Another factor is his mother, Alette Longerbeam, who is a track coach and helps with the football team. “I think we’re just around it all the time and to be perfectly honest with you, my wife actually took them,” James said. He concedes that having his son on a team can lead to different treatment of Robert, but not in a way that may make it seem like Robert is playing on the team just because of his last name. James said that he tries to “go harder” on his son so the rest of the team doesn’t assume that he’s taking favorites.
On Robert’s side, he sees his father differently at practice and at home. Both of them agree that James expects more from Robert. Robert said it’s hard because he wants him to put in more work but he enjoys having his dad while he’s practicing. He said that at home he views him differently; he wouldn’t call him Dad at practice. Since James has to play two important roles in Robert’s life–the father and the coach–he stays on Robert’s case about school work as much as he does on his role in football.
While James is the head coach, there are assistant coaches that help him and the other players. Robert views his coaches all the same. Knowing that his dad is the head coach, he understands that he isn’t supposed to put his dad over any of the other coaches. Robert said of James coaching him that, “I love it, it’s fun. He teaches me a lot and it’s just the perfect bond we have.”
The second duo at T.C Williams is the Wrestling team’s coach and son combination. Christopher and Zion Marshall have established themselves in recent years as the father-son force to be reckoned with. Christopher, the father of Zion, was an All-American Wrestler who dominated in both his high school and college careers. Chris attended Central Michigan for college and graduated from T.C. Williams, where he won a state championship. This is his third year coaching Zion but his eighth year overall with the Titans. Despite the athletic accolades that Coach Marshall has achieved he still believes that education is key in his son’s life, saying “ I have expectations for him concerning his grades.” Chris also believes that separating his son’s athletics and his family time is key. He said that, “There is the father side and the coaching side, and as long as you keep them separate they are two different things.”
Not to be outdone by his father, Zion Marshall is working his way up on the wrestling ladder. He has won multiple tournaments and placed in the Nova Classic in 2017. Zion is both confident in his skills and works hard, not only for himself but his teammates. When asked if the amount of work he puts in is because of his father, he said, “No, I feel as a captain I need to work the hardest to motivate my team.” Coming from New Jersey to Alexandria is a big adjustment but Zion seemed to transition perfectly maintaining decent grades and forming a strong bond with his new teammates. Zion spoke of his father’s involvement in his academics, saying, “ We talk about what I need to do and how grades impact my college choices and scholarships.”
Overall, having these father and son duos opens eyes to relationships on and off both the field and the mat.