After 25 years of collegiate coaching, I have been very lucky to have recruited many, many great individuals. However, behind every outstanding student-athlete you find strong parents. These parents can be real characters, too. I’d like to tell you about a few of them.
I have to start at the beginning. At my first college job, Doane College 25 years ago, a father came to visit with his daughter, Dena. The mother soon paid Doane College a visit. They were Kay and Denny and I’ll never forget them.
The first three years at Doane were not easy. The team won only 36 of 86 games. Dena was having an excellent college career, but it didn’t show in wins. Kay and Denny were great parents and very patient. Dena was the only senior in her last season and the team started winning. By the end of the year, Doane College was conference champions and playing for the District 9 title. The pep band didn’t often come to our games and Kay made a few calls, thinking this was a great time to add a some music to the game.
The pep band came and set up. Everything looked ready until just before game time when they all packed up their instruments and headed for the door. I asked the director what was wrong and he said, “The flute and clarinet didn’t show, so how can we perform?” We won the game, but Kay had an agenda with the band. When I told her what the director had said the phone lines burned. It wasn’t long before the band director was looking for another job. I am really glad Kay saved those phone calls for the band director.
One thing that turned that Doane team into a winner was a freshman point guard by the name of Trudi. She was a great recruit, but several members of Trudi’s community warned me that her father, Cliff, would be a handful.
Trudi had a terrific freshman year and later earned All-America honors. However, Cliff did figure into the story. After her freshman year, Trudi experienced a weight gain as many freshmen do. She lived in a small town about 15 miles from where I was living. I often volunteered to umpire summer softball games and got stuck doing just that when Trudi’s softball team came to town.
Trudi was the pitcher. Cliff set his lawn chair right next to the backstop where he could evaluate my umpiring performance. I thought now I would see the side of Cliff everyone warned me about. After a couple of innings, he called me to the screen. He said, “Look at Trudi! I can’t believe it!” He was referring to her weight gain.
I played dumb and asked, “What do you mean, Cliff?’ He responded by telling me he had alerted Trudi’s mother that it would be a summer filled with lettuce for Trudi’s diet. Sure enough, Trudi came back 20 pounds lighter. Married and after a couple of kids, Trudi still has not put that weight back on. Also, I never had more fun with a parent that Cliff.
Sometimes parents may not always give the best advice to their daughters. Tracee’s father, Charlie, is the prime example. At the start of Tracee’s sophomore season, she tore her ACL. Later, it was discovered her other ACL had been torn during her high school career. She had them both repaired the same school year and was back on the court the fall of the next year. However, she was far from playing at 100 percent.
She barely made the varsity squad. Early in the year, we played nationally-ranked Wayland Baptist. They beat Doane by 42 points and only one player didn’t get in the game. It was Tracee who didn’t play at all. Charley had one piece of advice for Tracee following the game. “The handwritings on the wall,” Charlie said, thinking Tracee’s basketball career was over.
Thank goodness she didn’t take his advice. Not only did Tracee stay out, she was a starter the next year. When we traveled to Wayland for the return game, Tracee hit a 15-foot jumper in overtime to win the game. She went on to captain Doane’s first national Final Four team and is now the head coach at Doane. Charlie is a great guy with as big a heart as any parent I’ve known, but sometimes the daughter knows best.
My 10 years at Northwest have put me together with some very interesting parents. One player fairly local to Maryville, Brooke, transferred in her sophomore year from a Texas NCAA Division I school. Her father is a businessman in a community about 40 miles from Maryville. Having Brooke was great for crowd numbers. Every home game, Bob and a bunch of his hometown friends would make the trip to Maryville to watch Brooke play.
The team really jelled Brooke’s senior year. Despite a tough leg condition, Brooke started every game and helped the Bearcats to a 24-win season.
Bob, who has a chronic illness, became very sick. Brooke had to balance basketball, studies and visits to her father who was at a north Kansas City hospital.
Brooke was understandably worried about her dad. It even looked at one point that the condition may be life threatening. Then suddenly, Bob was released from the hospital. We played a day or two later and just before the game, here comes Bob and his hometown friends to their familiar seats. Bob is the only parent I know that came from a near death bed to a daughter’s game. As it turned out, Brooke was as tough as her father.
Probably the most interesting parent I’ve only met twice. She lived in Europe and didn’t see many games. Her daughter, Sarah, was an All-American at Northwest and played on the same team as Brooke. Her father, Rick, never missed a game and was part of the gang that surrounded Bob.
Sarah’s mother’s name was Kathy. She was an early full-ride volleyball player at the University of Texas. Volleyball was in the family. Sarah’s aunt was a starter on the 1984 Olympic volleyball team. After college, Kathy joined the police force in Lincoln, Neb. About the time Sarah started college, Kathy took a job as a peace keeper in Bosnia.
In 1999, Kathy blew the whistle on her company for promoting a sex ring. She was fired, but later won a law suit against that company. Her courage brought to light many crimes against women in Bosnia. It inspired a HBO movie called “The Whistle Blower.”
Sarah, Brooke and all their teammates helped Northwest win their first conference tournament championship and first NCAA tournament appearance in 20 years.
For all the parents I have left out, I am sorry. You all have been great to me, my family and very supportive of your daughters. There are many more stories that we rehash at every team reunion. It makes you wonder which parents on this year’s team will be the most memorable. Several are off to great starts.