Lessons from the Young

I know that blog #21 should be dedicated to all the spectacular events that have happened this past week. I am really happy for all the players and coaches of our national champion football team. I’m especially happy for Charlie Flohr, the quarterback’s coach, who is stuck in an office by the women’s basketball coaches. While all the football coaches and graduate assistants are on the west end of the second floor of Lamkin Activity Center, Charlie finds himself in a closet-like office with an unbelievable view of my office. The only advantage I see for Charlie is Lori Hopkins, my assistant, occasionally puts out candy on her desk. The rest of the time Charlie is at the mercy of women’s basketball as he tries to organize recruiting for another national championship freshmen class.

However, this blog isn’t about national championships. It’s not even about Northwest women’s basketball. I do have this to say. Several people have stopped me on the street and asked if I went to Alabama. As much fun as that would have been, even with Doug Rush driving, I don’t think our Bearcat bus could have made it back for our basketball game with UNO two hours after Coach Tjeerdsma accepted the championship trophy.

This blog is about youth basketball and my son, Sam’s, Maryville Bearcat fourth grade team. To tell you the truth, I have spent many years witnessing the worst side of youth sports. Each year we run a youth tournament in April at Northwest. I did the same before that at Doane College in Crete, Neb. The coach that gets ejected the most comes from the fifth and sixth grade division. The cry of, “Get it under control before someone gets hurt,” can be heard every year. You ever see a fifth grader in control of their body?
Over the years, you won’t believe the threats and incidents that we have heard. Once, Austin Meyer, the men’s assistant, had a coach threaten to go to the car and get his gun after Austin correctly ruled a field goal a two-pointer instead of a winning three-pointer. The score was still tied, but with the technical, his team lost in double overtime. My assistant was threatened to have the tournament cancelled. This particular coach was unhappy when an opposing player wasn’t going to be banned from the tournament. He let us know that he personally knew Mel Tjeerdsma and Dr. Hubbard, our president. With one call, this youth coach could wipe out the Bearcat Youth Tournament. To my surprise, he did have Coach Tjeerdsma’s phone number, but we survived that attack.

The worst was a couple of years ago as the Saturday night games were winding down. Two high school girls’ teams, one from Kansas City and one Lincoln were late in the game when a player from Lincoln was fouled a little aggressively. Both benches cleared, campus security was summoned, and parents threw wild accusations at the players. Clarence Green, our head of campus security, used his usual great personality and tact to get everyone out of the gym. Both teams were removed from the tournament and we haven’t seen them since.

However, this blog is about the brighter and funnier side of youth sports. Sam is a fourth grader on a team coached by Bob Sundell, a Northwest Hall of Famer, and his wife, Korena. The team practices once a week, plays in a league in St. Joseph every Monday, and goes to four or five weekend tournaments each year.The Sundell’s did not pick an all-star team to coach. Sam is proof of that. If you have never seen Bob, he is a former men’s basketball player. He probably looks just shorter than the Jolly Green Giant (6’8″) to his fourth grade players. Bob high jumped over seven feet in college and barely missed making the Olympic team. He still stays in great shape.

As intimidating as that sounds, I have never heard Bob yell at his players, except possibly at his own son, Jalen. Even that is constructive advice. A couple of the players score most of the points, as with most fourth grade teams. A couple of the players grab most of the rebounds as with most fourth grade teams. Sam hardly ever is on the receiving end of a pass. However, Sam and the rest of the team have a great time playing for the Sundell’s. No matter what the score, they always receive a high five from Bob when they come out of the game.Bob and Korena work patiently with the eight team members. They won’t win any national championships, but they really have gotten better in the year-and-a-half they have been together. They even got a second-place medal at the last tournament. (I think there were only three teams in their age group but that didn’t matter)

A couple of things happened in that tournament. First, there was proof positive that Bob was a master at strategy. The Maryville Bearcats held a slim three-point lead with 30 seconds left in the game. In fourth grade basketball, you can’t press in the back court. Bob had his point guard, Colin, dribble in the backcourt for nine seconds, then he called time out. On the inbounds pass, the Bearcats threw it to the backcourt and dribbled another nine seconds before Bob called another time out. The losing team had to stand helpless in the front court because of the no press rule. After one more time out, and another throw to the backcourt, the Bearcats had a win. I’m not sure the opposing coach liked the strategy much, but would you argue with a 6’8″ Hall of Famer? I just wish we had that rule at times in college basketball. I’m sure Bob is the only coach that was smart enough to take advantage of the rule.

Finally, Sam did something that really was neat. The Bearcats lost the championship game Sunday evening. During the game, an opposing player by the name of Ike was shooting a free throw. Sam was on the free-throw line hoping for a chance at a rebound. Ike made the first free throw. The only person to go into the lane to congratulate him was Sam. Remember, Ike plays for the opposition. After the game, the opposing coach, told Bob he had never seen that in a game and praised Sam for his sportsmanship.
Sam doesn’t score and grabs only a few rebounds. But sometimes we can learn lessons in the simplest of ways. Sam can also go the other way. He once told Brandon Snyder, the Emporia coach, “My dad is going to kick your butt.” Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Last Saturday, he asked one of the UNO players how it felt to know they were going to lose. I’m pretty sure the player knew he was just messing with them and Brandon took it as a funny little kid with a big mouth.

Sam did have a red-letter game Monday night. He grabbed four (or by his count six) rebounds, even got a steal and had three shot attempts (no points). However, I proudly stick out my chest and proclaim that Sam is the absolute the best player on his team and probably all opposing teams at one thing – celebrating the win.

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Gene Steinmeyer

About Gene Steinmeyer

Gene Steinmeyer coached the Northwest Missouri State women’s basketball team for 13 seasons before retiring after 26 years as a collegiate head coach after the 2011-12 season. He retired as the second winningest women’s basketball coach at Northwest as his 2010-11 team won both the MIAA Regular Season and Tournament Championship advancing to the NCAA National Semifinals one game shy of the national championship game.