In 1995, I needed a fundraiser for my women’s basketball team at Doane College. I had a few connections with the Lincoln YMCA. They host a huge youth tournament each year. It looked like the perfect format for an event at Doane College. The Tiger Youth Basketball Tournament was set for early April. My connections got me a very large mailing list. I figured if we had 20 or 30 teams that first year, I could declare the fundraiser a success. It was the worst case of underestimating I’ve ever done. When the dust had cleared, 150 teams had entered. I needed 15 gyms in three different towns to pull it off. Instead of just involving the women’s basketball team, I had to use the whole athletic department. It was rewarding and very, very, tiring. It was also very educational.
Never in my 38 years of coaching have I done anything that I have received more personal praise. However, never in that 38 years have I received more criticism. Sunday was the final day of the 10th Bearcat Slam and Jam Youth Tournament at Northwest Missouri State University. Things haven’t changed much. The praise was there, both in person and in emails. The criticism was there, too, as well as strange human behavior from very rational people. That first year of the tournament came the strangest of all the slams. Crete, Neb., the home of Doane College, is about half the size of Maryville. The invasion of youth teams, parents and fans overwhelmed the few eating places in Crete. The Pizza Hut, Taco John and Runza (a great Nebraska fast food chain) all ran out of food. Heidi and Harold’s, one of the few mom and pop restaurants didn’t even open on Sunday their pantries were so empty. For days after the tournament, I got calls from these eateries complaining I hadn’t given them enough warning.
In truth, I had tried to sell ads to all these businesses in advance of the event. They all thought I was nuts about the affect the tournament would have on their business. Only my good friend at the Dairy Queen showed any appreciation. My wife, Michele, then my fiancé, and I crawled exhausted into the Dairy Queen late Sunday evening. The owner opened his menu to Michele and me, bragging he had broken all sales record on Saturday, only to have set a new record on Sunday. I promise you that everyone stocked up for the tournament the following year.
I have found myself in situations of all kinds. Behavior from the players, coaches and parents can be very memorable. A couple of years into the Doane Tournament found a girls’ team from Lincoln entered in the junior high division. That’s not significant, but the coach was a former tight end of the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Atlanta Falcons. His daughter was playing, so he sponsored and coached her team. The former football player was about 6 feet, 8 inches tall and his weight had ballooned past 300 pounds. He used it all to intimidate the officials. I had a couple of young, female officials on the championship game. I sat right next to his team’s sidelines and had to intercept him several times as he argued with the officials. I’m not real small, but people would have had a hard time finding me if he was blocking their view. I really did fear for my safety and was overjoyed to see them leave town. Coaches, players, parents and fans are no different in Missouri. I started the same fundraiser when I moved to Northwest. I warned all the businesses about food shortages before the first youth tournament, so I avoided that shot from the Chamber of Commerce members.
There is no tougher group to officiate than the 5th and 6th grade divisions. We’ve had more of those coaches and parents ejected than from any other group. That first year at Northwest saw a 6th grade team from a community a couple of hours east of Maryville get into trouble from the start. The game was officiated by an experienced crew, including a regular MIAA conference official. It didn’t matter. Just before half, the coach picked up his second technical. When he refused to leave the court, we had to call campus safety to escort him to the hallway. However, things didn’t calm down. Early in the second half, the score keeper, who was the coach’s wife, was tossed for her constant criticism of the officials. Just to calm her down, I took her to an office in Martindale Gym. She kept repeating the most familiar yell directed at officials. “If you don’t get the game under control, someone will get hurt,” is yelled over and over. How do you keep a 6th grader under control?
High school teams also are high on the list of teams we watch with caution. The most serious encounter we ever have seen happened to the Northwest men’s assistant basketball coach, Austin Meyer. Austin was refereeing the championship game of the high school boys’ division. A small town was playing a great game with an inter-city team from Kansas City. The game went two overtimes. The Kansas City team hit a jumper at the buzzer of the second overtime to apparently send the game to a third overtime. However, the coach thought the shot should be a 3-point field goal to give his team the win. Austin was sure the player was inside the 3-point line and he stood his ground. Everyone I talked to that saw the play agreed that Austin had it right. Austin did his best to get the coach off the court, but finally he had to give him a technical foul. The technical is still part of the second overtime, so when the kid from the small town hit the free throw, it was a game-winner. As a parting shot, the coach told Austin he had a gun in his car and he would be back with it. It was an idle threat, but it got everyone’s attention. It all seemed like a very extreme reaction for a youth tournament.
Two years ago, a pair of high school girls’ teams provided the most memorable moment. As play was winding down on Saturday, I got a call to come to the Recreation east gym. Trouble was brewing as a Lincoln team was playing a Kansas City team. With about six minutes left in the game, a hard foul led to a bench-clearing brawl. Punches were thrown and one young lady had a split lip for her participation in the brawl. Things would have calmed down, but the parents of one of the teams demanded police action and threatened to sue for the plastic surgery that surely would be needed for the injured player. When the dust had cleared, both teams were sent home and police protection was added. If anyone thinks the girls’ game isn’t as competitive as the boys’ game, that person should have seen that brawl.
That same year, we had another coach cost his team a chance to win the championship. A Lincoln high school team was playing a Maryville team. One of the Lincoln coaches arrived from another game with about five minutes left. He was warned several times to keep his sharp comments to himself. Finally, with three seconds left and the score tied, the coach, who never shut up, got a technical. Maryville hit the free throw and won. It took me another half an hour to get the Lincoln team headed for home. I got a full load on why they would never come back to Maryville.
I don’t want to imply that everything is negative. The hometown parents and fans are terrific. I have been thanked many times from Maryville people for running the tournament. This year, we had a great email from a team called the Missouri Thunder. The Red Oak boys’ team was very nice with their comments. Neil Elliot’s teams are great. How many parents that coach can claim they have NCAA Division I coaching experience? Neil once coached at Oklahoma State. Don’t worry, we had our problems. A parent/fan was ejected from a 5th grade game. That shouldn’t have surprised us. A high school team had a game where they earned seven technical fouls, a tournament record. Thank goodness there were no guns or bench-clearing brawls.
I have always contended that if someone would video all the negative behavior, it would be shocking on how carried away some people can get at a youth event. I’m sure that those involved can say it’s because they are so competitive. However, the coaches that impress me are those who teach competitiveness with common sense. Here’s my standing ovation for those coaches, players, parents and fans.