Then and Now

My son, Sam, had a math worksheet he needed to complete this weekend. It was suppose to help him get ready for achievement testing. One series of questions involved the number of years in a certain number of Decades. Decades come easy for me since I was born in a year divisible by 10 (1950). Every time the year changes to that divisibility, I know how many decades I have been alive. If you’re up on your decades, I just began my sixth decade of life. Most of four of those decades have been in girls’ high school or women’s college basketball. I have been very fortunate to see the sport advance into a great game. However, there are marked differences from all those years ago.

The most visible one is uniforms. How our players crammed into those tight shorts and skin-tight jerseys is beyond me. If I am honest, I really, really, hate dealing with uniforms. You can never guarantee that 15 players will have a great fit with 15 shorts and jerseys. Some want them baggy, some want them tight, others like the real long shorts and others like them a little above the knee. If you can please about half the team when fitting uniforms, it’s been a good year. The funniest uniform incident happened while I was a high school coach at Wilber-Clatonia High School in Nebraska. We had just ordered new uniforms for our 1983-1984 season. I sized the uniforms by the rule the tighter the shorts, the better the players liked them. However, I had four players over six feet tall and in need of extra-large shorts. I knew right away I was in trouble because I had only ordered three extra-large shorts. Two of the four six-footers were seniors, so I handed the seniors the three extra-larges and one large and told them to work out the problem on who wore what.

That year the uniforms for the six-footers never were a problem, so about half way through the year I asked one of my senior post players, Angie Miller, how they solved the sizing dilemma. I should have never asked such a stupid question. Angie proudly related to me that the solution was easy. She told me the four player’s cycles were spaced far enough apart. The players experiencing water retention could always have a pair of extra-large shorts. That was way too much information for me.

Thirty-one years ago, I inherited a girls’ high school team where most of the players weren’t very tough. Many of the players weren’t very balanced, couldn’t handle the basketball, or even had trouble catching passes. Whenever one of those horrible things occurred on the court, the offending player would let out a blood-curdling scream. So, in my divine wisdom, I came up with the “If You Scream, You Run Rule.” A couple of suicides after a floor screech cured that problem.

Women have definitely toughened up today. If one of my current players like Gentry Dietz, gets knocked to the floor, will you ever hear a scream? I am sure you won’t. If Abby Henry has the ball stolen, will she act like Freddie Kruger attacked her on the floor? How about if Tara Roach dropped a pass, will she let everyone know with a girlie scream? No chance! The trouble is I now have to issue a new floor rule. These players may not scream when they screw up, but their language can get very colorful. So now we have to initiate the no swearing rule.

Way back when I started coaching girls’ basketball, I would lay awake at night worrying about getting the ball past half court. There weren’t many good ball handlers in girls’ basketball and my team represented that painful fact well. The first varsity game I coached had a final score of 29-28. That was painful to coach and painful to watch. If we were going to attract any attention, we had to find a way to score more points. That’s when we came up with the three pass rule. If we threw more than three passes after we crossed half court, someone was going to sit. Our shooting percentage wasn’t great, but we definitely were more fun to watch. You can’t score points passing the ball. I’m glad none of those players had ever seen the movie, Hoosiers, where several passes were required before a shot was taken.

The player’s skills now surpass anything I imagined back in the late 1970s. Ken Cook, the recently retired girls’ coach at Adams, Neb., couldn’t wait to get a lead. Once he has it, he ran the old four-corners offense until the defense made a mistake. Ken’s own fans didn’t like it and the opposing coaches used to yell at him down at the other end of the bench. However, you can’t argue with his six state championships. Personally, I still like the three-pass rule. The faster we get the ball into the front court and shoot, the faster we can add digits to the scoreboard. It may not be for the same reasons, but you still can’t score points with a pass.

The final look-back from the then-and-now category is the advancement of hair. In the late 1970s and until about the mid 1980s, female basketball players kept their hair out of their face with hair spray. Of course, some just wore it short, but if you wanted to wear longer hair, send mom to the store for several cans of hair spray. One player I had at Doane College even carried the nickname, Final Net, because her hair never moved during a game.

Hair issues are constantly changing, but the hair spray has been replaced with rubber bands or scrunchees. Just throw that hair back and let’s play some basketball. I like it a lot better today than in the disco era. There has to be a few restrictions, though. Personally, I think any type of ribbon in the hair should be restricted to the cheerleaders and dance teams. There’s no place on the court for matching ribbons. The players might go back to screaming if they wore ribbons in their hair. A very popular hair accessory is the band or the pre-wrap to keep loose strands of hair off the face. The pre-wrap look is starting to become an annoyance. They easily slip off, so I spend a lot of practice time retrieving those types of hair accessories off the floor. I think the NCAA rules committee should look into making a violation for lost hair guards. Then again, I should shut up and be thankful I still have a full head of hair after 31 years of being a head coach. It’s just a different color than back then.

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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.