Heaven and Jelly Doughnuts

The TV show, 24, has one episode left. I don’t know if you have followed the eight seasons where Jack Bauer, played by Keifer Sutherland, has 24 hours to save the world from some type of disaster. This is the last season, so the big question is will Jack Bauer survive? Bauer has overcome drugs, torture, stabbings and shootings to find his way through eight, 24 hour thrillers. My hope is they keep Jack around for possible movies. If they kill him off, I hope they find a way to bring him back with either a miraculous survival or a spirit of himself.

Another favorite show from the past was Magnum PI. That show spent a couple of episodes at the end with Magnum hanging on to life. He found a way to help his buddies in spirit by bribing his guardian angel with jelly donuts. That final show was labeled Heaven and Jelly Donuts.

Friday night, Forest Gump was replayed on TNT. One of the lines that Forest’s mother says as she’s dying of cancer was, “Death is a part of living.” I was reminded this week how death brings back some of the best part of living, especially in sports. Charlie Uldrich passed away suddenly last Sunday. He was the father of one of my former players, Tracee (Uldrich) Fairbanks. Tracee later became my assistant coach at Doane College, then took over as head coach when I left for Northwest. Charlie was no ordinary parent. He had a heart as big as Texas. He could cry at the drop of a hat or fight like crazy if one of his friends was being threatened. Charlie was of Czech descent and still carried a Czech accent. He was a big guy and always had a quick smile and laugh. There are many stories that have been passed around the past week as we buried our good friend.

The first time I saw what a big softie Charlie really could be was during the Nebraska State Tournament. His second daughter, Toby, was playing for Milligan High School. Tracee had played a year for me at Doane but was spending that year rehabbing two knee surgeries. Toby’s team lost a heart-breaking, one-point loss to the number one ranked team in their division. This 250+ pound man stood at half court with tears streaming down his face. He was really hurting for his daughter.

When Tracee was a junior, we were in the NAIA National Tournament in Oregon. We won our first game and played the next night against a Kansas team. I was spending most of my night breaking down film. Back then, I broke down film with two VCR’s and a couple of remote controls. It was very time consuming and it was around 2 a.m. when Charlie and another parent, Bob Melton, stopped by to see me. They were celebrating the first round win and wanted to know how we were planning on winning the next game. Charlie’s wife, Mary, and Bob’s wife, Shirley, condemned them for bothering me. I assured the wives they were not a distraction. When we sustained a last second, heartbreaking loss the next day, Mary and Bob pointed right at Charlie and Bob as the reason we lost. Of course, they had no affect on the game, but the next year we played in the national tournament again. Charlie was restricted from coming near me when I did the scouting reports.

At that National Tournament, we advanced to the Final Four, which meant we had Sunday off. That Saturday night, several coaches and parents went to a little establishment several miles out of town to take a deep breath before I prepared for the semifinal game. While we were there, a coach from a team in our conference and a friend of Charlie’s, got in an argument with a patron that drove a motorcycle. If you drove a motorcycle in March in Indiana, you’re pretty tough. Charlie didn’t care. He was the first one on the scene to defend his friend. All of a sudden, the condition of his friend was more important that the night out. When you were Charlie’s friend, you were his friend through thick and thin.

I know it’ll be tough on Tracee not having her father around. Charlie would jump in the car and go recruiting with Tracee. I can’t tell you how much it helps to have someone tagging along. The road gets long and lonely. Unfortunately, Tracee will probably find it much more than lonely as she deals with memories of her father. When my grandparents were growing old, they worried they would not be remembered after death. Someone like Charlie will never have that worry. Stories embellishing Charlie’s exploits will be told for many years.

Today was another day when the shock of death hit way too close to home. My son, Sam, is 10 years old. I am by far the oldest father of anyone in his class. One of the father’s of Sam’s friend died suddenly last night of a heart attack. He was only 34-years old. It will be really tough on his 10-year old son.

I lost my mother when I was 8-years old. Sports really helped me overcome the hole the death left in our family. She died the first week of March and the high school team was undefeated and playing in the state tournament. The funeral was on Monday and I sat with one of the basketball players rather than with my family. I couldn’t believe one of my heroes wanted to sit with me in church. Please remember that as an 8-year old, heroes were as big as death. The basketball team won the state championship with my brother and me in the stands. We sat at the main table during the post-game celebration. Then, we were allowed to carry the championship trophy home in our car. I’m not sure if anyone from that team knew how much they helped my family with their kindness at a tough time.

Charlie was a big guy and he loved food. If Doane College gets in a close game next season and Charlie is his daughter’s guardian angel, I hope Tracee will have a big bag of jelly donuts. Doane won’t lose next year.

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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.