Saturday night, Maryville had its second “microburst” in two years. It wasn’t quite as bad as the “microburst” last summer that pretty much destroyed all the athletic fences on campus. It did nail some trees and a ton of branches. For the second time this summer, our neighbors woke up to see Sam’s trampoline in their yard. Here’s the funny thing. Until it happened last summer, I had never heard of a “microburst.” Of course there are always tornadoes in Missouri. If you woke up and saw damage like we have experienced the last two summers, you might hear someone say, “We must have had a small tornado,” or “we had tornadic winds.” Sometimes, it was described as damaging, straight line winds. I guess if you put two adjectives on the strong winds you come up with a “microburst.” Of course I’ve heard the overpriced meteorologist give the scientific definition of a “microburst.” It’s something about the rain coming down so hard in an isolated area that it generates damaging winds when the rain hits the ground. I wonder if scientists knew this all along and just kept it a secret from the general public.
There are a lot of things in basketball like that. For most of the time that I played and coached, many players suffered from shin-splints. There wasn’t much you could do about them but grin and bear it. Now, what starts out as a shin-splint regularly becomes a stress fracture. Shin-splint sufferers first get x-rays. If no hot spots are found, the players are sent back to the court until they complain again. Then, there’s a bone scan, the boot to stabilize the leg and lots of rest. I sure missed out on a lot of sympathy.
Another similar injury is an ankle sprain. Back in the day, if you rolled your ankle, you iced it and got right back on it. No one ever missed more than a week for an ankle sprain unless you truly had no pain tolerance. Now you have low ankle sprains, the dreaded high ankle sprains, the sprained arch and several degrees of sprains. When discussing it all with the trainer or doctor, be ready to describe your pain on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most painful.
Let’s go back to the weather for a minute. Basketball is certainly no stranger to bad weather affecting travel plans. We are in the Midwest where the weather changes like the players moods (often). However, it used to be easier to figure things out. If it was snowing and blowing, drive slower. The worst was sleet. Did you dare travel with those ice crystals belting you? What you saw is what you got and you made your travel decision on what you could see. Here are a few crises’ that happened with the weather.
One Saturday afternoon, we were supposed to have an early afternoon game in Dubuque, Iowa at Clarke College. We were coming from Cedar Rapids and had experienced a tough loss at the hands of Dave Slifer’s Mount Mercy team. To get the players’ energy regenerated, I took the team to the film site of Field of Dreams in Dyersville. It was a great December day, with the highs in the 50s. I didn’t know this, but most of the team had made plans for that evening back on the Doane campus since we anticipated an early evening arrival home.
Things didn’t go according to plans. First, my schedule said a 1 p.m. game time and Clarke had it at 3 p.m. We waited around until three. Now, we’re warmed up and ready to roll, however the officials thought it was a 7 p.m. game. That caused another hour and a half delay. Finally, we got it together and beat a stubborn Clarke team. However, the players’ evening plans were in danger. Not only were we late, but a heavy fog had descended from the heavens.
The players had a solution. I had a student coach by the name of Wes Lamberson. He was from my hometown of Clatonia, Neb. He also was the father of a future All-American at Northwest, Josh Lamberson. What made Wes the solution was he had spent 20 years on the police force in Lincoln, Neb., before going back to college to be a teacher. He had experienced some high-speed chases in his law-enforcement career. The players talked him into driving the van like he was chasing a Nebraska football player who had misbehaved. I pretended to sleep as Wes sliced through the fog at break-neck speed. Not only did he get us home safe and sound, but the players salvaged most of their Saturday night social life.
It was snow-packed roads that killed the Saturday night social life when we played Benedictine in Atchison, Kan. My assistant, Dennis Nelson, was the opposite driver from Wes. Much to the players’ dismay, Dennis jumped behind the wheel of the team van for the trip home. Dennis destroyed a five-pound package of M&M’s as he carefully drove to the Nebraska border. When he stopped for a reload of sugar, the players begged me to drive. I was an undesirable driver in Iowa, but now I was just what the doctor ordered in Kansas. I grabbed my bag of sunflower seeds and slid all the way to Crete, Neb. What’s more important, safety or social life?
Sometimes the winter weather just sneaks up on you. We had arranged to play Peru State at Plattsmouth, Neb. Plattsmouth is near Omaha, with two major highways going into the town. Light snow was falling when we arrived. After playing one of the worst games of the year, we found out just as we were to leave that both highways had been shut down by the roads department. We had no choice but to find a local motel. The only one with any space was the Rock Motel. This was a mom and pop motel, but mom and pop weren’t much for house keeping. Our players changed its name to the Cockroach Motel. I thought we could survive anything for one night. However, I wanted to get out of the Rock as soon as possible Sunday morning. I went to the front desk to ask for a wake-up call. The “pop” of the operation was sitting behind the counter in a grease-stained T-shirt that didn’t quite cover his amble belly. When I asked for an 8 a.m. wake-up call, he handed me a wind-up alarm clock and said, “Wake yourself up. I don’t get up that early.” I didn’t need that alarm clock after all in my effort to get out of the Rock as quickly as possible.
Sometimes teams use the weather to their advantage. One year, Emporia was scheduled to play in Maryville on Wednesday. They were scheduled to travel to Rolla on Saturday. A snow storm hit early Wednesday afternoon and the forecast didn’t look good. I don’t think a microburst hit, but a blizzard was on its way. Visiting teams always have the right to postpone a game because of road conditions. That’s exactly what Emporia did that Wednesday night. No one at Northwest thought it was a bad decision to wait until the next day when the roads were cleared. However, at 6 p.m. that Wednesday, the Emporia bus pulled into town.
As it turned out, Emporia killed two birds with one stone. By delaying our game one night, they were able to stay on the road and go directly to Rolla. If they had played on Wednesday, they would have had to travel back to Emporia, then pack back up Friday night and take the long drive to Rolla. Not bad thinking, but they should have at least waited until Thursday morning to bus it to Maryville. It was curious how the roads were too dangerous for a noon departure to Maryville, but a 3 p.m. departure worked fine. I guess that’s smart planning.
This past year, we were scheduled to play Fort Hays State on the Wednesday before finals week. A big snowstorm was forecasted for Tuesday night, so the men’s and women’s teams piled on the buses Monday night and raced the blizzard to Hays, Kan. We just couldn’t wait until Tuesday and hope our student-athletes could pull off good grades on their finals.
We barely made it in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. Now we had almost two full days to kill before our game. Here’s where our players showed their true character. Tuesday night, most of the team ate at an IHOP that was right next to our motel. As the players sat in a booth near a window, they watched the blizzard rage through the flat plains of Kansas. A big drift had formed on the road that led out of the IHOP. Several cars got stuck in that snow drift. Every time it happened, several of our players would rush out into the cold, windy, snowy night and help a poor motorist out of that snow drift. One of those stuck even had small children in the car. Unfortunately, the good dead did us little good when we lost a close game Wednesday night and had to study for finals all the way home.
I don’t think, in all that weather did we ever have a “microburst.” We did have high ankle sprains and stress factures, but not many sprains and shin-splints. I guess I need to do a better job of keeping up with my terms. Even when I describe a fast driver like Wes Lamberson who drove on that foggy Iowa night, it confuses the players. I use an old quote my dad taught me. He described my heavy driving foot as a teenager as “you’re driving like your stealing chickens.” I’m not sure there are many chicken thieves anymore.