The Big One

Is it global warming?  Do the Incas or the Aztec calendars have anything to do with it?  You have to admit, the weather has been crazy.  It was never crazier than what happened at about 7:15 Thursday night.

I was mowing my lawn and finished up at 7:00.  I never noticed the black clouds building in the northwest because my house was blocking the horizon.  Sam, my 11 year old son, was at the neighbors, bothering them about their X-Box.  When I put the mower in the garage, I saw it for the first time.  It was a huge, black, rolling cloud that had a little red tinge in the middle of it.

Sam needed to be home before this thing hit.  He had taken his cell phone that he had begged Santa for last Christmas (I still believe).  Of course, it was on vibrate and he didn’t answer.  I had to walk the 200 yards or so up my neighbor’s lane to retrieve my son.  Just as we were getting to our front door of our home, it hit; The Big One!

We were lucky compared to the awful damage of the Joplin or Alabama tornadoes, but for a straight line wind, it was bad enough.  At 7:30, normally the sun is still shinning.  You can play baseball and have no vision problems.  However, at 7:30 Thursday, Michele, my wife, sent me to the kitchen for candles so we could see as we huddled in the basement.

A big, tough guy like me had not problem being upstairs, looking for the hidden candles.  Who knew they were on the windowsill.  While I was looking, the hail was so loud; I couldn’t even hear Michele complain about how long I was taking.  I looked outside and couldn’t even see our trees that were 60 feet from the window.  When I looked out to the west, I saw the crack in the window.  It was time to get the candles to the basement.

At about 8:00, round one of the Big One was over.  I crept outside to find shredded siding, broken windows, destroyed rain troughs, beat up satellite dishes, and not a leaf on the trees that were still standing.  Ed and Diane, our closest neighbors, were on vacation and their horses were out.  I’m not much of a wrangler, but I did grow up on a farm, so I helped get them back in the pasture.  The Big One had even stripped the meadow flowers I had planted this spring.

They said the winds were over 100 miles per hour.  They said crops from Iowa to Central Missouri were wiped out.  Insurance agents were swamped and adjusters were sent by the car load.  Fly-by-night roofers had their signs on the highways by Monday.  It will take a while to get back to normal.  On the positive side, Sam, Jacob, my grandson, and I will have a lot of Smores to make and eat when we burn the huge brush pile provided by the Big One.

Even though the term, the Big One, implies there is just a singular storm, we all have lived through several Big Ones.  The ice storm in 2007 could certainly be the Big One.  Coaches and their families lived in their campus offices while the electricity was restored.

As a kid, my dad twice made us get in cars to out run potential tornadoes.  I guess he figured that was a bad idea, so we started going to our basement.  I loved that since we could eat ice cream from the downstairs freezer while the Big One raged upstairs.

The Big One has affected my sports teams occasionally.  Several years ago while at Doane College, I agreed to play Peru State College at Plattsmouth, Nebraska.  Peru had a player from Plattsmouth and it was their home game.  Plattsmouth is near Bellevue and the Omaha area.

My Doane team was in the middle of a break-out year.  It was the first 20-win team ever for a Doane women’s basketball team.  We would go on to have a 12 year stretch of winning 20 or more games.  However, that night in Plattsmouth, we weren’t a very good team.  Not only did we get beat, but we only scored 42 points and a chubby, back-up post player made a half court shot at the buzzer.  It wasn’t a game winner, but it did give Peru a double-digit win.

To add insult to injury, as we were getting ready to leave this town on the Missouri River, we got some very bad news.  A blizzard was howling outside and all the major highways had been closed.  Most of the parents had gotten out of town, not waiting for a final goodbye to their daughters.  However, the Doane College basketball team was stuck in Plattsmouth.

Twenty-four years ago, there weren’t many housing options in Plattsmouth.  It was finally decided that the team and coaches would spend the night in the closest and only Plattsmouth motel called The Rock.  So here’s what happened; The Big One forced us to stay in The Rock.  The Rock was the nickname for Alcatraz, the prison island in California where no one ever escaped, unless you think Frank Morris and his buddies made it to shore in 1962.  The Plattsmouth “Rock” was as escape-proof as Alcatraz.

The Rock was a mom and pop motel.  The husband was behind the desk as we took almost all his rooms.  It had to be a financial bonanza for this little used motel.  However, you would never have known it looking at the owner that was on duty behind a well worn counter.  The owner not only owned a run-down motel, but he possessed one of the biggest belly’s in Plattsmouth.  Even though there was a blizzard blowing hard outside and big drafts coming inside, my overweight friend had on a short sleeve T-shirt with several holes and grease stains to make up for the lack of a theme on the shirt.

The motel didn’t take credit cards and bad tempered owner barely took my personal check.  When I went back later to get a wake-up call, this guy who never missed a meal, tossed me a wind-up alarm clock and said, “Get yourself up.  I never get up that early on Sunday.”  I guess 8 am church was not a possibility for the motel owner.

After a sleep-free night at the Rock, the Doane team had completely forgotten about their poor performance the night before.  The team did have a good suggestion for this insect infected motel.  The team voted to name it The Roach Motel.  It was well deserved.

The Big One was forecast for West Texas as we jumped in a car and a van and my Doane College team headed for Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas.  The weather was perfect as we left Crete, Nebraska that December day about 20 years ago.  I drove the car and my two assistants drove the van.  The trip was going to be about 12 hours and the team and I were going to drive it straight through, spend the night, play the game the next night, then head back for Crete.

We drove through south-central Nebraska, Kansas, and the Panhandle of Oklahoma without any hostile weather.  Things changed dramatically as our small caravan hit the Texas border.  The wind started blowing and a mixture of snow and ice started pouring down on us.  Compared to Midwest snow storms, this particular storm wasn’t all that bad.  However, the fact that most Texas drivers didn’t know how to drive on ice and snow, definitely made it The Big One.

Texas drivers were creeping along the Interstate at 20 miles and hour or less and seemed scared out of their minds.  What scared me was any vehicle with a Texas license plate.  I moved my car into the passing lane and stayed there until we reached Amarillo.  My two assistants include one former player, Kim Crider, and the other was the long-time Crete High School boys’ coach, Dennis Nelson.  Both were capable drivers, but I was soon separated from them.

I had two players with me in the car, but the majority of the team was on the van with my two assistant coaches.  If there was anything funny about the situation is my two assistants didn’t get along very well.  I joked with my players on what the conversation must be like on the van.

There were no cell phones, so we lost total communication with the van.  We stopped for 15 minutes in Amarillo, hoping to see the van drive by, but no such luck.  We limped to our motel in Plainview and waited.  I had all these horrible images of the van laying its side, with players laying all over the Interstate.

I was just about to call the Texas Highway Patrol or the Texas Rangers or someone, when the van of relieved coaches and players pulled into the motel parking lot.  It was 45 minutes behind us, but they weren’t going to have them do extra running for being late.  We had survived another Big One.

Wayland Baptist had beaten us by 42 points at home the year before; my Doane College team was not looking forward to playing in this historic, women’s basketball arena.  However, after being down by nine at half, my point guard, Mari Maakse, scored 26 second half and overtime points.  Tracce Uldrich (Fairbanks), now the Doane coach, hit a shot with just over 20 seconds left that proved to be the game winner.

We jumped in our vehicles before the Wayland officials could find an error in the scorebook and headed for Liberal, Kansas where we had motel reservations.  As it turned out, the motel had lost our reservations, but we found another motel that wasn’t as bad as the Rock.  We had survived another Big One, although isn’t Liberal where the Big One blew Dorothy and Toto to the land of Munchkins?

The most significant Big One in my 12 years at Northwest came in 2008.  It was the first of February and we were scheduled to play at Emporia on a Wednesday night.  A blizzard was forecast and it didn’t disappoint.  About noon, our transportation department decided it was too dangerous to put a bus on the road.  The athletic directors decided to play the game on Thursday.

The 2007-2008 was a strange year for the Northwest women’s basketball team.  We had made the NCAA tournament the year before and returned about everyone.  The team won a bunch of games early, but things had not gone real well in conference play.  Emporia reinforced our down turn by beating us badly Thursday night.

The Big One was over but the affects from it were just beginning.  On Saturday afternoon, we traveled to Warrensburg for an afternoon game with Central Missouri.  The Jennies had played at home on Wednesday and were a well rested team.  On the other hand, the Bearcats were a road-weary team that was really in a foul mood from the Thursday beat down.

The first half was truly awful for Bearcats.  We trailed by 25 points; and as a team had shot a truly pathetic 15% .  As we trudged off the court at half, I was really lost on how to reverse the trend.  Things got worst before they got better.  At one time, we trailed by over 50 points and only mounted a small rally to be beaten by 42 points.

I know it sounds like an excuse, but the Big One on Wednesday had killed us on Saturday.  I asked my assistant, Lori Hopkins, to check the bus tires before the team left for any coaches that might be sleeping under them.  If I had been under the tires, I think Lori would have purposely not told the driver.

The funny thing is how that season ended.  We barely hung on to finish fifth in the MIAA.  Northwest lost our last game at Ft. Hays by 15 points.  The Hays program was so bad, they fired the head coach the next week.  Then something surprising happened; we won the MIAA tournament and even got to the second round of the NCAA tournament.  What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, even if it is the Big One.

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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.