I bet every one of you has something that you will never let go. You know what I mean; it might be a sweater that fits just right or an old car you don’t have the heart to send to the junk yard.
That item for me has to be my Kansas City Royal sweatshirt. I got it as a gift from Bob Herald, the UNO baseball coach. When I got that gift, maybe 20 to 25 years ago, Bob was a manager in the Rookie League for the Royals. In the off-season, Bob would come back to Nebraska and referee college basketball games. Bob knew I bled Royal blue. When I got the sweatshirt, the 1985 World Series championship was very fresh on our minds and Ewing Kaufman still owned the team.
I remember Bob telling me that Mr. Kaufman had terminal cancer and the general manager was selling out to win the beloved owner of the Kansas City Royals one more championship. This was all in the locker room as Bob got ready to officiate one of my Doane College women’s basketball games. He brought a sack with him. It was filled with Royals gear. The sweatshirt was special. It was the same batting practice sweatshirt the players wore.
I coveted that sweatshirt like a spiritual figurine. I only wore it for athletic events or if I was showing off to my friends. When they would complement my wardrobe, I would proudly point out that it was an original given to me by, not only a basketball referee but an authentic Royals coach. I never allowed it to get soiled or get filled with body order from my sweat. Of course, if I accidently wore it to a Royals game and the weather got warm, I’d have to violate that rule.
Today, more than 20 years later, that sweatshirt looks like new (in my eyes). I do have to admit, there is a slight tear in the three button front, but I can hide it from the general public. I use that sweatshirt as a good luck charm. In the middle of a losing streak or before a big ball game, I’ll lounge in my Royals sweatshirt the night before.
Everyone has something like my Royals sweatshirt. I once had a player, her name will be withheld, and who just couldn’t dump an old high school boyfriend. This player was tall and lean. She attracted attention from the Northwest male population. I’m sure she had plenty of chances to experiment with the dating scene in college. However, she chose to stick with her high school sweetheart.
That’s all well and good, but her high school sweetheart was anything but tall and lean. He was shorter than my player and carried a considerable larger girth than the tall, lean, female Bearcat. The boyfriend also had a lot more facial hair than my player, thank goodness. However, it wasn’t well kept and he looked a little like Grizzly Adams. The boyfriend was struggling mightily to get that elusive college degree. His career path was far from certain. I sure there were other issues, but being a male myself, I don’t want to press it too much. Despite all the flaws of the boyfriend, my player treated him just like I treat my Royals sweatshirt; she just couldn’t get rid of him.
As long as we are discussing my players, let’s take it a step farther. Almost every female I have ever coached at the college level refuses to discard their old high school T-shirts. If you came to our pre-season practices where we don’t wear Northwest practice gear, you’d swear we are an intramural team by our choice of athletic clothing.
Shelly Martin might be wearing an Omaha Westside T-shirt or Tara Roach boasting about her hometown Elkhorn team by the writing on her shirt. That doesn’t mean they can’t three-fourth destroy the shirt before they bring it to practice. Some of the high school T’s will have their sleeves cut off. Emily Hauder and Abby Henry may have used a scissors to modify the Bellevue West T-Birds shirt, but they never get rid of that mangled piece of cloth.
If one of my player’s team won a state championship and they celebrated by putting that fact on the T-shirt, you might as well reserve a spot in your bedroom dresser for years to come. It will be faded, torn, worn, and altered, but never, ever thrown in the garbage. A homeless person wouldn’t even give it a second look anyway.
That brings me to this year’s basketball team. Heading into games with MIAA monsters Washburn and undefeated Pittsburg State, we sit with a 2 – 5 record. That’s quite a letdown from last year’s team that lost a total of five games in our 34 game schedule. You might think I should just blow off this year’s edition of the Bearcats and recruit for more years of 20+ win glory. However, a coach would never do that (or shouldn’t). There’s one fact I have to tell you about; if I were a fan and know what I know, I would never, ever dump this team.
There’s just something about this team that grows on you. You might think this is just coach-talk, but I really do like this bunch of players. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to invite them to my house three times a week for an inspiring game of Scrabble, but I really do like hanging around this bunch of college women.
Shelly Martin, Abby Henry, and Tara Roach, the seniors on this year’s squad, never complain about the fact that I didn’t find another 6-4 ex-division one volleyball player or discover a down and out division one post player that might want to give it one more try. They haven’t jumped me why I haven’t been to the Navaho Indian Reservation in Arizona to find another Gabby Curtis. Those three soon-to-be Northwest graduates just lower their head and continue to lead with positive reinforcement for our young, inexperience band of female basketballers.
How about the post playing twins on the team, Candace and Alexis Boeh? I put Candace first because Alexis always gets top billing since “A” comes before “C”. They came back to school in great physical condition then lost playing time because of our 6-3 freshmen post player, Maggie Marnin. Did they pout and hang their heads? Did they come into my office to complain about losing playing time to a freshman? Did they give the cold shoulder to the young competition? The answer is “NO” across the board. All three post players appear to be friends and seem to support each other. I don’t have to waste time worry about those three players.
How about Ashley Thayer and Meridee Scott, who were thrust into an unfamiliar position when Abby Henry broke her thumb after the first game of the season? They just rolled up their sleeves and came away better players. I never heard a complaint when they struggled or any chest pounding when the succeeded. They just try to do their job, no matter what position on the floor they find themselves.
I was shocked about something that happened during the Emporia game. Annie Mathews is a freshman from Bellevue East. Last year, she was one of the best players on a state championship team. This year, she is playing a back-up role to Tara. Annie has been playing more minutes of late. In the second half against Emporia, Annie had just completed a five or six minute rotation. I don’t usually say much to players who come out of the game unless they really screwed up. As Annie passed me, I said, “Nice job.” Annie turned her head and said, “Thank you.” That might not sound like much, but I can’t remember the last time one of my players thanked me during a game.
Denise McEnaney and Courtney Jensen are a couple of freshmen that haven’t got a lot of game minutes. Have they stomped in my office or complained to the captains about this terrible oversight and awful evaluation by the head coach? No way; those two continue to practice hard and kept sharp as they look for the opportunity to show what they can do.
All these little facts are fine and dandy, but if they don’t get along as a team, there are not many good times in the women’s program. Somehow, I think this bunch gets along just fine. I’ll give you an example; we returned from our trip to Hawaii about 9 pm Saturday night. That’s seven hours later than scheduled. On Sunday, I felt like a semi-truck had just missed hitting my poor, tired body, but had sprayed manure on me instead. I was grumpy, out-of-sorts, and dead tired. I struggled through a Sunday afternoon practice and headed for home for a long winter’s nap.
My family then unloaded the one most unfair treatment any adult can experience after our journey from the far Pacific. When I returned home from practice, Michele, my wife, informed me that her daughter, Amy, my grandson Jacob, and her were going to see a movie at the Hangar. It was the popular movie from the series of Twilight books. No big deal I thought, I would just stay home with Sam, my 12 year old son, and my 4-year old grandson, Kale.
Not in my wildest dreams did I guess what was in store for me. Sam and Kale needed a chaperon for the movie they wanted to attend, The Muppet Movie. This was cruel and unusual punishment, but probably well deserved.
As I was buying tickets for the Muppets, half my team shows up together for their movie night out. It was great to see those six days, two long plane rides, and one difficult practice did not dig into the team bonding process. I was impressed they could even look at each other let along attend a movie together. It’s just too bad they didn’t go to the Muppets. I would have sent my two young males with them and headed to the car for a few minutes of shut-eye.
If I were a fan and knowing what I know about my basketball team, there’s no way I would throw them away. They may be a throw-back team like my 25-year old Royals sweatshirt. They might sometimes remind you of a boyfriend you need to hide from your parents. The team might have holes like those high school T-shirts, but for some reason, I just can’t get rid of them. I hope you can’t either.