This week I was asked to speak to the sixth graders at Maryville Middle School. They have a monthly speaker talking about their profession. Chelli Green told Beth Findley, both sixth grade teachers, to ask me to speak about coaching. The fact that Sam, my son, is a sixth grader probably had something to do with my invitation.
I was given 20 minutes to speak and five for question and answer. As usual, I went into the presentation cold, without a note. However, anyone that knows me could have guessed that 20 minutes wouldn’t be hard to fill. I’m not sure how interested the sixth graders were about coaching. They did ask a few great questions like, “How many technical have I gotten?” (Answer: About six). Another was the weirdest thing that ever happened in my career.
That one is pretty funny. At Doane College, I had an athletic trainer that had just purchased a small, purebred dog. It was pretty tiny and she often kept it in her office, just off the basketball floor. The first time the dog went into heat, the trainer fitted the mutt with a doggie diaper. The dog’s appearance was really funny and it made a great story.
What happened next was really hilarious. Someone went into the trainer’s office, not knowing the little mutt was anxious to get out and meet the public. As the women’s basketball game against Peru State College was in progress, this strange looking creature in a diaper begins running with the players. It was a miracle the dog wasn’t stomped on. Thank goodness the officials and opposing coach were laughing so hard, no punishments were given to my team. All that happened was an embarrassed trainer and a dog that never saw another game.
As long as I’m into giving you parts of my 20 minute speech and five minute question and answer, I just as well give you what I got off the top of my head for the Maryville sixth graders. It doesn’t involve dogs and diapers, but it did bring back memories for me.
Mrs. Findley suggested I talk about where I grew up. I related it to my love for sports. The one event that stands out the most came around the time I turned ten years old. Clatonia, Nebraska was my home town. had a whopping population of 220. In August of every summer, all the kids in Clatonia would hold a draft for our annual Clatonia World Series. It would be played just like the real fall classic, with nine-inning games and the best out of seven games would determine the champion.
My brother, Roger, was the littlest player drafted. He wasn’t the last, but I was proud of my three or four inch height advantage over him. He later went on to out-grow me by four inches. The series went the full seven games and was tied in the bottom of the ninth. I kid you not, this all happened without staging a single game. With bases loaded and no one out, my brother comes to the plate. The other team had to feel a little relief to face the undersized nine-year old. Despite his size, Roger put the bat to the ball and the runner at third beat the throw home for the winning run.
My little shrimp of a brother was now the hero of the Clatonia World Series. Roger was carried off the field on the shoulders of the bigger kids. To this day, I can’t hide my jealousy over all the attention he received. Looking back, that told me about being competitive. Roger went on to be an electrician and he doesn’t write blogs, but he will read this one. I bet he doesn’t even remember the game.
Now the sixth graders were beginning to yawn, so I speeded up my presentation. I decided to go to a sure-fire winner of a topic, mothers. I told the class that my mother set me down in the kitchen of our house in Clatonia. I was home for the summer after my freshmen year at Kearney State College.
I’m sure all the sixth graders could relate to a scolding from their mothers. I told my audience, now on the verge of total boredom, that my mom suggested I get a real life and find something other than sports to make a real living. Thank goodness I didn’t take her seriously. Forty-two years from that lecture in the Steinmeyer’s kitchen, I still haven’t given up on sports.
Maybe a few sixth graders perked up, but I think I was even losing the sixth grade faculty now. The next subject had to be better so I chose girls as the main topic. Hopefully, the boys would perk up and the girls would listen to see if I was a sexist pig or what.
I told the sixth graders about my first female team. It was a softball team at Humboldt, Nebraska. We were really successful, not because of my vast knowledge of softball, but because of a sixth grader by the name of Paula Sue Blecha. I’m sure you think coming out of the Clatonia World Series of baseball, my knowledge of the game would have been better. However, I soon discovered what a difference a good player makes.
Paula Sue was shunned by the girls because of her love of sports. She was ignored by the boys because she was more skilled. That’s a hard thing for us males to admit. Her only option was to find me at recess to shoot hoops or throw the softball around. I was at Wilber-Clatonia when Paula Sue led Humboldt to a runner-up finish in the class D state tournament. She also was a star softball player and my career now took a huge swing toward female athletics.
I thought that part of the speech went well, but I even noticed my own son’s eyes glassing over. I had to try something else. If girls didn’t do it I had to try humor. I remembered an incident the first time I ever sat on a varsity bench. This had to work.
Bob Bargen had hired me as his freshmen boys’ coach at Milford High School. I respected Bob and his outstanding basketball program. I couldn’t wait to learn from the young, knowledgeable coach. I nervously went through all the pre-season preparation and couldn’t wait for the first game. I don’t remember our opponent, but I knew Bob was just as fired up as me.
The pre-game fire and brimstone speech is one I’ll never forget. Bob was a great motivator and could throw dirt on the Pope if it helped his team win. After screaming and yelling every foul habit of our opponent, he sent his charges to the floor. However, the players were smiling and some were even laughing. Bob was confused and asked me what was so funny about his motivational, pre-game speech. I hated to do it, but I had to tell my mentor that he had gone through the whole speech with his pants zipper down. To tell you the truth, I had to bite my cheeks to keep from laughing.
Apparently, my sense of humor didn’t exactly put fingers on the sixth grader’s funny bone. There was hardly a smile when I told about the wayward zipper. The faculty did seem to enjoy the story, but most of the sixth graders had on sweat pants and has very seldom dealt with forgetfulness that comes with an unattended zipper.
Time was getting short, so I went with my ace in the hole. As a high school coach, I was very fortunate to have two D-1 post players on a high school team with a small enrollment. We breezed to a state championship with a 27 – 0 record. Surely, the promise of state championship glory in coaching would perk up the bored sixth grade class.
My story about that team was the tale of a player named Angie Miller. Angie was a Super Star and won many awards. After scoring 28 points in the championship game, Angie received an unusual honor. About a week after the game, Angie received a card from a new mother who had gone into labor right after watching our championship game. The new mother and her husband were proud parents of a girl. After watching the Wilber-Clatonia basketball team win on television, what else could she name the girl other than Angela? That was a very cool moment.
As I was losing the last of my audience, I tried to convince them that great players make them smarter coaches. I suggested becoming a college coach so they could build their own team. It’s like building your own sundae at a Western Sizzler. The more stuff you put on it, the greater the sundae. The more great players you recruit, the smarter you become.
After the question and answer period, I left Maryville Middle School. I had no idea if my career message had been well received. I think I was more popular than Mrs. Green’s speaker. The school nurse had spoken on personal hygiene. I think I barely nudged that one out.
When I got home, I asked Sam how he liked my speech. I thought for sure I had impressed my own son with wit and humor. Much to my dismay Sam said, “You were okay, but a couple in music class thought you were weird.”