Do You Remember Me?

                The 12th addition of the Youth Basketball Tournament the women’s team sponsors is in the books for 2012.  It was a little smaller in size, but it was pretty much typical of other years.  I have always felt like the Communication Department could win awards doing a documentary on the behavior of fans, who are parents of the participants.

                If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “Are you kidding me?” or “Somebody is going to get hurt,” the basketball fundraiser would have doubled in value.  If people yelled at their spouses with such force and energy, their neighbors would call the cops.  However, the $6 entry fee into the Youth Tournament gives fans a license for uncontrolled aggression.

                Two or three years ago, an Omaha boys’ team from a private school set the Youth Tournament record with five technical fouls in a game.  They promised me in an email the next day they would never come back.  Thankfully, they have kept their promise. 

                Sadly, that record was broken this year by a Lincoln high school boys’ team.  They finished a game, amazingly a win, with six technical fouls.  The coach thought they had too big of a lead and the officials cheated them.   I wonder how bad they were cheated as they built their lead?

                I have ranted and raved about fans’, coaches’, and players’ behavior before and I just wanted to mention it just a little bit.  What I want to rant about is a serious character flaw that has always burdened me.  I have a serious time recognizing people from my past, even when I meet them face to face.

                Three years ago, I attended a school reunion.  My tiny home town of Clatonia, NE has a school reunion every three years.  The school closed its doors in 1965.  I figured I better attend or everyone would be dead pretty soon.  Just so you can put an age on me, the school closed after my freshman year in high school.

                Wouldn’t you know it, I ran into my old high school girlfriend.  Well, I can call her that, but in truth, I think she really didn’t want to be seen in public with me.  If we did go on a date, it was usually to the drive-in theater in Beatrice, NE.  She never went with me to get concessions, so I don’t think I was a real popular date.

                My character flaw kicked in when she came up to me.  She gave me a nice greeting and all the time I wondering, “Who the hell is this?”  Finally, someone called her by her first name and it clicked.  After that, I’m pretty sure she reverted back to our high school days and didn’t attempt to be seen with me in public.  Since they closed the drive-in theater years ago, we didn’t talk much that night.

                When the basketball team traveled to Kirksville this season, my annoying problem hit me again.  A young lady came up and said the most dreaded sentence I can hear, “Do you remember who I am?”  Of course I didn’t and it was a former high school player of mine at Wilber-Clatonia High School 29 years ago.  Her name is Lisa and she lives about an hour from Kirksville.  Lisa drove to the game to say hello.

                What was really embarrassing is her mom was the school nurse during my five year tenure at my home town high school.  Certainly I should have remembered what the school’s nurse’s daughter looked like.  I made enough kids sick by my harsh math classes and became an instant favorite of Lisa’s mom.  However, it was really great she drove all the way to catch up with her old coach. 

                There are some high school players I could never forget; no matter how bad my character flaw establishes itself in my personality.  Angie (Miller) Schnacker is one of those players.  She might be the best player I ever coached, even 29 years later.  With that glare in her eye and the intensity in her personality, I could spot her a mile away.  Well, probably more like 15 feet away.

                The trouble is that recognition doesn’t extend to her children.  Angie’s daughter, Kali, came to our team camps and played in our youth tournament.  I spent a lot of time talking to Angie and her husband, Rick.  Rick was a great quarterback at Doane College when Angie was starting four years and the University of Nebraska.  Kali assumed I would remember her face.

                I think I pulled it off with fake recognition.  If Kali would come up to talk, I’d act like she was our top basketball recruit.  I could carry on a pretty good conversation without looking totally baffled.  It’s a good thing Kali wasn’t a big basketball recruit.  She was a great volleyball player that went on to make her mark at Bellevue University.

                The Youth Tournament this weekend led to a similar experience.  I was checking in a Sabetha, KS girls’ team when one of the fathers got right in my face and said, “I bet you don’t know who I am?”  I should have bet him and headed to Vegas.  He was right, I had no clue.

                His name was Steve Huenke and he was an old Clatonia boy.  There’s one thing very important you should know; I know how to pronounce Huenke.  It’s not pronounced like a HUNK- EE, but like a HANK-EE.  You know, like Tom Hanks.  I’ll tell you why that’s important in a second.

                Steve grew up on a big dairy farm.  It wasn’t like the big, corporate dairy farms you find today, but it was a big family operation.  Steve told me his brother had finally quit milking cows about six years ago. 

                That really brought back memories since I had worked for Steve’s father, throwing hay bales.  If the big, round bales had been around when I was growing up, all the town kids would have been broke.  One of our only means of income was to throw bales of hay for farmers.

                Some farmers you just hated to work for; they would work you like a dog, feed you a stale sandwiches, weak ice tea, pay you $1.50 per hour, always rounding down and send you home in time for a baseball game or practice.  However, some farmers were great.  They gave you lots of breaks, had ice-cold water to keep hydrated, served fantastic, home-made lunches, and if you got lucky, the farmer would sneak you a Falstaff long neck beer with lunch.  I know it’s frowned on today, but it was just a good German tradition back in the 1960’s, so don’t think harshly of me.

                Steve’s dad, Vernon, was somewhere in the middle.  He paid us well, he fed us well, but there never was a hint of a cold one during our lunch break.  You see, Vernon was president of the new consolidated school district board of education that combined the communities of Wilber and Clatonia.

                One duty of the board president was to hand out the high school diplomas at graduation.  I was proud and a little lucky to get my diploma from someone I knew personally.  He had employed me and knew my dad, the local postmaster, really well.  Heck, I could even pronounce his name correctly.

                The graduation was on the football field.  I remember my chair tipping over as I sat on the field.  It was a little wet and one leg sunk in the turf.  A dirt spot on my new trousers wasn’t going to lesson my joy of graduating, even if it was by a fairly small margin.  However, more embarrassment was about to hit.

                Vernon, my former boss, didn’t know how to pronounce my name as he introduced me to receive my diploma.  He called my STEEN-MYER instead of STEYEN-MEYER.  Did that mean I didn’t graduate? 

                At least I didn’t have to feel too bad about not recognizing Steve.  He took it well.  He even told me his father, now 88 years old, was still blowing and going.  He even had a job mowing grass at the banker’s lake house.  I hope he gets a beer for lunch.

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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.