I am always amazed at how far female basketball in high schools and colleges has come in the 39 years I have spent in education. In 1973, I heard a Catholic school in Hastings, NE had a really good girls’ basketball team. The only problem for them was they had very few opponents.
At Humboldt High School, where I began my career in the schools, I officiated a few girls’ games. Most of them ended with a score where neither team made it to 20 points. There was one really good player on a team from Palmyra High School. I don’t remember her name, but I’ll never forget the score of that game. It was 66 – 6, with Humboldt on the short end of the score. It’s a good thing I wasn’t paid, because no one in the crowd got their money’s worth.
As I moved to Milford High School, the quality of play gradually got better. One glaring error, promoted by the school’s administration, was really lousy officiating. A mechanic and an elementary teacher with black and white stripes were pretty common place at girls’ games. No offense to mechanics and elementary teachers.
Milford had a pretty good girls’ team and they played a pretty talented team from Malcolm High School. I was watching the game from the top row behind the Malcolm bench. Sitting beside me was the parents of the Malcolm coach. A couple of rows in front of me was the father of Milford’s best player.
There were very few fans in the stands, so you couldn’t burp without being heard on the opposite side. Both fathers were constantly on the officials. Finally, one of the officials had heard enough. He gave the father of the Malcolm coach a technical foul.
The only problem was the Milford’s player’s father had done most of the yelling on that particular play. Of course, the wronged father protested. The over-sensitive official gave the poor guy a second technical and threw him out of the game.
It was quite a sight; the red-faced father of the visiting coach walked out to the lobby, followed by an embarrassed wife and mother of the coach. It still wasn’t over. The coach and son of the ejected fan was really upset and stood up for his father. The same guy with stripes quickly gave the coach two technical fouls and it was off to the showers for him, too.
Milford led by four points at that point, but after Milford made seven of eight free throws from the four technical fouls, they now found themselves with a double digit lead. As with most girls’ programs in those early days, the assistant was some poor female English teacher that had only the responsibility of supervising the locker room. Now it was her job to pick up the pieces and lead the Malcolm team back into the game.
The over-matched coach didn’t know where to begin. It soon became a blow-out, although the margin wasn’t 60 points. This is the profession I wanted to enter.
It wasn’t too many years later I found myself as the head coach of the Wilber-Clatonia Wolverines. I took the job because I saw two 6-0 freshmen who had state championship written all over them. I could handle that, even with a few 66 – 6 stinkers. Just so my team had the 66.
What I didn’t realize is how much basketball I would have to teach. About half of my players had only been on the court a few years. Basketball terminology from a basketball-lifer like me was completely foreign to a bunch of my players.
Don’t get me wrong, the core of good players knew basketball. However, I probably had 20 players out for basketball, plus another 25 or so trying to play junior high basketball. Some of their basketball IQ’s wasn’t sophisticated enough to know “playing in the paint” didn’t mean looking for the finger paints.
A few parents forced their poor daughter out for basketball, even if it was kicking and screaming. Some were tall, some could run fast, some were great high jumpers, and a few knew what a defensive stance looked like. However, if you told them to go to the “elbow” for a shooting drill, they couldn’t separate a body part from a 90 degree angle at the free throw line.
When I told some of my players to set a “pick on the block,” I would have to explain the blocks weren’t found in the medicine kit and neither was the ice “pick”. Okay, so I am exaggerating. However, no one wanted to be a “1” guard since they all thought any woman of any value wanted to be a “10”.
There were three factual events with that first team. One of my first team rules was no screaming on the court. My freshmen posts had nasty dispositions. If they knocked one of the players that didn’t take it so seriously on the floor, a silly scream would occur. I had to get rid of that habit. It took threats, but pretty soon we grunted rather than screamed.
All male players at whatever level had to tuck in their jerseys. I thought it was discriminatory to allow females to go un-tucked with no penalties. I made my players tuck in their uniform tops and had severe penalties for a violation during a game. As it turned out, I was way ahead of my time.
The best thing I did during my first year of coaching was creating a T-shirt that promoted toughness. I still think it’s the best T-shirt I invented in all my years of coaching. I had a sporting goods store find a screen print of the meanest Wolverine on the face of the earth. It had to show a serious set of fangs and was drooling as it waited to tear apart its enemy.
Below this monster, I took something straight out of a dictionary. It said, “Wolverine – Pound for Pound, the Meanest Animal in the Wood!” If you wore this green and white T-shirt that featured the “Meanest Animal in the Woods,” how could you not be tough?