My word of the day: basketball.

Yup, basketball. Now, I know my 5 of my seven readers are thinking, “Good grief man, let it go,” but seriously, it’s in my blood (that and the season is done!). It’s that classroom in a gym where the teaching is a little different, but the concept is the same. We have formative assessments everyday, with a summative assessment at each game. See, education terms when playing basketball! 🙂

I’ve coached since my first year of teaching in Alaska. There, a man could not travel with the team without an adult chaperone, so my wife was the head coach when we traveled away, I was the head coach at home. The team would typically leave on Friday after school, play Friday night, sleep over (thus the chaperone), play Saturday afternoon, then leave either Saturday night or Sunday morning, depending on when the plane was coming to pick us up. Yes, our district had their own airplane as well! 🙂

I paid my own way twice to be with the team. First, on our first games in Nome, both losses. There’s I got to witness what a winter storm on the ocean was like, getting stuck there because my plane was grounded. If you’ve ever had your flight canceled in Chicago or New York, it’s a pain I know, but getting stuck in Nome, Alaska?? Let’s just say I didn’t venture out much! 🙂 My second paid flight was to Galena, Alaska and a tournament, where first, we had to let the temperature get ABOVE -25 degrees Fahrenheit. Something about below -25, the hydraulic fluid could gel up, cause the plane to go down. No biggie.


Needless to say, we got stuck there as well, because the planes were icing up as they tried to take off! So, two plane tickets, two different places being stuck, one nickname: Snowbound. 🙂

Next, we travel to New Franklin, Missouri, where I coached 7th and 8th grade basketball. Missouri was unique, as in some games, we played the 7th and 8th graders, and some games, we’d have freshmen who weren’t getting a lot of playing time play down. My first season, we didn’t win a game, and that was a bit depressing, because we played well in a lot of games, but gave it up in the end. Our second season, we did much better. Girls knew who I was, trusted the system, and we had a winning record, which is all I really want with middle schoolers, win more than you lose.

And here, I’ve coached 12 of 17 years here in some capacity. Whether it’s been both 7th and 8th graders as I did for many years (with no assistant) or in my current position as “just” an 8th grade coach, I’ve loved each season, and each team, no matter how crazy they drove me.

As I think back on those teams individual personalities come bubbling to the top. Getting to know the teams, the girls, the parents, the officials, so many different memories as are played back.  The Alaska team where we went 0-9 and had board members watching practice because of parental concerns, and went 9 – 3 over our last twelve games, missing a trip to state by a last second shot.We learned to coach, loosening the reins on the girls and how we played, and they in turn bought into a system that was a bit more set than they were used to. That’s one of three games I’ve ever cried after.

The first team I coached at my current school had the one of the most positive people I’ve ever come across. She went on to be an 1,000 point scorer and play two years in college. She was part of the state team in cross country and track, and winning teams in basketball. Her team taught future teams how to win, and while they didn’t make a state tournament, they did influence the team that did!

Another team was down 10 early in the first half when I called time out and said, “They’ve given you their best shot. Now, turn it around, right now.” We won that game by 10, a 20 point turnaround. That was just an amazing game to be part of.

This year’s team, performing at a high level game after game, beating teams by an average of 23 points, losing two games by 7 points total. Our starting five played about a well as any 8th grade school team that I’ve seen. Three shooters on one team is more than I’ve ever had, and the work ethic these girls have is amazing. I brought my state tournament T-shirt to practice and talked about how this team reminded me so much of that tournament team. They’ve got some work to do, but if they can find a post, I won’t

The highs and the lows, the teaching and listening. Teaching basketball, teaching life, trying to inspire the girls to be the best they could, both as people and athletes.

But my favorite story, my favorite game, was a game I didn’t coach. My brother had gotten us tickets to the Cowboys/Bears football game on Monday night, a night where we had a game. I asked our AD if my wife could coach as she’d been with the girls in 5th and 6th grade. Our youngest daughter was on the team as well, so it just seemed a good fit. They were playing a team I’d never beaten during the regular season, so I felt bad for leaving for this game.

So, my brother and I went to Chicago (the coldest game in Monday Night Football history) get settled in our seats for a great game (the Cowboys looked terrible) when my phone starts buzzing like crazy. First, my wife calls, to tell me, of course, they’d won. Apparently, they were getting beat early, but suddenly started hitting threes, and the other team started getting wore down. The girls fed on each others energy, and boom, the first time we’d beaten this team in the middle school since I’d been there, and I wasn’t there!! How crazy is that?? 🙂 I got texts from my daughter and several other girls sharing the way they’d won in their own minds. It was so awesome for them to be successful!

So, I’m not sure how much longer I’ll do this. Both daughters are no longer playing, and not many “old” coaches stay with the middle school, both for professional (not many college teams watch the middle school coaches) and personal reasons (they’re 8th grade girls….drama anyone). But, as long as I love it, I’m having fun, and my wife says yes, I’ll be on the sideline, acting like this game is a state tournament, a championship game, because the girls deserve that effort, and I expect it from myself!