By Sean Pearson
In light of the Kansas Jayhawks’ recent and quite embarrassing exit in the second round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament — (I’m sorry, Northern Iowa who?) — I decided to look at what can only be categorized as coaches becoming way too easy on their players these days.
I’m sure a few Homer High School football players might argue that puking up lunch after running “peytons” (also known as “hills”) for an hour in the Alaska heat is anything but easy. And although I can empathize with them, I still get woozy every time I recall the stadium stairs we ran every afternoon in August…in full gear…in Oklahoma…upstairs both ways.
Did I mention it gets really hot in Oklahoma in August?
Back then, high school sports didn’t really even seem to be about winning and losing. They were more about what kind of torture you could endure at the hands of a coach whose “conditioning” tactics rivaled Dr. Josef Mengele’s “experiments.”
In fact, now that I think about it, our basketball coach’s last name was Eichmann.
I seriously think this man laid in bed at night trying to come up with more ways to torture us on a basketball court. It somehow seemed justifiable for those who actually got to play in the games. But for those of us who were not only vertically challenged, but also unable to dribble the basketball and breathe at the same time, the whole process seemed fruitless.
And there just seemed to be something wrong about learning the nuances of basketball from a short, balding, overweight guy named Waldo.
If Waldo didn’t invent running stairs, he certainly perfected it. We had to run and hop them forward and backward, anywhere between one and five at a time. We had to run them holding hands, roped together, singing the school fight song — all in the name of team unity. And it worked. Nothing says unity like the whole team falling down a flight of stairs together because we were tied to one another. I still find myself looking back in awe at the brilliance of it all.
Luckily, a few guys already knew enough about the game that we were actually able to play something that looked remotely like basketball against our first opponent. Otherwise, we would have had to challenge them to stair mountaineering, because we only got to touch a basketball about 45 minutes per week.
“It’s all about conditioning,” Waldo said. “Conditioning wins ball games.”
Well, so does paying off the referees, unless you are stupid enough to try to do it in front of the parents of kids on the other team. I never claimed Waldo was smart.
He did have a pretty big Bobby Knight streak running through him, however. He was foul-mouthed, screamed at players, argued with officials and even flipped off other coaches. Sometimes it got a bit embarrassing having to apologize to other teams for your coach’s behavior.
And Waldo was a chair-thrower. However, unlike Knight, he did all of his chair throwing in the locker room. It was never a problem until his aim went a bit awry one halftime. Metal chairs can leave nasty gashes.
That was the end of Waldo.
Our replacement coach was a guy named Larry. He was starting to look really good after Waldo, until he started drinking. This man lived on the edge. The edge of what, I’m not sure, but we began referring to him as “Scary Larry.”
I pretty much quit basketball at that point. I mean it’s not like I could dribble any better. And I’m still only five-foot-nine. (OK, so I rounded up a bit.) Once Larry started referring to the other teams as “enemies” and our offensive plays as “strategic maneuvers,” I felt it was time to “retreat.”
After enduring my own personal struggles as a Pee Wee/Little League/volleyball coach, you would think I’d be the first to understand why some coaches seem to “go bad.” Still, I feel I have some sense of sanity remaining. (Others might beg to differ at this point).
Unlike professional coaches, high school and college coaches are role models. Conditioning is one thing. Intimidating and terrorizing is something else. Maybe having coaches who are positive role models outweighs that adrenaline-based, raging drive to be tougher than everyone else.
Besides, it’s all fun and games until someone gets a metal chair in his spleen.
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