A Christmas Ghost Story

Pack up the football gear and bring out the basketballs.  It should be another fun season.  The Maryville boys’ team won two games in the Savannah Tournament with virtually no full team practices.

The Maryville girls’ team is much better right now and will continue to get to get better.  You really need to check out Serena Sundell.  Her senior brother was just named the Class 3 Offensive Player of the Year.  He’s headed to North Dakota State.  It’s Serena’s time to shine now.

We are nearing the Christmas holiday.  Christmas is a funny time for basketball teams.  You work like crazy to get good before the first of the year, but then have to take time off.

In Division II basketball, you’ll never see a basketball score from December 20 until the 26th.  The college presidents got together and proposed a rule known as “Life in the Balance.”  It is the only division in basketball that has a mandatory shut down of a week over Christmas.

As a former DII coach, I can see that rule having some merit for high school programs.  The rule applied in college has basically limited holiday trips.  I want to know what college student could sit on a beach after Christmas thinks life is out of balance?

There was no such rule in the NAIA when I was the head college coach at Doane College.  The great thing about working at Doane was they gave me the freedom to create great college teams.  If I wanted to try something off the wall in recruiting or style of basketball, I was always given the green light.

The NAIA allowed the coaches to use different methods of recruiting to offset the scholarship difference of our Big Sister programs in the DII.  My best teams at Doane had several players that could have played in DII.  Some could have been great players.  I was able to get them with constant personal contact, which isn’t legal in the NCAA.

Back then, the NAIA allowed 32 regular season games.  That meant I could and was expected to play games over the Christmas break.  The college workers back at Doane did appreciate it when we left campus so they could enjoy their break.

One year really stands out.  It wasn’t a very exciting tournament and it wasn’t a very long trip.  No one would be sitting on a beach and winter coats were a must.  I accepted to play two games at a Classic at Peru State College.

I had two assistants.  Paul, a fifth year college student, had been a student at Wilber-Clatonia High School when I taught there.  He showed an interest and enthusiasm, so I hired him.  I think he was paid less than $3,000.

The other assistant, Brenda, was basically a volunteer.  She was about Paul’s age.  I’m not sure what her motivation in coaching could have been.  She wasn’t an education major and didn’t intent to have a career in coaching like Paul.

The funny thing is Paul and Brenda really didn’t like each other.  It started just as lack of respect of each other.  Then it slowly grew into pretty much hatred.

They played a big role in the whole idea I had to make the Peru Classic a special event.  The college was closed which meant we couldn’t go back to the college between games.  Instead of staying in a tradition motel in Auburn or Nebraska City, I chose a bed and breakfast in Brownville.

Most of you might know that Brownville is on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River Bridge just past Rock Port.  I think its Nebraska’s oldest town.  It has a population of 132 die-hard residents.  Most live in turn-of the century houses.

Don’t let the small town fool you.  It has a riverboat that travels up and down the Missouri River.  Each Memorial and Labor Day, the town is a thriving flea market.  It has a theater in a church that puts on performances every summer.

However, the week before Christmas, the only thing open is the bed and breakfast.  They were reluctant to house my team, but I negotiated a decent rate to take every room they had available, which was all of them.

The cool thing is the bed and breakfast was supposed to be haunted.  The owners had great stories of customers being surprised by slamming doors or strange occurrences.  I told my players about what they could expect.  Maybe the ghosts of Christmas would make an appearance.  Life was definitely in the balance.

We drove down the day of the game, checked into the bed and breakfast, and played our first game at nearby Peru State College.  I was blessed with a really good team and we won the game easily.

That’s when the trouble started.  I had given Paul the meal money to find a post-game meal.  Brenda complained that I always gave Paul all the decent assignments.  I probably was guilty of that since he made the big bucks.

I gave in to Brenda.  Paul had a wad of college cash and told him to go to Auburn to buy groceries to go with the pizza.   Brenda was in charge of the pizza.  She had the next day’s meal money.  They had been around me long enough to know I always bargained when dealing with food.  Did a place have a team meal plan?  If not, we got up and left.

I sat at the bed and breakfast as the players exchanged Secret Santa gifts.  There’s nothing like a bunch of college athletes with Secret Santa ideas.  They might make you blush a little.

The team was getting real hungry and I was worried that Paul and Brenda had killed each other.  Finally, they pulled in with the college van.  Paul had players haul in bag after bag of groceries.  He was just supposed to buy chips and pop to go with the pizza, but we could have eaten for a week on his groceries.

Brenda did no better.  Pizza Huts were easy to get good prices, but Brenda didn’t even try.  I saw my players unloaded pizza after pizza, I realize she had order three times the number of pizzas were normally ordered.

Gone was all the meal money for two days for one gigantic post-game meal.  We couldn’t even buy a cup of coffee the next day.  We were lucky we were staying in a bed and breakfast.

As the Christmas song say, “The weather outside is frightful.”  The temperature dropped below zero as we neared bed time.  We could hear the wind whistling at over 30 miles per hour outside.  As we divided the rooms, it became clear I was a pour counter when figuring beds needed.  We were at least one bed short.

Since it was a women’s team, Brenda got a bed, but Paul and I had to sleep on the floor near the front door.  Frigid air was pouring through the crack at the bottom of the door.  Sleep was impossible.

Paul and I didn’t even get a shower.  Breakfast was good.  My fears of poor play due to overeating subsided as we picked up our second easy win.  I was never so happy to complete a holiday trip.

I went home with so much extra pizza, I had to feed it to the dog.  There was so much snack food left even the worst glutton couldn’t make a dent.  The worst thing about the trip; not one lousy ghost showed up.  Life was out of balance.

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