When The Game Means A Lot

The Maryville Spoofhounds boys basketball team had its season come to an abrupt halt Saturday.  If you took an honest look, it shouldn’t have been totally unexpected.  The Spoofhounds faced Hogan Prep for the second straight season in the quarterfinal round.  Hogan Prep returned all five starters from their 69 – 61 win a year ago.


The Rams had blown out Lafayette on its home court. They were athletic and quick. After trailing by eight at half, Maryville rallied to take a 3-point lead late in the third quarter. That’s when Damien Daniels, Hogan Prep’s lightning quick point guard, said enough is enough. Daniels took over the game and finished with game high 31 points.  In the end, the Spoofhounds fought hard but fell by 10 points.


It took a while for the players to emerge from the locker room. I’m sure the seniors felt bad their careers had ended. It probably didn’t hit home as much for Jalen Sundell and Jake Woods. Jalen will play football in college and Jake has a collegiate baseball scholarship. They can look forward to four or five years more of competition.


Jalen and Jake looked lost, knowing it would be the last time to play on a very good team. They were key starters as Maryville won 24 of 29 games this season. Both improved greatly as the season progressed. Despite the sad moment, they probably had an eye to future sports highlights.


That isn’t true of Zach Patton and my son, Sam. Both players had tough positions on the basketball team. Somedays, Zach would be called on to play early in the game. He made some big shots in those games, even hitting double figures a couple of times. His defense really stood out whether he played twenty minutes or just one. That’s a tough place to be on a basketball team, maybe the toughest.


Sam had to realize he had a role on this team even if he rarely saw the floor. I never missed a game and because he is my son, I watched for signs of poor attitude. That happens sometimes with players who just don’t see playing time. It’s not an intramural sport. Playing time is never a guarantee. I never saw anything but a kid that embraced his role of being a positive role model for all the players. When he got his chance to play, he never turned down a shot, like his father. You can’t score if you don’t shoot.


Despite their tough spot on the roster, Zach and Sam took the end of their basketball careers very hard. I’ve had players who just wanted to get it over. They were either jerked around by playing time or never played. That wasn’t Zach or Sam.


Sam told me later he just stared at his jersey knowing he would never wear it again. Zach and Sam couldn’t hold back the tears as they slowly made their way to their parents. I was proud of them. The game meant a lot to them.


Sports will do that to not only the participants, but to coaches, parents and fans. I can only speak for myself, but there have been times at the end of a year where I get chocked up.


It’s easy for that to happen when you have a great team with a group of special seniors. That was true with the 2011 Final Four team I was lucky enough to coach at Northwest. We lost in the semifinal game to Michigan Tech, but it wasn’t the loss that made me emotional.


Gentry Dietz had had some real highs and a few scratching the bottom of the well lows. She transferred to Northwest from Southern Illinois where she spent two seasons with an abusive coach. She had to sit to gain eligibility. Then she suffers a torn ACL. She wouldn’t play for another year.


During that year, her grades took a tumble. It looked like her collegiate career was over. One more time, Gentry bounced back. Her grades improved, and the knee heeled. She practiced in the pre-season but had to sit out the first semester since she only had one semester of eligibility left.


Gentry made the most of her final three months of basketball. She fit in perfectly with the team and helped lead the Bearcats to their first regular season championship in almost 30 years. In the championship game of the conference tournament, she played an important but virtually unnoticed role as Kyla Roehrig tore Emporia up in the paint.


In five NCAA II Tournament games, Gentry averaged 20 points and nine rebounds per game. Although, only about a 50% career free throw shooter, Gentry made 30 of 34 in those five games, the last 21 free throws in a row.
However, it was that final game where Gentry really gave it all she had. She scored 29 second half points. I’ve never had a player score that many in one half. It just wasn’t enough. At the post-game press conference, I had a hard time talking. It wasn’t Gentry’s points or rebounds that choked me up. It was what she had accomplished over those last three months after all those lows.


It isn’t always the great winning seasons where my emotions can get the best of me. The year following that Final Four season, I retired. I had hired Gentry as my graduate assistant. The season was a very poor one record wise. We only won six games. Some loyalties were questioned. Unlike Zach and Sam this year, not everyone on the bench accepted their role in a positive way.


I knew it would look bad, but I had told my boss I would retire at the beginning of the school year and I wasn’t going to change my mind. I tried to keep the retirement a secret, but Gentry guessed what was going on.


Our last game was against Missouri Southern. The team was ready to move on. It was a weak effort and we only scored 42 points. For a coach that liked to push the ball and shoot quick, that is a terrible score. I blamed myself for it all coming apart in the end, after 39 years, I hated the last one ended so poorly.


It was tough for me to talk in the final locker room. What was extremely tough, though, is when I got in the car after the game and put in the CD Gentry had burned for me. The first song was Frank Sinatra’s My Way. Gentry had brought me to tears one more time. The game meant a lot to her.

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