Travel Education

I took a $1,000 pay cut to move from a high school teaching and coaching job to a college teaching and coaching job.  That might not sound like much today but in 1985, that was more than 5% of my salary.

It probably didn’t bother me much since the superintendent had threatened to take away my coaching duties twice, once after an undefeated state championship.  I was young and cocky and thought I could tackle any job.

The good thing was I was able to recruit, so if I failed, it was my own fault. However, there was much more to college coaching than recruiting and the won-loss record, as I quickly found out.

My first challenge was convincing my recruits I was at least as smart as each player’s head coach.  It did injure my pride when some hot-shot freshman player would tell me their high school coach would never do it my way.

It took at least three years to gain my recruits’ trust.  In my second year, I recruited a bunch of players from central Nebraska.  There was Mary Rainforth from Wood River, Kim Crider from Lexington and Karin Rief from Axtell.  I was shocked when one after another accepted my offer.

Add to that group a couple of volleyball doubles in Mari Nienkamp of Nebraska City and Staci Hass, who lived near Mead.  Don’t forget the first player I ever recruited in Dena Gosch, a transfer from Creighton in Patti Sander and a major point guard recruit in Trudi Veerhusen.

There were more, but the core came from those names.  Slowly but surely, I gained their respect.  It wasn’t easy.  We didn’t win right away, and they had to stick around, confident the tide was turning.

During my first year, I got some great advice from the Hastings College coach, Ken Rhodus.  Ken and the Midland College coach, JoAnn Bracker had pretty much dominated Nebraska women’s basketball in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Ken and I immediately hit it off and he was free with his advice.

He told me how his teams traveled, especially their trips to Europe.  He suggested I set up a trip like that at Doane College.  It sounded like a good idea to me, but I was intimidated.  You see, I had never traveled farther away in an airplane than Chicago and Denver.

Here’s where people that aren’t around the basketball programs of the NCAA II, NCAA III and NAIA teams that make the long, expensive trips make a mistake.  They assume that there must be a lot of money in that program or the players are just rich, spoiled kids.

That assumption would be very wrong.  It takes a lot of work and sacrifice to make these trips.  I thought the former when I set up that first Europe trip for my team.  I discovered personal wealth or financial standing of a college had little to do with these trips.

After we returned from that first trip to Europe in early January, I found out the team was $500 short.  In 1987, that was a big chunk of money that I assumed we could easily fund-raise, or the college would just write off the debt.  I ended up being billed for that $2,000.  I even paid my own trip out of my pocket.

It took a long time to pay that off as I had $50 taken out of my pay-check each month to pay that bill.  That was the negative of that first trip.  The positive of that trip came from my own growth.  I hadn’t taken a single note or given a final test, but I knew how much good the trip had down for me.

The education of travel became apparent.  If it had that kind of effect on a coach in his thirties, how would it influence my players overall education.  Thanks to that piece of advice from Ken Rhodus, the world of college athletics became like a travel course to me.

Using the same travel agent as Ken, I set up three European trips for not only my players, but for other college students.  Todd Georgi, a biology professor, and me would set up interm trips.  The students received three hours credit to take the two-week trip.

Parents would go along, too.  I changed my fund-raising rules.  No longer would we take the trip without the money turned in by the players.  We did part of our fund-raising as individual goals.  If a player didn’t raise the money, it came out of their own pocket.  Some took this route.  Some parents used the trip as a graduation present.

Mostly, however, the players worked very hard to raise the money needed to travel.  Not all the fund-raising was individual.  Some helped the entire community, even if the community really didn’t realize it.

Both Doane College and Northwest Missouri State, my team would run youth tournaments.  We brought in as many as 100 teams to the Crete and Maryville area to play a late season tournament.  We concentrated on youth basketball.

Motels would fill, and fast food places would run out of product.  That first year we had the youth tournament at Doane College, I heard more complaints than compliments for running the event.

The best compliment, though, came from the man who ran the Dairy Queen.  Michele, my wife of just a year or two, and I were exhausted after the weekend.  We went to the Dairy Queen for a quick meal.  The man gave us free meals for the business we generated.

He told us that our April tournament had allowed him to set a one-day sale record on the Saturday of the tournament.  However, that record was broken one day later.  That’s when I realized how much good we had done for the Crete community.

I know Ken Rhodus did the same with his team.  Ken would have his team meet him after dark at an abandon drive-in movie theater on the edge of Hastings.  They set up a haunted drive-in before Halloween that was very popular in Hastings.

If I am going to follow my own rules, I better stop right there.  I wasn’t a do-gooder in all this.  I didn’t do this to help the community or help the player’s education.  I did it because I really enjoyed the travel.  It was a selfish reason that had some good side results.

During my 28 years of coaching college basketball, my teams took other trips to Mexico (Mexico City and Acapulco), the Bahamas, and Hawaii. Road trips to Montana were very memorable, too.

Now, I’m on the other side of it.  I arrange trips for these type of college teams.  I’m in Hawaii right now running basketball events.  I am running around and working my tail off.  Don’t feel sorry for me; it is Hawaii.

I see the sacrifice the coaches of these teams make.  There’s a neat progression with the teams that come to my events.  The first time the coaches make the trip, they have a million concerns and are a little rigid in making changes that always comes up on these trips.

One year, I lost a game-gym 12 hours before the event.  I don’t know how, but we always make it work.  That didn’t help the stress level of the more inexperienced coaches.  I think it is easier to the experienced traveler/coach to take the changes in stride.

Coaches and players make big sacrifices to come to Hawaii for five or six days.  They come away with a great time and just a little more prepared to face the real world.  My education is allowed to expand as well.  I’m allowed to travel more now than when I coached.  I just hope I studied enough for the final.