Life In The Balance

Only four days until Christmas.  It’s that way if you are reading this blog on Friday.  What am I worried about?  I brought most of my family with me to Hawaii.  That’s a pretty big present, so I won’t worry about hitting the stores at the last minute.

Every men’s and women’s team in NCAA II did shut down at midnight Thursday (12:01 am Friday).  It’s the college president’s way of showing how much they care for the family.  The rule is called “Life in the Balance.”

The trouble with Life in the Balance is no one asked the college athletes what they think about a Christmas break.  It’s a time where there are no classes.  Not a single paper is due and there is no cramming for a test.  Yet, NCAA II athletes must vacate their respective campus.

Since I set up college teams to travel to Hawaii, I’m know first-hand that if a NCAA II player stayed longer than December 20th on Waikiki Beach, they wouldn’t feel like their life is out-of-balance.  Santa did not help write the Life in the Balance rule.

I think most of my readers have seen the great baseball movie, Bull Durham.  Kevin Costner, playing aging catcher Crash Davis, gives a speech to potential girlfriend Annie Savoy, played by Susan Sarandon.  Two of the things he believes in, “…is a Constitution amendment outlawing artificial turf and the designated hitter,….and opening your presents Christmas Day, not Christmas Eve.

I think that’s really good advice, especially for a basketball coach.  Take new Northwest Missouri State women’s basketball coach, Austin Meyer.  Austin and his wife, Kelsi, have a new baby girl in the family.  That first Christmas is special.

I can’t give Austin any basketball advice that would help, but I will tell him to get off the recruiting trail just long enough to pick up a bunch of presents for his new daughter and especially for Kelsi.  After all, she’ll spend a lot of time in the stands, keeping his very cute daughter from crawling in spilled pop and eating left over hot dogs.  Santa needs to come big-time on Christmas Day for the new arrival and the mother.

As long as I’m giving Austin advice, I just as well give advice to any basketball coach who is a new father.  Sure, you are proud of your new addition to the family.  It’s not out of line to take advantage of this addition.  As soon as they are old enough to crawl, take them recruiting.

I did that with Sam and he was a definite magnet with recruits and especially with recruit’s mothers.  Santa doesn’t have the room on his sleigh for enough presents to make up for this shameless way of getting basketball players interested in your school.

Sometimes, I would have a lot of fun at Christmas time with the team.   I used to play right up to Christmas, especially as an NAIA coach that doesn’t have the Life in the Balance rule.

After Christmas, I would bring the players over the house for meals.  I would cook the desserts.  Once, things went really wrong.  I made a chocolate pie that asked for a small portion of a liquor.

I read the recipe wrong and put a large portion in the pie.  It looked great, but I noticed anyone that took a piece just ate a bite or two and threw the rest away.  I tasted it and it was really bad, laced with a biting taste of liquor.

I thought everyone hated it until the players pointed out one player who really loved that pie.  She wasn’t hard to find.  She was passed out on the carpet.  That player had a tough time practicing that night.  Santa definitely marked it as a “naughty” for me and subtracted from my stocking.

One really neat thing that happened at Christmas time for Sam was an early appearance from Santa Claus.  I would get a call to turn on my back-door light and have Sam look out the window.

Sure enough, there would come Santa out of the dark.  He would put a bag of candy and a note reminding Sam of the real meaning of Christmas.  Sam would be so excited, he never asked where Santa parked the reindeer.

Santa would be Steve Tappmeyer, the men’s basketball coach.  Big, tough Coach Tappmeyer had a definite soft spot in his heart for kids.  I see he has a new granddaughter.  I’ll bet Santa starts reappearing soon.

The most memorable Christmas periods I spent with the team usually involved trips.  It made it really special if they parents could join the team.  Since most my recruits, as with most programs, have many local players, the parents would be around the team.

If we had a player from a long distance away, the local players and their parents helped fill a void these players may have experienced not getting to spend much time at home for the holidays.  Most coaches really do try to keep life in the balance.

Trips to Hawaii and the Bahamas will always stick in my mind.  However, a tournament we played at Peru State College is the most memorable.  The dorms at Doane College were closed, so I needed to find a place to house the players for a night before our second game of the tournament.

I decided to go off the rails a little bit.  Brownville, about 15 miles away, had a haunted bed and breakfast.  It was so cold that night, even ghosts didn’t make an appearance.  Not even the ghost of Christmas past.

My assistant coaches, one a friend by the name of Paul Riechers, really went off the rails when I sent them to near-by Auburn for a post-game meal.  They ended up spending triple of the normal money budgeted for food.  The only thing under budget was the number of rooms in the bed and breakfast.  Paul and I slept in the breezy entry way, on the floor, as temperatures dropped below zero.

The players all headed home for a short Christmas break with two tournament wins, a really full stomach, happy parents to have their kids for a couple of days and life definitely in the balance.

I wish I could say the same for Paul and me.  I don’t know about Paul, but I spend my Christmas break warming up, fighting a cold and wondering why Santa was ignoring me for another year.  It’s just life in the balance for most basketball coaches.

Merry Christmas!