Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Recognizing the "S" Word

The 2014-15 Boonville Lady Pirates basketball team and coaches gathered one last time, Thursday, March 19, 2015, in Windsor Gymnasium in Boonville, Missouri for a Final Four Recognition Awards Ceremony.  One last time to celebrate the most successful season (30-1) in Boonville high school basketball history. One last time for the students, team, and coaches to be recognized for their accomplishments and support. One last time for a coach to address his team.

Although the Lady Pirates finished the regular season 24-0, they knew the season wouldn't be complete unless they ended it playing in the MSHSAA State Final Four on the University of Missouri - Columbia campus. They set their goals high, but they also played one game at a time, never thinking ahead. They also didn't talk of about the "S" word even though everyone around them was and the expectations for them to make it there increased the further they advanced.

Thursday evening as Boonville head coach, Jaryt Hunziker, thanked the community, students, staff and media for their coverage and support this season, he also took several minutes to reflect back on the season, his team, and the sacred "S" word. For a coach to field a team with players who have the same goals, competitiveness and commitment can sometimes be a challenge and then to get to the tournament at the end of the season can be an even greater challenge. Not in Boonville. Not this year.

Thus I leave you with the words spoken by Coach Hunziker as he ended his prepared speech and spoke of his team.

Trophies from Boonville's successful 2014-15 Season

It has been told these past weeks that our team didn't want to say the "S" word throughout the season. Although I didn't say it, it doesn't mean that I wasn't thinking it the entire time.

I remember starting to think of the “S” word this past summer while taking the girls to area shoot-outs and my assistant, Coach Freese, specifically telling me to watch the opposing players and coaches’ reactions when our girls entered the gym.  I questioned what she was referring to, until we walked through the gym doors one day and all conversations stopped and all heads turned towards the girl.  I honestly had never noticed that before with any of my prior teams. I knew then that our girls had the RESPECT of other competitors.
I remember thinking about the "S" word during our tournament runs towards the beginning of the season, in which we went 8-0 and took home the championships in the Eugene, Centralia and California tournaments.  I knew then that our girls could play hard for a long string of games without giving up their INTENSITY.

I remember thinking of the "S" word when we were down 17 points early in the 2nd half to a very tough undefeated Fulton team and mounting an impressive comeback to win by 7.  I knew then that our girls had the DETERMINATION to overcome adversity and fight until the end.  Traits that are valuable the further you go in the postseason.

Historically, the North Central Missouri Conference is one of the toughest conferences in the entire state, so to go undefeated in the conference, which includes the likes of a tough Kirksville and Fulton team this year,  was not only impressive to myself but to other programs across the state.  I knew then that we could COMPETE with the best of them.  And then as we finished the regular season with a perfect 24-0 record, the "S" word was again on my mind.

Headline in the Boonville Daily News (Chris Bowie)
 I remember thinking of the "S" word when we won the District tournament by an average of 40 points per game and then after beating Kansas City O'Hara by 44 points in the Sectional game.

While competing with state ranked Chillicothe in the Quarterfinals, the look in the girl’s eyes and their body language reinforced the "we got this coach" attitude and more importantly, it validated why the "S" word was on my mind this entire season.
And to see how they bounced back on Friday to beat a tough Buffalo team for 3rd place at State- to finish the 30-1 season as we started it and as one of only 2 teams to finish their season with a win - I was so PROUD.  I still am.

Semi-Finals game - Boonville vs Cardinal Ritter

Coach Hunziker instructing the Boonville Lady Pirates

3rd place game - Boonville vs Buffalo
For me, the "S" word never stood for "STATE".  It stands for something much more than that.
My "S" word is SPECIAL.  Because that is what they are to me, it's what they are to our school, our basketball program and to this community. They are SPECIAL.
I am so proud of these girls for how hard they have worked the past 3 years and how dedicated they have been to the game.  Thank you girls for all that you have accomplished this SPECIAL year!

As for my seniors, Addy, Morgan and Olivia, I thank you for your commitment this past year and I wish you the best at CMU and William Woods next year, where I hope you will create more SPECIAL memories.

Boonville Lady Pirates win 3rd at MSHSAA State Tourney

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Win For Trout

Have you heard this one before?

"Haters are like crickets. They make alot of noise; you hear them but you can't see them. But when you walk by them, they're quiet."

For some, this may be the first time hearing this quote. Sadly for many high school coaches, you have heard it or felt it too many times. Heck, you have most likely lived it.

Although coaching high school athletics can be very rewarding, it is too often a thankless job. In many communities, large or small, there are athletic supporters who feel they know more than the coach; therefore, they enjoy questioning the coach's decision-making. It's difficult not to hear the criticism when the naysayers voice their opinions loudly, and with the emergence of social media, the avenues to complain are ever growing.

A few years back, when exchanging basketball stories with Bruce Firchau, the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association (IBCA) chairman for the Hall of Fame Museum, I learned of the book, Trout: The Old Man and the Orphans by Don Schnake (1992). The book recounts many humorous tales of the Centralia, Ill. basketball coach Arthur Trout. Having received a donated copy for the IBCA Hall of Fame, Bruce shared with me one of his favorite stories, which quickly became one of mine.

Many coaches can relate to the story. Some will even find rejoice in it.

Coach Arthur Trout

In his book, Trout: The Old Man and the Orphans, Schnake writes that due to his eminent success as a basketball coach, Arthur Trout had what he referred to as "Downtown Coaches" who would lecture his players about their playing time, Trout's coaching decisions, or what the players should do differently. Trout labeled this group "Termites" because these individuals would feed on the "wooden heads" of the high school's basketball players. According to Schnake, Trout dealt with this group directly, never budged and enjoyed the encounters considerably.

Schnake then shared the following Arthur Trout story:

"Disapproval of the promotion of a raw freshman with exceptional abilities to the starting line-up led to another dramatic confrontation. Complaints of "Not ready!" "Too young!" "Green!" and "Needs seasoning!" found their way around town with increasing frequency.

Mister Trout settled the issue one brisk night in the packed gymnasium. Pre-game preparation differed somewhat this time. After donning game suits, the team watched in wonder as the Old Man removed the contents of a brown paper sack. With a magician's flair, he produced onions, carrots, garlic, celery, lemons, and an assortment of spices. He also unveiled a giant set of salt and pepper shakers. Having fashioned a harness of string around the puzzled head of the freshman, he carefully attached the items.

"Boys," he announced, "it disappoints me greatly to admit that I've finally given in to the Termites. Tonight, they get their wish!"

The Old Man periodically interrupted pre-game warm ups by pulling the bedecked basketballer from the lay-up line to liberally apply the condiments to his head. To end the ritual, Mister Trout - via the public address microphone - made the following pronouncement:

"Ladies and gentlemen. After much deliberation, substantial consideration, lengthy contemplation, and thoughtful mediation, the decision has been made to comply with your request. I now officially proclaim that Charles Oland has been duly seasoned. Case closed. Let the game begin!" (1992; 99-100)

Old Trout Gym (Centralia Alumni Association photo)

Side basket & lower seating in Trout Gym
I found this tale appealing because it showed that criticism is not only directed at inexperienced coaches, or coaches having a disappointed season, or even those not playing upperclassman. Although considered one of the nation's best basketball coaches, Trout had to tolerate members of the community judging him and his coaching ability.

For those who are not familiar with Arthur Trout, he was the Centralia High School coach from 1914 to 1950 and compiled a 811-329 (71 winning %) record with three state titles in 1918, 1922, and 1942. His teams also placed second in 1946 and fourth in 1939. Trout was a charter inductee into the IBCA Hall of Fame in 1973 and a charter inductee into the National High School Sports Hall of Fame in 1982. For much of the 20th century, the Centralia Orphans basketball program was labeled America's Winningest Team, having more wins than any other program in the nation.

Centralia state championship teams

"America's Winningest Team" sign that still hangs outside Trout Gym

I also appreciated this story because Coach Trout was able to demonstrate his point with a sense of humor in a difficult, as well as what could have been a stressful, situation for the coach and his team, at the expense of his critics.
It's unfortunate that times have changed. Although coaching philosophies may not, society does. While I suspect many coaches today would love to "season" an underclassman in front of those that publicly criticize him or her, most coaches know an act like this would lead to disciplinary action by their own administrators, usually in reaction to a complaint by a parent or community leader.
When in the past coaches could deal with criticism themselves, today their hands are tied. As for a rebuttal, they're told to keep it to themselves. Any public display that could be construed as targeting a parent or community member, however righteous it might be, the coach would certainly expect to have their name appear on the agenda at the next school board meeting. And we question why coaches leave the profession early.

Tell me if you've heard this one?

"No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude."

If only coaches heard more words of appreciation and gratitude when walking through their community, instead of silence like the crickets, those thoughtful words may inspire a young coach to persevere and, in time, become another Arthur Trout. Sometimes a few encouraging words makes all the difference.

To all the coaches out there who positively impact the lives of others...Thank you!

Friday, November 22, 2013

When the Game Didn't Count

Confusion, shock and heartbreak.

Those are a few of the emotions that my father, Gary Hunziker, recalled as he looked over the player names and scoring totals penciled on pages 6 and 7 of the old, tattered 1963-64 Memphis High School basketball scorebook.  His Scotland County Twentieth Century History class had found the book in an old trophy case last spring.  Having played for the Kahoka Indians in 1963-64, my father immediately thought back to one of the most memorable games he experienced that 27-3 season, if not in his high school career.  Even though no points appear next to his name in the scorebook, my father has shared his memories of that day and game with my brothers and me as we grew up. Unfortunately, the story always ended in confusion.  So you can imagine how thrilled he was when one of his students approached him last April with a stack of scorebooks from that era. As he set aside all but the 1963-64 book, he thought possibly the pages would help answer some questions about that day, or worse, create more.  Dad glanced over the weathered pages and began to tell his students about the once heated rivalry of Memphis and Kahoka high schools and why of all games, he remembered this one most. 

1963-64 Memphis (Mo.) High School Scorebook

The rivalry between Memphis and Kahoka schools has spanned generations but many would debate that the rivalry was the strongest in the 1960s.  Both schools were highly competitive in all their athletic programs, but basketball was the main attraction in both communities. Together, the schools had won their share of Mississippi Valley conference championships in past seasons, and this conference season both were expected to be competitive as well. In 1963-64, Memphis and Coach Joe Branham had a strong starting line-up, which included seniors Thomas Kirchner, Rob Moore, Phillip Moss, Ralph Carver and Charles King.  Many considered Coach Neil Knight’s Kahoka team to be balanced from top to bottom, led by seniors Sam Bogener, Doug McCulloch, Elmer Boatman, and juniors Steve Sherwood and Ron Fry. 

1963-64 Kahoka Indians

1963-64 Memphis Tigers
The basketball contest between Kahoka and Memphis followed Kahoka’s championship run in the LaBelle tournament a week earlier, so Kahoka was confident going into Memphis.  The Tigers had beaten their first opponent Wyaconda by nearly fifty points a week before, so both communities expected a hard-fought game.  In those days, each Mississippi Valley school played each other twice so not only was each game important but each team wanted to prove early in the season who was best prepared.  What both teams didn’t suspect, was neither would be prepared for what happened that day.  

The game was fast paced from the tip-off as both teams were athletic and played an up-tempo style of basketball. Center Charles King and guard Rob Moore helped their Memphis Tigers take control of the game early, scoring 16 of the team’s 24 total first quarter points.  Kahoka’s center Sam Bogener and forward Doug McCulloch combined for 16 of Kahoka’s 18 total points. The cadence of both teams didn’t let up in the second quarter.  With Sam Bogener in foul trouble, Kahoka’s starting guard Steve Sherwood scored 6 points while forward Elmer Boatman tallied 9 points. Again, King and Moore led the Memphis Tigers in the second quarter scoring column and the Tigers walked into their locker room feeling confident, up 48-41 at halftime. 

As my father began to talk to his students about the events of the second half, he gazed down to the date penciled in the upper right corner of the score sheet and then explained that not only was this no ordinary game, more importantly, it was no ordinary day.  In fact, everyone had been confused since 12:30pm, which carried over into the evening events.  The date in the book read November 22, 1963.

Page 7 in the 1963-64 Memphis scorebook

The game is memorable because around the same time that my father and his Kahoka teammates were arriving by bus in Memphis to prepare for the junior varsity and varsity games that evening, the Presidential plane, Air Force One, was also arriving at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington D.C.  The aircraft had landed carrying both newly sworn in President Lyndon B. Johnson and the body of President John F. Kennedy who had been shot and killed earlier that day as his uncovered limousine drove through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas.

The whole world was shocked that President Kennedy had been killed. Anybody living at that time could probably tell you exactly where he or she was when they first heard the tragic news that the President was dead, the victim of an assassin’s bullet.  Most high school students at the time remember being shaken, saddened, angry and very much confused as to why anyone would want to kill the President of the United States. The whole afternoon was clouded in uncertainty, as teachers and students waited for information and answers to questions such as, “Who really shot Kennedy? Was there a conspiracy to kill the president?”  It all seemed so surreal.  For many communities, evening school events were still to take place, including a high school basketball game to be played in Memphis against Kahoka. 

Prior to a big game, an electric atmosphere usually consumes the crowd.  Players and coaches are normally overcome with nerves and excitement as they anticipate taking the court for warm-ups.  “This evening”, Rob Moore recalls, “everyone seemed to be in a trance – preoccupied”.  My father remembers the twenty-five mile bus ride as “a very quiet one” and when normally the fans would be engaged in the game, that night everyone’s thoughts were with the Kennedy family and the future of America. 

As confusion still surrounded the events earlier that day in Dallas, confusion would also play a significant role in the outcome of a basketball game between the two bordering counties. 

Memphis playing in Kahoka later in the 1963-64 season
Everyone has their own tale about the second half of the game.  Kahoka’s coach Neil Knight said it best, “you could pull ten people from the stands that night and each one would tell you something different.”  At one point in the game, most likely at the end of the third quarter, both teams went to their benches as Memphis held a 2-point lead.  The scorebook keepers for both teams were underclassman.  Pat McLaughlin, who kept the Kahoka book said, “I don’t remember why they had me on the book that night.  Normally, Lawrence Brotherton managed our scorebook.”  Although Pat doesn’t remember the incident, others do.  The found scorebook also provided answers.  Since Memphis was the home team, their scorebook was the official book.  Pat’s quarter totals matched the scoreboard totals but the Memphis book did not. Upon review, Pat noticed that 4 points were given to Kahoka in the official Memphis book when it should have been given to Memphis.  Because there was a discrepancy in scores, the officials were notified.  Since the Memphis book was the official book, the officials directed the scoreboard operator to adjust the score to match it, even though incorrect.  Furthermore, the Kahoka book would be the official book the last quarter.  A manageable 2-point Memphis lead was changed to a 6-point deficit.  An eight point swing. Both teams battled in the fourth quarter but when the final buzzer sounded, the score was 85-84, Kahoka.  Did the events in Dallas contribute to the error, or was an honest mistake made during a fast paced game?  Who knows?  It doesn’t matter.

Ultimately the change to the score may have changed the outcome of the game. Who won the game?  Why was the score changed?  Who should have won? You would expect anger amongst the home crowd in protest and celebration amongst the Kahoka fans that made the trip to the game.  Neither, which many of the players from both teams remembered, happened.

Days following the game, Memphis would file an appeal to have the game thrown out due to the adjustment made between the scorebook and scoreboard.  A tape of the game also accompanied the appeal. The ruling would take months, but eventually the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) would conclude that the game be ruled “No Contest”.  This is confirmed in the Memphis scorebook where both pages have a large “X” penciled across them and the words “No Contest” written at the top.  A victory would not be given to either team, nor would a loss.  The game vanished from both team’s record, as though it was never played. 

Memphis players and scores

Kahoka players and scores
I share this story because growing up my father spoke of what he referred to as the “JFK” game.  He remembered it not only because of the controversy that ensued at the scorer’s table, but most importantly he remembers it because of the day it shared with history.  November 22, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, one of the most momentous and analyzed moments in American history. Even half a century later, questions persist. 

My father told his students that although the game between rival schools was hard fought, it only seemed fitting that no team won on that day.  Where a game should have mattered most, it mattered least. It’s hard to imagine anyone would want to celebrate a victory on one of the worst days in the history of the United States.  An error may have changed the outcome of a basketball game, but the events in Dallas changed America. 

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Gorin's Timepiece

As the final sixty-seconds ticked away each quarter, the eyes of the players and spectators would surprisingly gaze up towards the scoreboard in the old Gorin, Mo. high school gymnasium.  It was hard not to stare up at the old scoreboard clock as it beamed bright red and only when the buzzer sounded did the glow fade and everyone's attention would be directed back to the game.  At least that is how I saw it those many years ago as a fourth grader.

When I first began to play organized basketball in 1986, our Kahoka traveling team played many games in Gorin's gym. The gym was home to Gorin High School basketball until 1982, when the high school closed and its students attended Scotland County R-1 Junior - Senior High School. The gym, now the elementary school gym, is unique due to a variety of reasons. It has elevated bleachers on its west side and a stage within the east wall. The barrel roof also dates it, as well as having to pull a string that lights a bulb at the raised score table so the official scorekeeper and scoreboard operator know there is a player checking-in below.

Old Elementary School and Gym
Although the gym's blueprints are similar to other small community gyms in Northeast Missouri, the unique feature that I came to appreciate and enjoyed seeing over the years was the vintage scoreboard that hung in the gym’s southeast corner.  It was a rarity and one that I would not forget over time.

The vintage scoreboard was much different than the modern electrical scoreboards that were fixtures in most gyms at that time and still today. This one had a white clock face that contained the numbers 8 through 1, representing the minutes of each quarter.  It would turn bright red during the final minute of each quarter as a beacon to each team that time was running out. Occasionally the clock hands would confuse a player to how much time was left.  I think most kids focused on the clock's red face or the minute hand and not on the second hand.  As a result, a player would shoot the ball a handful of seconds before they intended to.  It even happened to our team once.

Gorin's vintage scoreboard clock
In the short time I had played organized basketball, I had never seen another like it. Time has passed since that day, but no other piece of local basketball had intrigued me more as a kid. My last grade school traveling team game played in Gorin would come in 1990, and it would be over a decade until I would see its familiar face once again.

Close-up of the old scoreboard clock
After returning to my hometown in 2003 following college graduation and conclusion of an internship, I had a conversation with a friend who had recently hung a vintage scoreboard in his basement.  While he was telling me where he found it, my thoughts quickly drifted back to the old Gorin scoreboard. What happened to it?  Was it still being used?  If not, where was it? 

I liked the idea that my friend was hanging his own vintage timepiece in his man cave as a decorative or conversational piece but I recall my thoughts being more concentrated on preservation. I had a personal connection with the Gorin scoreboard since it was used during my first ever organized traveling team game. 

You may delay, but time will not. - Benjamin Franklin

Many times, schools throw away old equipment to make room for new since they don't have the storage capabilities.  I didn't like the fact that something that was a rooted part of the game for so many years could easily be tossed.  It should be preserved or restored and proudly displayed.  Over the course of time, a vintage item may get lost, misplaced, thrown away, damaged or become inoperative. As a result, my curiosity got the best of me. I had to make a call.

Front of the old Gorin Elementary School

A few days later, I was on the phone with the Gorin elementary school to inquire about the old scoreboard.  We knew that a modern scoreboard had replaced the older one in the early 1990s since my father remembered seeing a new model hanging on the wall when he took his Luray Jr. High teams to Gorin to play basketball. 

But what had happened to it since? 

I was thrilled to learn that the vintage scoreboard was still in the elementary school's possession.  It's condition was now the lingering question.  We traveled the twenty miles west to Gorin to talk about the old scoreboard.  When we asked where it was, my father and I were led out to a small white storage shed next to the school.  When they opened the doors, there set the old scoreboard leaned up against the left wall as we entered. Having been exposed to weather elements, the scoreboard was covered in dust and the clock face may have had a small tear and a few dents in it.  A portion of it was covered with other accumulated materials and equipment so it was hard to tell its overall condition. The scoreboard needed to be removed before the weather, small animals, etc. ruined the old parts that would be extremely difficult to replace today.

The old Gorin scoreboard was stored inside this building for many years
After we examined it, we asked the principal if the school would consider selling it.  She didn’t think it would hurt if we just wanted to take it since it was just collecting dust, taking up room in the small storage shed and not it the best of conditions. We recommended that she speak to the school board first about our request to buy it.  We just didn't feel right taking it since it is a part of the school's history.

Within a few weeks we were told that upon discussion, the school board felt that it should go to auction so everyone had an opportunity to buy it.  We agreed, but I knew then that I didn't have a chance to own it.

Gorin is the Home of the Bulldogs

Lost time is never found again - Benjamin Franklin

As I launched this blog about the basketball hidden gems that our family have come acrossed over the years, my thoughts would once again drift towards the old scoreboard.  Last July, almost a decade after the auction, we decided to contact the owner, Jim McQuoid, to see if we could stop by, see it and take some pictures.

When we arrived, he pointed to a barn that stood a very short distance from his residence. In the back of the barn, secured against the side set the scoreboard.  Jim had mentioned on the phone a few days earlier that it hadn't been restored yet.  I had looked forward to getting a close look at it since I was used to looking at it from afar growing up.

Gorin's scoreboard years later
Over time, many of the light bulbs had been damaged or lost when it was owned by the Gorin elementary school but Jim had tried to replace them over the years. Although the "Home" and "Visitor" name plates are missing, he plans to replace them with "Gorin" and "Memphis" nameplates someday as a way to remember the basketball glory days and the county rilvary between the two schools. Unfortunately, we were unable to locate any manufacturer plate with a name or date on the scoreboard. This would have aided in learning when it was built and by whom although this model looks similar to the scoreboards built by Naden Industries, Inc. of Webster City, Iowa, which was established in 1933.

After we examined the scoreboard over for a few minutes and got some of our questions answered, our conversation shifted to his memories of the scoreboard and Gorin basketball.  

We immediately began to talk about the once basketball rivalry between Gorin and Memphis High Schools.  Jim's eyes lit up regarding this subject.  Before Gorin High School closed in 1982 and students began to attend Scotland County R-1 Junior - Senior High School (formerly Memphis High School), these two schools had a heated rilvary since they were in the same county in northeast Missouri.  Jim remembered many of the hard fought games because he too had played in Gorin's gym in the late 1950s and in 1960.

I would learn that Jim attended Memphis High School and had played in those competitive games.  His son had played elementary school basketball for Gorin in the 1990s so his family had a connection to the scoreboard, much more than I did. He had purchased the scoreboard for his son to hang in his basement once he graduated and had a place of his own. Although the scoreboard is stored in their barn, it will be restored and displayed one day.

While my father and I traveled back to Kahoka, I mentioned that I was thrilled that the scoreboard had found a home.  I was also content that I would not own this piece of local basketball history.  After we talked to Jim about how much basketball meant to the Gorin community before the high school closed, I realized that one of the only mementos remaining from that era, meant much more to Jim and his family since they had much deeper ties to it.

As Jim's face had glowed when we began to talk about the days of old and the basketball rilvary that once graced the Scotland County countryside, I began to look forward to my next visit, when I would see the familar scoreboard once again. Maybe then, its clock face will too glow bright red.

A familiar face