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!