The eephus pitch
Coaches sending Eudora athletes correct messages
My father was a coach. For 18 years he taught at Fort Scott Middle School while coaching basketball and baseball at the high school.
So when wrestling coach Bill DeWitt told me the other day, "You don't win sports with kids, you win kids with sports," it got me thinking about some of the players and experiences I'd had with them as a child spending much of my time in gymnasiums, on ball fields and in locker rooms.
The most important thing to dad, hands down, was making sure that his kids competed to the utmost of their capabilities. He expected the most effort a kid could give, whether it was in a game or in practice, on the court or in the classroom.
In turn, he came to gain the respect of his players, most of whom still share stories about watching him run drills in practice with his teams, diving for balls and taking balls in the dirt off of his shins while playing catcher without the appropriate equipment.
After watching the first half of this winter sports season and how the three coaches, girls basketball coach Ryan Luke, boys basketball coach Kyle Deterding and DeWitt handle their kids in contests and at practice, I feel confident enough with my experience with high school athletics to say that - X's and O's, philosophies and general coaching abilities aside - you have here in Eudora three men who are instilling in their pupils the principles that high school sports are meant to instill.
Those principles are giving maximum effort, the ability to sacrifice for the good of the team, recognizing you're a part of something bigger than yourself and learning to compete fiercely no matter the circumstance.
I don't claim to know everything about sports, but I watch for things in high school coaches that all people may not see.
Does a coach keep coaching his or her team when it's down by 30?
How do their players go after loose balls? How many charges does the team take? How do the players respond to the coach when he is teaching them something in practice? Do they command and get respect from players?
Deterding's team was down 18 points, 45-27, with 1:42 left in the third quarter Thursday against Jefferson West. He called a timeout and was visibly upset with his team.
He didn't quit and neither did his players. They rallied from that huge deficit to win the game, 53-52.
He showed persistence - five attempts to draw charges had not brought a single call one way or the other, but Deterding kept encouraging his players, hollering "good job" to kids who were putting it on the line to get a call when it seemed hopeless. On the sixth attempt, senior Cody Carlson drew a foul. It didn't turn the game around, but it was a small victory for a team that was getting blasted at the time.
The Eudora boys have taken more charges and gone harder after loose balls than their opponents in every game I've seen but one.
"We always want to outwork our opponent," Deterding said. "We don't really even talk about wins and losses, just working and getting better every day."
That starts with the coach and the example they set.
DeWitt, after a Bonner Springs tournament, took it personally that at some points throughout the tournament, his wrestlers got outworked. He told me it was his fault and then said it would not happen again. When a coach takes it upon himself like that, the kids and the community should be proud.
When asked what the most important thing was to him, as a coach, he didn't even mention wins and losses.
"Regardless of the situation, I want them to compete and never get outworked," DeWitt said. "I want them to battle every time we're out there."
In girls basketball, again, no team that I've seen attempts to draw as many charges, and these girls go after loose balls with unmatched intensity.
Coach Luke's response to the same question was right in line with the other two coaches.
"I want them to give 100 percent, and never give up. I don't care what the score is," Luke said. "That's how it is with everything in life. You want to do everything 100 percent, give as much effort as you can.
"There are a lot of life-lessons you can take away from that."
This is not saying anything about having the right strategies or plays in place. It just says that, throughout the three months I've been covering these teams, the three winter sports coaches have kept things in perspective. They're trying to teach your kids how to play these games and compete in life in the right way, and that's the chief end of high school athletics.