They call him “Coach”, and when it comes to coaching, he’s certainly one of the best and most respected in Wisconsin basketball history. Making significant contributions through his playing and coaching career, his greatest thrill came with his 1971 State Basketball Championship victory. He coached me when I played in high school. He did something even greater. He coached me and taught me about life. You see, this coach is my Dad.
I remember when I was a little guy, and we would wrestle around on the living room floor. He was so big and strong; I know now that he could have brushed me away with one sweep of his arm, but his laugh still echoes in my mind as I would pin him the floor. We did lots of fun things together, and he was constantly teaching: how to put a worm on a hook; how to hook a minnow through the back so it would stay alive; how to find the rock piles on the bottom where the big walleye would be. He’d say, “If I were a walleye, that’s where I’d be!” And we’d catch fish. He took me countless times to the beautiful waters of Canada in search of lunker fish. We’d always fish “perch pocket” and “bass bay”. I remember the time we found a little bay and made two portages over beaver dams to find a secluded lake. We were sure that we our exploration has discovered a new lake, until we spotted two kids sitting on a rock eating crackers. But that didn’t matter because I was with my dad. And we laughed.
Another time we got caught in a thunderstorm out on the lake. Dad rowed us back to camp in the cold, pouring rain as we huddled under his Marine Corps jacket. We didn’t catch any fish that day, but it didn’t matter because we were with Dad. He taught me the security of his arms. He made it fun to get soaked to the skin and return to the camper and snuggle in our warm sleeping bags, eating bags of Fritos and Three Musketeer bars.
It wasn’t all chips and candy bars though. He taught me early on the value of integrity and the importance of discipline. I remember the spanking I got for stealing the slingshot from Rice Drugs. Thanks for making me take it back and confess to Mr. Rice. I learned a great lesson that day.
Coach taught me basketball. He taught me how to shoot a jump shot. Keep the elbow in, wrist bent, ball on the fingertips, snap, arch, follow-through; never let a shot fall short! He built a little basket to teach me to develop “the touch”. I never lost it, Dad, in case you were wondering.
I was the assistant in running his basketball camps. Dad let me run all the ball handling and dribbling drills. Thanks for believing in me. It helped me develop in basketball and in life. He would always encourage me the nights I had a bad game: “The sun always comes up in the morning!” And it always did. He showed me he cared for my feelings and that life was more than basketball.
Being at home with Dad was always a secure feeling. His family was important to him. If there was a game or a basketball clinic, he’d bring me with him. In his greatest moment of winning the State Championship, I was “coaching” right beside him on the bench. What I liked best though was how he loved my Mom. He was faithful to her and was not afraid to how his affection. He would sneak up behind her in the kitchen, wrap her in his arms and plant some kisses on her neck. Mom giggled when they snuggled like that, and I know she liked it. It made me feel good inside. When asked to come out of retirement to coach the girls’ basketball team, New Auburn must have been surprised to land such a prize coach. Dad only agreed if Mom could be the assistant coach. I know he loved her.
He was a loyal man. He went to fight for his country in the Korean War. I know he got a Purple Heart there, but he is not the one to talk about that stuff. He never talked much about that and was more concerned about his friends that didn’t make it out of there. I am grateful that God spared him so he could return and be my Dad.
Now I’m married and have kids of my own. I am still learning from my Dad. I never realized until recently when I shared my greatest failures with him, that he has the heart of God-merciful, welcoming, accepting in spite of failure. He has always been like that. I’ve learned why you don’t just write a check for broken windows. I learned why you built the pitching mound and the batting bag in your backyard; why you took me on countless fishing trips, and why you did the many other things that a dad does with his son. But what I don’t understand is how you did it; how you did it when you never had a dad to play H-O-R-S-E with you. You never had someone to play catch with, or take you fishing, or teach you how to bait a hook. There was never the role model to teach you how to be a dad. I may never understand the how, but I sure know the why. It was because you loved me with a special love that a dad has for his son.
When you were getting dressed for basketball games, you always told me, “The coach with the shiniest shoes always wins.” If that is true of dads also, then you definitely have the shiniest shoes in my book.
You are a winner, Dad. Thanks for all you’ve done for me, Coach. I love you.
What do you remember about your dad?