Posted tagged ‘middle school sports’

First Day of Cross-Country Practice

August 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     August 14, 2018

                            

It was an optional practice day so the other coaches and I were a bit surprised that about 25 middle school students showed up for it. “I thought there would be four or five!” exclaimed Coach Barry.

But here they were! About 25 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders wondering what the next hour and a half would hold for them, their lungs, and their legs!

“I’m Coach Wolfe, and it’s great to see all of you here this afternoon!” 

Some smiled back at me.  Others looked down at the ground like they feared a sudden sinkhole would open up and swallow them down into the depths. One girl with shaking knees was hoping for a sinkhole!

A hand shot up. 

“Coach Wolfe, what will we be doing in our cross-country practices?”

“Well, let’s see! We’ll watch some Justin Bieber Youtube videos, have Fudgesicle eating contests, and finish each day with some tug-of-war competitions.”

He looked at me in disbelief.

“No, that’s a different sport I’m thinking of! In cross-country we’ll…RUN! We’ll run long, we’ll run fast, we’ll run easy and hard, up hills and down hills, on paths through the woods and sidewalks around the neighborhoods. We’ll run down to 7-11 and get Slurpies and to Boriello Brothers and get pizza…okay, strike the pizza idea! Basically, we’ll run in a variety of ways!

“Coach Wolfe!” This time the girl hoping for a sinkhole had her hand up.

“Yes.”

“How far will we run?”

“Some days further than others. Roughly three miles a day.” Her eyes opened as wide as the sinkholes she hoped for.

“Just three miles?” asked a new sixth grader. “I’ve been on a running team that competes in the nationals each year and we usually do six to seven miles a day.”

“Go for it! When we get done with our practice you can do a Forrest Gump and just keep running!”

A young man with blonde hair and a heavy dose of anxiety raised his hand halfway and looked at me.

“Yes, sir!”

“I just moved here from Texas. Do you think I’ll have a hard time with the altitude change?”

“Yes.”

“Oh!” he replied with a facial expression that resembled when the time his mom told him Santa Claus doesn’t ride in a sleigh.

“It will take you a while, but you’ll get used to it.”

“Thank you,” he said as he bit his lower lip.

“Each of you is at a different point than everybody else. Some of you have been running since you were about the size of a ladybug and others are brand new. Your coaches will seek to help each of you get better as a runner and also understand how to run. We’ll expect you to work hard, but we also want you to have fun!”

At the mention of having fun a few eyebrows went up, like I was saying that it was fun to go to the doctor and get a flu shot, or it was fun to wear underwear inside-out and backwards! 

But it will be fun! In fact, today…Day 2 and another optional practice before the first official practice on Wednesday…I’m getting popsicles for the end of practice. For a popsicle I bet the one young lady would even jump over a sinkhole! 

And I’ll high five each of them and joke with them and then send them all home thinking, “This is going to be awesome!”

The Troubling of Sports Officials

August 8, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  August 8, 2018

                          

It’s a situation that basketball game assignors started dealing with a few years ago: too many games and not enough referees to cover them safely and effectively. So a trend started! Games on heavy volume days began to be rescheduled…or, in a few cases, officials had to cover three games in one day…often at two different locations. 

It was a warning sign that most wanted to pretend wasn’t happening; that the number of people officiating basketball games was gradually decreasing while the number of games being played gradually had been increasing. A few people saw the impending crisis, but most went on like there wasn’t any problem. After all, how do you fix the part of the basketball game that is best seen but not heard. That is, officials long to run up and down a court where the participants with numbered uniforms play the game fairly and under control, to the point where a whistle rarely needs to be blown.

I still remember a girl’s varsity game I officiated several years ago at St. Mary’s High School in Colorado Springs. St. Mary’s was hosting Trinidad. Two excellent coaches, George Dasko and Mike Burkett, led their teams. I can even remember my officiating partners for that game: Rachel Martinez and Kevin Kizewski. We rarely had to blow our whistles in a contest that was well-played and close the whole way. I remember that, even with the ten minute halftime and the uncertainty of the outcome down to the last few seconds, the contest was finished in an hour. 

Unfortunately, most basketball games are not like that! And that hints at the problem. It gives us an inkling of why the number of people willing to put on a striped shirt, run up and down a court with a whistle in their mouth, and have their intelligence questioned is slipping.

I’ve been on both sides of the sidelines, wearing a black and white striped shirt inside the lines and a shirt and tie on the other side of it. I’ve asked coaches to stay in their “box” (the designated area in front of their team bench that runs now from the baseline to the 28-foot line) and also been the one standing in the box.

Sixteen years as a basketball official and twenty plus years as a basketball coach. After the 2017 high school basketball season I decided to hang up the striped shirt. I made that decision for several reasons. 

The first two were quite simple; I wasn’t getting any younger, and I enjoyed coaching much more than officiating. Two good reasons…except for the acknowledgment of my advancing age as an AARP member!

The other reasons, however, were troubling. 

Parents! How do you fix parents, specially parents of young athletes? In the increasing of games that need to be covered, youth basketball games are like a locust storm. In helping out our game assignor in the covering of some of these games I had to deal with parents that were belligerent, unrealistic, and obnoxious. One mom, who I asked to relocate from underneath one of the baskets to the side of the court because of her language during a 5th-6th grade game, told me she had paid admission to get in. Since I heard her urge her son (I’m assuming it was her son!) to kill one of the opposing players I moved her and informed her that we weren’t going to start the game again until she relocated. She had lost perspective! She forgot that this was a game that was being played by young boys and it was for their enjoyment, not for her “revenge on life” attitude!

How do you fix parents? I tell the parents of the players I coach to keep perspective on what it is we’re about. If anything needs to be said to an official I’ll say it, not them. 

In saying that let me also say that most parents are great! They understand that having their child’s team beat the archival is a great moment, but not life-defining. Finding a cure for cancer would be life-defining for the discoverer and the people helped by it. Being a community peacekeeper would be life-defining. Walking with a family through struggles and heartaches would be life-defining. Most parents understand that and help their adolescent athletes develop a balanced view on life.

Here’s another reason! The blurring of authority. That is, the minimizing of the respect for the ones blowing the whistles. The disrespect comes from fans, coaches, and players. For every coach with integrity like Mike Burkett there’s a coach on the other side of the fence who sees the referees as the enemies. In recent years the number of assaults on referees has increased. A recent basketball game between two club teams ended with players from one of teams physically attacking the officials. Physical assaults happen just as much at contests between teams of younger-aged players as they do with high school teams.

In other words, those wearing the striped shirts have become the targets to aim at for frustrated players, coaches, and fans. People have forgotten what the purposes are for there to be people wearing the stripes. Perhaps it’s simply a smaller arena example of how authority has become blurred in our culture. 

Ask public school teachers if changes have occurred in regards to the respect of their authority during their teaching career! 

Ask coaches about the attitudes of their athletes. Even though the size of the ball has remained the same the way they coach their players has to now contend with some attitude warts.

The examples of the abuse of authority has contributed to the disdain of authority. 

As a coach I keep perspective on how things are. Last year I coached two middle school basketball teams and a freshman team. The officials we had were often new officials who still make the same boneheaded decisions that I made in my first few years of refereeing. So I would tell my players that new officials need to start someplace, and we’re the place they usually start…so it is what it is! Let me be the one to ask them questions! My players saw that I wasn’t contentious or abrasive, but rather that those wearing the striped shirts and I each had a role and a purpose and we, in most situations, tried to work together to be participants of a great athletic contest. 

After all, if there aren’t any people to wear the stripes and officiate the games who will do it? 

The parents?????

Encouraging the Untalented

June 10, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          June 10, 2018

                                

In all my years of coaching multiple sports I’ve had numerous athletes who were extremely talented…and I’ve also had numerous athletes who were incredibly untalented!

-Kids who get positioned in right field

            -Kids who play a forward in soccer because you would rather play great defense than score goals.

-Kids who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

-Kids who you could use a sun dial in timing their 100 yard dash.

-Kids who have great attitudes and no athletic skill.

In our sports-crazed world there seem to be more non-athletic, untalented participants lacing up the sneakers and putting on the pads.

I remember one young man on the middle school football team I coached. In practice one day he was playing defensive cornerback. He was about as far away from the action as he could possibly be and still be standing on the field. I suggested that he move in closer since there wasn’t even a wide receiver on his side of the field. All five feet one inch of him looked at me and said, “No, I’m okay!”

Or there was the foreign exchange student one year on the Girl’s JV team I coached. She had never played basketball, plus she had gotten out of line the day God passed out athleticism. If she shot the ball it had a better chance of getting stuck in the rafters than going in the basket. Her accuracy never improved during the season, although she did come to understand that the team with the ball was on offense and the team that didn’t have the ball was on defense. Running down the court without dribbling the ball meant that you suddenly would no longer be on offense and once again be…on defense! She came to realize this from personal experience.

I had a young man who would be the first one to show up for open gyms but couldn’t make a layup if his life depended on it. When he asked me if he was improving I replied, “Well, I can’t fault your effort!”

Every coach has the untalented kid who wants to be on the team. It becomes an exercise in patience as they struggle through the simplest drills that focus on fundamentals. Often they are the also the nicest, most well-behaved kids. They are the ones that you grieve over cutting, but know “there ain’t no way” you can keep them on the basketball team!

I try to find ways to encourage students who fall into this category, engaging them in conversation that shows I see them as persons of value. At the end of a tryout practice I may ask one of them to “get us a team break”.” I applaud their effort. When I post the basketball roster I try to be ready to give an evaluation to anyone who asks for it, what they can work on as well as a couple of positive points. I also try to communicate the importance of being a team manager or someone who keep stats. This past year I had one boy who didn’t make my basketball team, but I convinced to keep game stats. He’s a great kid who was disappointed in not making the roster, but saw how he was valued in a different role.

Often I encounter kids who are not as invested in athletic success as their parents are. There’s the parental pressure to change Lenny into LeBron…and Lenny would prefer to just be Lenny! 

There’s a lot of pressure on kids these days to be someone that they aren’t. It seems that only certain roles and specific achievements are valued, while others are ignored. 

As a coach, however, I hold to a certain principle: It is not necessary for an awesome kids to have a ball in his/her hands to still be great!

The 200 Mile Club

May 29, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       May 29, 2018

                                      

It was an idea that sounded good, like toilet-papering the principal’s car on the last day of school or eating Captain Crunch cereal every meal for an entire summer, as did a college classmate of mine!

An idea that sounded like a challenge!

Coach Schneiderman, 6th Grade Math teacher, offered it up before he did the math. 

“What if we challenged the cross-country kids to run 200 miles during the summer? We could give some kind of prize or shirt to those who do it?”

“That’s a great idea, Coach! Maybe get shirts that say Timberview Cross-Country 200 Mile Club!”

A few minutes later Coach Schneiderman offered a scaled down figure. “Maybe 150 miles!”

I, however, had already penciled in the number 200! There are about eleven weeks in vacation summer. Two hundred split amongst seventy-seven days is about two and a half miles a day…if a person runs every day!

Sold! I presented the idea to the students who came to a brief cross-country meeting the last week of school. Some looked at me like I was a crazed coach and others were inspired by the challenge.

And then I decided to take up the challenge myself! What??????

Perhaps it came from memories of long distance runs that I used to take: running along the top of the flood walls of Ironton, Ohio; running the roads of Oxford, Ohio; running, along with 3 other Judson College teammates, 25 miles for charity once time; and running up Barr Trail in Colorado Springs as I trained for the Pike’s Peak Ascent.

But that’s been a few years, and I haven’t been getting any younger! In fact, Carol says I should have my cell phone with me when I run in case something happens. I inferred from that remark that the “something” was a heart attack, not that I stumbled and twisted my ankle. Sixty-four year olds may be one three mile run away from eternity!

So I’ve started. Six days in and I’m at 18 miles. My knees seem more like 180 miles. My body screams at me in unkind ways. 

Perseverance and determination, that’s what keeps me going. So far I’ve only been running laps around the Timberview track. It brings back memories of running around the Ironton Junior High School track I lived about a half mile from. In those days I’d run 24 laps, six miles, around the cinder oval. This summer I’ll begin to widen my circle and run some trails and streets close by. 

18 miles in, only 182 to go! After today I’ll be more than 10% towards the goal…barely!

In August I look forward to celebrating with the other runners who took up and met the challenge.

I’m also hoping to be about twenty pounds lighter by then, a pound for every ten miles! When I graduated from Ironton High School in 1972 I weighed 110 pounds. Now my right leg weighs about that much!

And when an eighth grader whines to me that 200 miles was too hard I’ll show him/her my running chart and say, “Your 64 year old coach did it!” 

“Oh!”

Cross-Country Return

May 13, 2018

 WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              May 13, 2018

                          

I received the good news this week. Next school year I’ll be coaching middle school cross-country. It’s a return, in many ways, to my roots!

When I was a junior in high school I started running cross-country. My path had been pre-determined by the previous school year’s track program. At a cold early April triangular meet at Fairland High School in Proctorville, Ohio, the Ironton High School head track coach, Bill Trent, had asked if anyone was interested in running in the two mile race that day. Our team needed another runner to compete, or at least jog. Although I had been the Wood County, West Virginia, eight year old 50 yard dash champion…that had been almost eight years in the rearview mirror. This was my chance to run varsity…as a sophomore!

“But it’s Twwwooooo Miles!”

And it was cold with a chilling rain mist making it even more miserable! 

“I’ll run, Coach!”

“Okay, Billy! Do the best you can!”

I don’t remember my time that day…something like fourteen minutes! I remember that I wasn’t last, beat a couple of other runners, endured the wet wind on the back stretch, and scored a point for our team with a fourth place finish. 

And suddenly I was a distance runner! My time dropped three minutes in the next few weeks and I finished the season with a fifth place finish at the league meet in Athens. It paved the way for the fall cross-country season, and a summer of running on top of the flood walls of Ironton. 

Lance Clanton was the cross-country coach. I don’t think Coach Clanton had much experience with running, but IHS needed someone to keep a pack of running fools in line. During the school day he was the industrial arts teacher. He is the only industrial arts teacher I have ever met who was also a cross-country coach! 

We were a mediocre team not quite understanding the race tactics and practice ideas of the new school sport. Our home course include one part where we ran down into a dump area next to the school, affectionately called “the Sand Pit”, and back up again. Interval training was a foreign concept. One goofy runner named Eugene would climb a tree and wait for everyone to come back past him on a route we would run from the high school down to the cemetery and back. Actually, we were all a bit goofy, a few nerds before that term became commonplace, a couple of athletes, and a few others thrown into the mix who had nothing better to do after school.  

Two years after that I was wearing a t-shirt that had Miami of Ohio on the front of it. I was 16th man on a sixteen man roster, which means I was able to wear the t-shirt, run in the home meets, and endure the exhausting practices. Miami finished 7th at the NCAA nationals that year. I was not a factor in their success, but it did teach me a lot about what cross-country is and isn’t!

Two years later I was arriving on the small campus of Judson College in Elgin, Illinois to complete the last two years of my college education. Soon after I arrived I met Don Kraus, the cross-country coach, and his assistant, Ed Allen. They welcomed me with open arms, although I would not be eligible to compete that first year. Judson didn’t have a track, but cross-country fit well there, and we would run through campus laughing and sporting our Eagles’ warm-ups. At Judson I came to value the importance of relationships of my teammates. I can still remember each one of them…Stan Brown (who was one of my groomsmen), Jim Fay, Duane “the lumberjack” Young, Larry Crane, Kevin Kelly, Tom Randall, Mark Diehl, our manager, Tim “Ratman” Etternick, our coaches, and our trainer, Dr. Stuart Ryder…professor of English by day and “ice and bandage guy” by night.

We were a decent team, finishing sixth at the NCCAA nationals my senior year. Notice I put an extra “C” in there. The NCCAA stands for National Christian College Athletic Association, a bit less prime-time than the other organization with one less letter, but not nearly as plagued by scandal and populated by cheaters either!

And now…forty-two years after that I’ll be returning to the sport I always enjoyed and the challenges of training young runners, many whom are totally clueless about how long the race is that they will be expected to complete. I prepared for this return by coaching the distance runners at the same middle school, Timberview, this spring. The whining of seventh and eighth grade runners is like sweet music to my ears. It will be awesome to encourage the runners this coming August that they CAN do it, they CAN succeed, they CAN be something more than they thought they could ever be. 

A 6, Followed By A 4!

May 6, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    May 6, 2018

                                

I’ve usually associated the  number “64” with the interstate between Charleston and Huntington, West Virginia, a road that often has the feel of the Monaco Grand Prix, populated by tensed-up drivers and speeding coal trucks.

Yesterday, however, I hit 64 in birth years. My former high school classmate, Tanya Citti, hit it a day earlier. I should have called her up to get a scouting report on its impact.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever had as a wild a birthday as number 64! I’d better clarify what “wild” means in case anyone thinks I took a roll of quarters to a casino slot machine, or went to a local bar and downed a series of Woodford Reserve Kentucky bourbon shots.

“Wild” began with about eighty middle school track team members meeting to travel to the league meet at 7:30 in the morning, our final meet of the year. Being the 7th Grade Girls coach I was responsible for about twenty-five of those students, all giddy and giggly for the day ahead. I layered on the sun block because it was…wait for it!…hot! Snow had canceled our last home meet two days before!

At noon the first hint of weird and wild appeared on my cell phone screen. It was a text from my youngest daughter, Lizi. The text said, “Not a good day over here! What time are you done with the meet?”

“Huh?”

I called. “What’s up?”

“Well, Mom fell in the front yard at Kecia’s house (our oldest daughter), hurt her shoulder, and is at the doctor.”

“Ohh, how did she do that?”

“She stepped in a divot or something…and then-“

“And then?”

“Yes, and then while she was there Reagan (our seven year old granddaughter) fell off the monkey bars at the park a couple blocks away from the doctor’s office and got a gash beside her eye so I had to take her to the Emergency Room at Penrose-St. Francis Hospital.”

“What!!??”

“So she’s probably going to get some stitches and then Mom’s doctor is sending her here to have her shoulder x-rayed.”

“Her doctor is sending her to the same ER as Reagan?”
“Yes! Oh, and happy birthday, Dad!”

Middle school track meets can sometimes seem like they go on forever. Saturday’s seemed to go on forever…and ever…and ever, as the three ladies close and dear to my heart spent their afternoons populating the emergency room! Lizi and Reagan were able to leave about 3:00, but Carol was still there…waiting! When I got home at 4:30 I dropped my stuff, changed clothes, and headed to Penrose to be with her. A new Time magazine came in the mail so I threw it in the car. Murphy’s law says that if you take nothing to read with you you’ll end up being there forever, but if you take a book, the newspaper, or a magazine you’ll never get a chance to open it. Sure enough, when I checked in at the ER Security desk Carol texted me, “Ready to leave!”

The security person took me back to Room 8 and there was my wounded warrior, struggling to get her pants on. I helped her get her right foot through the correct hole, the foot that she informed me had also been sprained in her fall that morning.

A few minutes later, with a boot on her foot, I helped her hobble out to the car, got her buckled in, and headed home.

Lizi and Kecia arrived a little while later, Kecia driving Carol’s car that had still been parked at her house. She, and her husband, Kevin, had been at the Spartan Race that morning and afternoon, an eight mile run with a 100% possibility of getting muddy and dirty as the participants encountered various obstacles and challenges.

They all wished me a happy birthday, and then apologized.

“It’s all right! I’ll have another one next year!”

Next year…65! And my mind went to another highway, I-65, the interstate I traveled numerous times from Chicago to Indianapolis. A road that does not seem nearly as treacherous and intense as 64, and I thought to myself, hopefully number 65 will more resemble that road than the wild ride 64 was!

Middle School Track Knowledge and Reluctance

April 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          April 28, 2018

                      

One week from today our middle school track season culminates with our big league meet that draws 12 schools together.

Let me say this: I love coaching middle school track! Every day is a story that’s about to be created and lived. Each of our coaches is in charge of a certain group. This year I have 7th Grade girls…38 bundles of confusion and giggles! I also am in charge of training all of the distance runners, a Dairy Queen Blizzard of personalities and varying levels of talent…and non-talent! One boy still wears his sweat pants underneath his uniform shorts…in the meets, even when it’s seventy degrees!

Last week one of the 7th Grade girls came up to me in the midst of our home meet and said, “Coach Wolfe, where do I get a ‘bonette’?” I asked her to say the word again. “The bonette.”

“Do you mean the baton?”

“Oh, yes, the baton!”

It is an example of the unpredictable. As the coach, I am never quite sure what is going to be asked and what direction the question is seeking to lead me in.

“Coach Wolfe, we aren’t going outside for practice today, are we?”
“Sure, why wouldn’t we?”
“It’s cold!”

“That’s why we gave you a pair of sweats.”
“But I forgot mine.”

“Wow! That’s too bad! Okay, let’s go!”

Coaching tip: In middle school track it’s important to know when to look void of any hint of empathy and when to be extremely sympathetic. If someone is having a hard time breathing it’s essential to make sure the runner is okay, but when someone is just being “middle school-ish irresponsible” keep a facial expression that communicates disbelief in their decision-making.

Second coaching tip: Raise the bar of expectations!

“Hey! I’ve charted out your 1600 race and if you stay on this pace you’ll run this time.”

Dismay running across her face! “I can’t do that!”

“Oh, yes you can! And I’ll help you.”

“But-“

“Would you like to run this time?”

“Yes!”

“Then you’re going to!”

And she did! There are some middle schoolers who got in line twice when confidence was being handed out, and there are others who forgot to get in that line! They have to be spoon-fed the confidence to do what they don’t think they will ever be able do. At our next meet I’ll lower her time once again, get the same look of dismay, and help her achieve her “impossible” once again!

Coaching tip #3: Treat each athlete equally and coach every athlete to succeed no matter their talent level.

Seventh Grade girls want to relate to the coach. They want to know you care and are willing to hear their goofiness and forgive their goofs. From the girl who will win you four events to the girl who may throw a negative distance in the discus they are all important, and when my #38th most talented athlete runs up to me and says that although she still finished last she beat her personal best the coach gives her a high five and a “whoot whoot!”

Middle school track is more about conquering mountains and easing fears than it is about times and distances. It’s more about the laughter of thirteen year olds than the yelling of their parents.

It’s more about teaching them about track than winning medals and ribbons. Case in point, at the beginning of each track practice I ask my seventh grade girls a track trivia question. The winning answer gets a roll of “Smarties!” Last week I asked them what event in the Olympic track and field competition includes water. The answer is the steeplechase, but that event was like a foreign concept for the girls. The first girl who thought she knew the answer raised her hand and I called on her.

“Is it water polo?”

“No, they play water polo at…water polo!”

Bonettes, water polo, personal bests…it’s all good!