March 1, 2012
Steinmeyer’s passion was felt at Northwest
By David Boyce
Sometime early Friday morning, Gene Steinmeyer will finish packing, slip into his car with his son, Sam, and grandson, Jacob, and head out on the open highway to Surprise, Ariz.
It is a vacation that creates memories that last a lifetime. The bonding that comes with the journey is as special as the final destination.
The destination for the Steinmeyer is spring training in Arizona, better known as the Cactus League. They are going to watch the Royals, the Rangers and go to several other Major League Baseball spring training sites.
“I’m really excited,” Sam said. “It will be the second time I’ve been down there. I’ve been waiting to go again.”
As Sam spoke those words, Steinmeyer beamed with a smile warmer than the first 70-degree day of a new year.
No words or profound elaboration was necessary on why Steinmeyer decided to retire from coaching women’s basketball at Northwest Missouri State.
“It is a dream come true,” Steinmeyer said. “I always thought about the day I retired how I wanted to do it.
“For years I’ve said when I retire I would jump in the car and go to spring training. I never thought at the time I would take a son along. Now I have a little company.”
How could there be a better way to begin a new phase in life than taking a trip with family members you care deeply for?
Steinmeyer loves baseball and is passing down his passion for the game to his son and grandson like millions of fathers have in this country for many generations.
The week the time Steinmeyer will spend with Sam and Jacob will be etched in his mind as much as the hundreds of wins and championship victories he compiled during his coaching career.
Steinmeyer, 61, spent his last13 years of a 28-year, head-coaching career as a Bearcat. He finished with 189 wins at Northwest. His overall record at Northwest and Doane College was 594-328.
He guided Doane to the NAIA national tournament seven times and led Northwest to the NCAA Regional four times, including a NCAA Division II semifinals last season.
Three times at Northwest his teams won the MIAA Tournament.
But anybody who knows Steinmeyer always understood winning games was only a small part of what he stood for.
No matter if a season was sailing along with numerous victories or his team was going through a rough patch, searching for the next win, Steinmeyer always reflected on other things in life.
“I came to Northwest and I thought was going to be here for a year and 10 years later I’m still here,” said Lori Hopkins, assistant athletic director at Northwest. “Thanks to Coach Steinmeyer, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today. I learned a lot from him, not just basketball, but life lessons, also.”
One of Steinmeyer’s life lessons is to pursue a dream. In recent years, Steinmeyer has worked for a company that puts together travel for college basketball teams going to Hawaii.
“I met a lot of coaches and I always thought I could make a go of it, but I never had time because of coaching,” Steinmeyer said. “Now I’m going to do the whole thing, the flights, the hotels, the transportation. I will work out of Maryville Travel in town.
“I thought a lot about this travel business. It is going to be a challenge to make it a success. I need that breath of fresh air. When I came to Northwest 13 years ago, I was getting stale at Doane College. This was like a breath of fresh air here.
“I didn’t feel like I was getting stale here, but I wanted a challenge. I thought about it. I wanted to tackle it. When you are 61 you start to feel you mortality.”
Priorities started to change one Sunday morning in early June last year. Steinmeyer got the news that football coach Scott Bostwick passed away because of a heart attack.
Steinmeyer headed to his office on that tragic Sunday and reflected.
“I thought Scott waited 17 years to be head coach and in two months it was taken away from him,” Steinmeyer said.
In June, Steinmeyer knew the 2011-12 season would be his last coaching college basketball. He didn’t inform any of his players until the last game because he wanted the season to be about them and not the coach.
It’s typical Steinmeyer. He always put the players far ahead of himself. Any success the Bearcats had under his leadership, Steinmeyer deflected it away from him and put it on the players.
A true reflection of any coach is how many of the former players return to watch games or just to say hello.
In that measure, Steinmeyer is a Hall of Famer. One of his former players from his days at Doane College surprised Steinmeyer by coming to his final game as a coach. It meant a lot to Steinmeyer that Tracee Fairbanks, who is now the head coach at Doane College, was in the stands at Bearcat Arena last Saturday.
“That was pretty special,” Steinmeyer said.
The MIAA Tournament was always a blast for Steinmeyer because so many former Bearcats showed up in Kansas City to watch the current team.
It was always neat to see players from the 2008 team and the 2004 in the stands.
Sure, part of Steinmeyer wished his last team was playing in Kansas City today in the MIAA Tournament.
“The MIAA Tournament,” Steinmeyer always said, “is the best conference tournament in Division II.”
He wanted the current players to have that experience.
Steinmeyer, though, understood that there are ups and downs in college basketball. He enjoyed the journey of bouncing back from a tough season.
Whatever kind of season Steinmeyer had at Northwest, he always felt he belonged in the Maryville community.
“I’m amazed by this community,” he said. “Years where we would go .500, people would say ‘great year coach.’ I’d say we are going to do better and they’d still say great year.
“People are so good in this community. It is great for Sam. They have a great school system here. It is just a great place.
“I was born in Nebraska and I occasionally root for the Huskers, but I’m a Maryville resident for life.”
Hopkins summed up Steinmeyer’s career as good as anybody could and her last six words is the truest depiction of him.
“In his tenure here, he’s gone to the NCAA Tournament,” she said. “He has won three conference tournament titles. He has definitely put his footprint on women’s basketball here at Northwest. He steered the program in the right direction.
“He is just a good person.”
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