Nov. 24, 2009
Thanksgiving Memories of a Basketball Coach
-Gene Steinmeyer, Northwest Head Women's Basketball Coach
Thanksgiving is about traditions. I hope you are surrounded by family, stuffing yourself with a huge turkey and all the fixings. That sounds great. Before I began college coaching, that was my Thanksgiving. As a Nebraska native, I spent most Thanksgivings yelling at the television screen, rooting for the Huskers to crush the Oklahoma Sooners. That started in 1962, when the rest of the nation was mourning the death of President Kennedy. In 1971, we all loaded up our car to meet the Huskers at the Lincoln Airport after the Sooners were defeated in "The Game of the Century."
However, the past 25 years have been much different. This year, we will put the team on a Bearcat bus and take the nine-hour trip to Denver, Colo., where we will play two games at Metro State University. I have a lot of great memories of past Thanksgivings and you are about to get a huge plate full of those memories.
My assistant, Lori Hopkins, is responsible for one of those memories. About eight years ago, we also played in the Metro Thanksgiving Classic. Coach Hopkins was the assistant coach at Metro State. All Thanksgiving Classics give away a complimentary t-shirt. Lori won't admit it, but I think she designed the t-shirts. The shirt we received that year had two turkey drum sticks placed strategically on the t-shirt. For a better visual, the drum sticks looked better on female players than on male coaches. I'm pretty sure no one ever wore those shirts in public.
The longest Thanksgiving trip occurred about four years ago. I had a team cancell on us very late, so I had to beg for games to fill the schedule. The best I could do was an adventure that rivaled the movie College Road Trip. We left Tuesday afternoon and headed for Oklahoma City. At about 8 p.m. that evening, we practiced at Oklahoma City University.
We traveled south the next morning until we arrived at Abilene, Texas. We played a Wednesday game at 5 p.m. The high temperature that day in Abilene was 90 degrees. I took my son, Sam, on this part of the trip. He lost a tooth during the game at Abilene Christian. By the way, we won the game in overtime when Kelli Nelson tipped in a missed shot at the buzzer. Believe it or not, the Tooth Fairy found its way to our motel room in Oklahoma City.
I was up early Thanksgiving morning and speeding for Kansas City. Laura Friederich, a senior on our team, lived in Kansas City. Her mother fixed the team a great Thanksgiving meal. Then we headed north. I gave Sam to his mother in Bethany, Mo. I think he had about enough bonding with his father. We spent that night north of Des Moines, Iowa. The weather was definitely turning colder.
Our final destination was St. Paul, Minn., for a game with Concordia University. At about the Minnesota border, we ran into a raging blizzard. Thanks to Larry, a very skilled bus driver, we pulled into St. Paul in time for practice. Yippee!
The game was Saturday afternoon. Before the game, we learned the Northwest football team had beaten Pitt State to advance to the national semifinals. We weren't as fortunate. We lost in overtime, despite a great game from Katie O'Grady, now my graduate assistant coach. We finally pulled into Maryville in the wee hours of Sunday morning. The only thing missing was planes, trains and automobiles.
During my time at Doane College, we took three Thanksgiving trips to Butte, Montana. Doane College is an NAIA school and we didn't have very big budgets, so we drove a couple of vans. It took over 20 hours to drive one-way. Talk about team bounding. We played games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
We would arrive Thanksgiving Day and spend one night in the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort near Butte. It was a great place to spend Thanksgiving Day. The swimming pools were outdoors, but it was heated by natural spring waters at a temperature over 90 degrees. On one of the trips, I let them swim too long. My freshman point guard, Missy Knippelmeyer, climbed three stories to the top of the water slide. However, she was dehydrated and passed out just before she got on the slide. They put Missy on a stretcher and took her to her room. I don't think she minded it too much since the life guard definitely looked good to her with his shirt off. She also played in all three games.
On another trip to Montana, I had more point guard drama. This point guard, an All-American named Trudi Veerhusen, sprained her ankle in the first game. As a matter of fact, she did it in the first 10 minutes of the game. My back-up point guard had a look of terror, realizing she would have to take over for the All-American for two-and-a-half games. The way Trudi screamed with pain when she rolled that ankle, you would have thought amputation was the only cure. However, I knew Trudi had no pain tolerance. I made my assistant coach follow her to the training room and bring her back to the bench after she had it taped.
After about five minutes of game time, here comes Trudi limping back to the bench. I asked, "How you doing, Trudi?" She replied, "Well, it's not too bad, maybe a little sore and . . ." I never let Trudi finish the sentence. I had her check right back in the game. Trudi went on to lead us to wins over three tough Montana teams. She was named to the All-Classic team and she never stopped complaining about the pain.
The absolute most memorable tale happened during our first Montana trip. I wanted the players to have a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Someone suggested I call the Copper King Bed and Breakfast in Butte. It was a historical site where a governor of Montana once lived. An elderly woman made her restaurant cook come in just for us. The meal took over an hour-and-a-half to eat. She brought in course after course, always letting the food settle before the next round of Thanksgiving goodies arrived. All my players, fast food junkies every one of them, was fascinated by the great, tasty meal, the historical house and this sweet old lady.
Two years later, we repeated the trip. Of course I called the Cooper King for Thanksgiving reservations. However, a younger woman answered the phone and gave me the sad news the generous, old woman had passed away from cancer. I explained to the new owner who I was. She immediately changed her approached to me. She told me her mother had told the story of our previous meal many times, right up to the time of her death. The old woman's daughter invited us to eat with her entire family, even though the bed and breakfast was closed. It was the second best meal I had ever eaten. Of course, the old woman's meal could never be topped. Basketball took second place in Thanksgiving memories that year and it still does.
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