Contact with former players makes coaching worthwhile

Getting to the state tournament in Nebraska high schools can be a weather-driven situation. Some years the weather cooperates and some years it doesn’t. 

This year the weather is a tease. Go to a sub-district game on one night with the AC running or the windows down, and then figure out when the roads will be fit to safely travel to the next sessions. 

This is being written on the day that the finals of the sub-district in Sidney were to be played, and looking at the different models of the weather on the weather channel, you wonder if it will be played on Friday or not. Just the perils of high school basketball in the midwest, but it will be played sooner or later.

I missed the first round of the PCS sub-district as Marlene and I attended the NPCC women’s game in North Platte where former PCHS coach and head coach at NPCC was coaching his last game at North Platte. Coach Dick Thurin has won over 500 games in his high school and college coaching career and has had a positive influence on many young people’s lives during that time. 

Coach Thurin and I got to coach together on a couple of occasions. He was my first assistant coach here in Grant in 1968. He was a valuable resource to me in my first head coaching position and I was very lucky to have him as a coach in the program. 

Thurin has been at NPCC I think for 16 years or so, and has had many good teams during those years. I wish him a great retirement.

As an old retired coach, I get a reminder every once in awhile from former players about something that happened when they were playing for us. I have one former player who lives in California who calls not on a regular basis, but often enough, to visit. Regardless of when he calls or what time of day he calls, I always feel better after the call. 

I also have a former all-star team member who lives in Arizona. We converse via Facebook, and it is another case of being happy each time I hear from him. These things are better than Ws and Ls. I realize more than ever these past few days of how the phone calls and emails made me feel each and every time. I didn’t do that enough with my coaches. I did keep in contact with some of them, especially some of the Fort Hays coaches, but the guy who had the most influence on me, my high school coach, I didn’t reach out and return what I owed him near enough. 

Bob Skillen was my high school coach my freshman, sophomore and junior years, but he left my senior year to go teach at his hometown high school. 

He is the reason I wanted to coach. I wanted to be just like him. I wanted to teach math and coach all three sports just like him. It didn’t all work out. I found I hated math, and coaching all three sports wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but teaching English and coaching basketball was pretty close to being Bob Skillen. 

I didn’t do a real good job of keeping up with Coach Skillen after I moved to Nebraska. The last time I talked to Coach was in 1989 after we had won a state championship. I had a friend from Kansas call me and tell me that Coach Skillen’s team had won their state championship in Kansas. I called him and we had a really good visit. It was a great phone call and I wished I had made more of them to him. 

Coach passed away last month at the age of 89. Sometimes being late in doing something hurts. 

R.I.P. my mentor.


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