We live in a time when our everyday heroes are more important than ever, yet we take them for granted or even downplay their importance.
You know the list: Cops, clergy, paramedics, military, teachers, journalists.
Sorry. Had to throw the last one in there to see if you were still paying attention. The unsung, underappreciated folks I want to recognize are basketball coaches, and specifically those who do exceptional work within the borders of the Sun Journal’s tri-county coverage area.
You didn’t have to buy a ticket to every session of the recently completed regional tournament or digest each word of every story in the sports section to get the message that they were on top of their game.
I’m still keeping an eye on the scene that did so much to shape my own life and career, and the volume of success experienced by those local teams matches or exceeds anything I can remember.
Edward Little, boys’ and girls’ Class AA North champions. Monmouth, girls’ Class C South champions. Oxford Hills, girls’ regional finalists and boys’ semifinalists. Rangeley, girls’ regional finalists. Winthrop, boys’ regional finalists. Gray-New Gloucester, girls’ and boys’ semifinalists, the latter for the first time since I had a thick, dark mop on my head. Poland, girls’ semifinalists. Dirigo, boys’ semifinalists.
That list could go on and include other neighboring championship communities, including Greely, Lake Region, Freeport and Brunswick, where you’ll often find a yellow paper box or two. Listing all the hardware won and milestones reached would defeat the purpose, anyway. It’s the quality of the people greasing the wheels behind the scenes that are worthy of our attention.
Do you all realize how blessed that corner of the world is to have (deep breath) Mike Adams, Craig Jipson, Chris Cifelli, Nate Pelletier, Scott Graffam, Mike Andreasen, Ryan Deschenes, Scott Wing, Todd McArthur, Heidi Deery, Travis and Karen Magnusson, Paul True, Scott Bessey, Zach Keene, Tim Dolley, Tyler Tracy, Mike Hathaway, Tim Farrar, Lynn Girouard, etc., impacting the lives of your children?
The honest answer is probably yes, but not to the extent that their efforts deserve.
Thanks to some of the nation’s most restrictive regulations on coach/player contact, their influence is limited to about 10 weeks in the winter and five in the summer. With any luck, your child plays fall and spring sports and is guided by equally strong forces there. None of this is to diminish their impact. I’m simply striking while the iron is hot and the weather is cold and recognizing the leaders of an incredible winter campaign.
Of course, all of us — fans, parents, reporters, even the athletes themselves – are guilty of dwelling too much on the wins and losses. Had any of the names in that above paragraph gone 7-11 and lost in a preliminary game, their value to the fiber of a community wouldn’t change one scintilla. You’d be every bit as blessed to send a kid to their practice or classroom every day.
In case you hadn’t noticed, our young people are starved for positive adult role models right now. They’re thirsting for direction and to have somebody validate their place in the universe. Those high school years are the most vulnerable years of life, anyhow, and they have never been more easily complicated by external circumstances.
Many kids are scared, hurting and confused. For some, those 90 minutes on the basketball court every day are the port in the storm. The influence your town’s head coach and his or her assistants make within that time window cannot be measured. So it has never been important for the person in that role to be someone who gets it.
You can’t go wrong with any of these teachers of life and hoops, but Adams, who is my contemporary even if he looks like he could still play 35 minutes in a college game, stands out as an example.
It seems impossible, but Adams has now been shaping young men’s lives and attitudes in Auburn for almost a full generation. He achieves loyalty, respect and accountability without using fear and intimidation. He wins and loses with equal dignity. And his players reflect it, both on the court and when they get to the real world, time after time.
Sports have become a target for people with the unenviable task of making budget cuts. They’re seen as frivolous compared to reading, writing and arithmetic. They’re starting to get the same treatment band, chorus, wood shop and home economics have received for years as we bow to this short-sighted get-a-four-year-degree-or-else mentality.
Lessons in the sports “classroom” have greater real-life application than much of the rote learning that goes in one ear and flies out the other. Sports provide a moral and ethical compass that so many kids (and heck, most adults) are lacking.
Sure, some kids come from great homes, and the contribution of their coaches is merely one piece in a wonderful puzzle. Others are floundering. For them, that coach is often the last line of defense before they’re sent into a world that’s ready to chew them up.
When they wind up graduating from college, teaching and coaching your grandchildren, fixing your car, doing your taxes or whatever great things await, just remember whom to thank.
I’ll start. Thank you, local basketball coaches. You made us proud last week, but your greatest championships are won elsewhere.
* Kalle Oakes was a 27-year veteran of the Sun Journal sports staff. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Keep in touch with him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @oaksie72.