In March of 2005, Henryville HS won its second of back to back
boys' basketball sectional championships and we got to go to Franklin Community
school and practice.That is where the
regional was going to be held that March.But we also got to go and attend a coaches meeting where the host school
goes over all sorts of details about the regional and the coaches can speak to
each other if they desire exchanging game tapes and stories about how bad their
team is despite winning the sectional.
At that time I was the JV coach for Henryville HS and Jack
Brooks was the varsity coach.The head
coach at South Decatur at the time was Shane Billingsley.I am going to let you in on a little secret
in the coaching world.Some coaches
believe they are bigger than the game and will "big time" you when
you are "just a JV coach" however, most do not do this.Shane Billingsley was not and is not that
way.He approached me and told me we had
something in common and that was we were members of HickoryHusker.com.It is a paid basketball website where the
entire community of Indiana can discuss issues about the greatest sport there
Coach Billingsley and I talked for about 15 minutes and I
was impressed with his sincerity as well as his humility.We became friends from there and emailed,
texted and have spoken often.It was
later when I found out about his son Ayden.Ayden who is 4 1/2 now is one of the sweetest little boys you will ever
meet.He has that interest in the world
that you have before you are battle tested and have grown cynical (see many adults).There is one thing different,
however, about Ayden and that is he has DNA Depletion Syndrome or Mitochondrial
Disease.Every 30 minutes a child is
born with a mitochondrial disease.
From Ayden's webswite:What is Mitochondrial Disease? Mitochondria is responsible for 90% of
the energy needed by the body to sustain life and support growth. When they
fail, less and less energy is generated within the cell. Cell injury and even
death follow. If this process is repeated throughout the body, whole systems
begin to fail, and the life of the person is severely compromised. This disease
usually affects children. This disease usually affects the cells of the brain,
heart, liver, skeletal muscles, kidneys, and respiratory system. There are three forms of DNA depletion: 1. Congenital: Severe lactic acidosis. Death due to
respiratory failure usually occurs prior to one year of age. 2. Infantile: Weakness appears and worsens in the first year
of life. Respiratory failure occurs in the first few years of life. 3. Hepatopathy: Enlarged liver and intractable liver
failure. Death is typical in the first year.
You can visit Ayden's website at
Ayden's Army to find out more about Ayden and
joining his Army and his 2012 fundraiser coming up with dinner (free will
offering) and dancing ($5).This will all
take place at St.Mary's Perish Hall in North Vernon, IN.There is also a silent auction and you can go
to his site for online bidding as well.
On Friday and Saturday nights are when coaches are often
seen, but there is a culture of bonding that exists with some coaches.Not all want to be involved as much, but many
coaches know that they share common problems, successes, and issues.Most, if not all, are more than
willing to help each other with game tapes, open practices, and other things,
but when you can help a fellow coach/good human being like Shane Billingsley
and especially little Ayden, you do it.
I am writing this as an avowed IU sports fan and I know that is going to aggravate some people, it won't matter what I write and I can accept that. I love IU, I want them to beat UK all of the time, but I don't feel that I am an out of control fan when it comes to our main rival south of the Ohio River. I understand that UK recruits nationally and gets players from all over the United States and Indiana does everything it can to get Indiana players. I respect that and I don't feel crazy and blinded for a dislike of UK and here's why; this past year UK was as fun a team to watch that I have seen in a few years.
UK's basketball ability, IQ, mental toughness, professionalism and lack of "new school" problems was something to admire. They shared the basketball and did so many things well that they were either well coached (probably), but came together as a "team" better than any other this past season. I watched many games which they should have lost, but didn't because someone different would step and not allow it. Their collective, competitive, mental toughness would not allow it. During the NCAA tournament their attitudes were so professional that I was highly impressed and actually wanting them to succeed except for that one game in the regional semi finals. I picked them to win the whole thing before the tournament started and that was hard for me to do, but I really, really liked this UK team, really I did.
I always wondered if UK would win a national championship getting their one and done players each year. Would they be able to do that with younger players? Well they proved this season that they can. Can they do it again with a new group? Or was this group just that special? It will be interesting to see when the next championship comes. In the short term, it proves you can win a championship with those type of players, but what about the long term? This year had experience in senior, Darius Miller, and two sophomores (Doron Lamb and Terrance Jones) who had plenty of experience. When will the next championship come along? No question that John Calipari can flat get it done recruiting the top players in the nation. Another thing I have thought about in the past when it came to Coach Calipari and his recruiting at UK is how would UK fans handle having a new team each year or a new "great" player each year? Would they buy into this way of recruiting without getting to learn everything to know about each team and player? The answer; UK fans want to "just win baby".
I really enjoy how Tom Crean has recruited at IU getting some of the better players from in state staying to compete. Most of those guys will stay at least two years or more and I think that is good; win or lose. I think IU will be competitive nationally and could win a national championship with the way Crean has gone about recruiting and building his team. I support how he has done this (not that it matters what I think) as I do believe that most IU fans do. But winning a national championship because you had five first round NBA draft picks would be a nice thing to have every once in awhile, I am just not sure I want them to always be freshmen and sophomores.
One of the cool things about college basketball is that players stay for 2-4 years and you can get attached to them before they leave (see Darius Miller for UK). I think I know what most UK fans want, they want to win national championships no matter how it's done (no matter how it's done). I know that I really like getting to know the players at IU before they graduate. You live and die and support those guys for this time that they play and you grow attached to them as a fan. When they speak on senior day that is one of the most special moments in their career because they are seniors and have given so much to the program. Would I want IU to be like UK in its recruiting?
I can answer that question now that "no" I don't want that, however, if IU were winning national championships every few years doing that, I probably would change my mind. What's that say about me? In the end I am no different from any fan that wants their team to win and probably jealous that UK won a national championship and IU hasn't....yet.
On March 2, the Fellowship of Christian Athlete's rep from Indiana University reached out to me. Many, many people reached out in the following weeks aftere the tornado and continue to do so. Being the FCA rep at Henryville H.S., Dave Hudson (the FCA rep at IU and for southern IN) emailed me. That started a relationship that has developed quickly over the last six weeks. We met last Friday and spoke about possibly expanding my responsibilities with FCA in southern Indiana which is something I have been interested in the last few months.
But how that meeting came about was pretty amazing to me. Mr. Hudson works closely with the IU football team and coaching staff and he conveyed to me that they wanted to do something to help the Henryville community post tornado. Me writing this is going against Head Coach Kevin Wilson's wishes in that he wanted to maintain low publicity, in fact, he wanted none. But I believe that something like this needs to be public. It needs to be known that Coach Wilson is not in Bloomington just worrying about putting together a winning football program (keep working coach!) but cares about the community he is serving. Hudson and the IU football team coordinated some things that were so unbelievably impressive that I felt it had to be acknowledged here.
I was asked by Hudson to speak to the football team at chapel last Friday before our meeting to discuss my future in helping FCA. I felt it was a great way to thank the players personally and Hudson felt it would be good for the players to hear from someone directly affected that day (though minimally). As we arrived we went to the football offices and were whisked almost immediately into head coach Kevin Wilson's office. Impressive office, but even more impressive was how congenial he was not to just me but to my wife Kristi and especially my two kids. Everyone associated with the football program were more than gracious with us as we walked around the building. Maybe it is because I am an IU fan, but it seemed genuine, I mean...I am a basketball coach, it isn't like I have any D1 football recruits that played for me.
Coach Wilson offered and we quickly accepted for the kids to go down onto the football field and to run around and play. I laughed while speaking with Hudson and my wife and got the thought across that the kids don't even realize what they are getting to do right now. I know IU football didn't have the greatest season last year, but with Coach Wilson's intensity and focus, if he gets the right players, I truly believe they will be competitive in the near future. What impressed me about Coach Wilson is that from what I know even though they didn't have the greatest season on the field last season, he seems to "get it" off the field. Ultimately he will have to win and he knows that, but I felt much better about the football program after Friday night.
I went in and addressed the entire football team and coaching staff speaking for 15-20 minutes and then when finished my family was invited by Coach Wilson to hang around for awhile. He spoke to me again personally and had very kind words to say about living in Oklahoma and knowing somewhat what the people of Henryville were going through. The players were accomodating and kind to us and showed me respect.
I have spoken about the IU programs that have reached out because they have done so to me personally. I do know that the University of Louisville football team came to Henryville and worked, they visited injured people in hospitals, and so did some of the Indianapolis Colts players. There have been many people from all over who have either sent items to Henryville or physically visited and/or worked there in cleaning up. It has been amazing.
We finished the night with the kids playing on the football field again and Hudson and I speaking about the future. I hope that the team and coaching staff got as much out of the night my family and I did. We are IU fans, so I doubt that the football team did get as much from some nobody former basketball coach, but Coach Wilson was able to make some dreams come true for two people....oh yea and my two kids, too.
Man oh man, how much do I appreciate my mom and dad, David and Elizabeth Hunter. Growing up my parents did something that I didn't appreciate until I became an adult and even more when I became a teacher and coach. That thing I appreciated was that one or both showed up at all of my sister's and/or my events.
My dad knew very little about sports and always joked about getting the sports mixed up that we played. My mom just loved us and probably knew more than dad and was for sure a lot more competitive when it came to us being successful or not. But they sat through little league games and practices from the time we started playing until, well, they still came to my games when I was a varsity basketball coach.
It is painful for me to sit through my kid's little league practices. The coaches are doing a fine job, and I couldn't be happier (they volunteered, I didn't, I just want to be dad), but the talent level and the lack of knowledge of the kids (they are 4 and 7 years old, I can hear it now...backoff Coach Hunter) drives me crazy. I am not pointing fingers at other kids, I am also speaking of my own children. They have so long to go, a long way to go. I really am not one of those parents that expects perfection from their children at such a young age, I do want them to have fun, play hard, and listen to their coaches.
Then I went to a j.v. baseball game this past Saturday (it was in my backyard). These were younger kids trying to show why they should be playing up at the varsity level. It was a beautiful Saturday, not a cloud in the sky, just warm enough that a long sleeve t-shirt might be too much. And I sat there and watched what I hope my kids become some day. Hard nosed, competitive, with more advanced skills. Playing for the love of the game, playing to show the varsity coach why they deserve varsity PT, playing for themselves, yet playing for the name on the front of the chest. My son watches these players as well as all players at games we go to, I can only hope that the role models he and my daughter choose are the ones I would pick for them like those we saw Saturday.
Now, back to my kids, I am only half kidding about being driven crazy at my kids practices (I love their games), and I do love my kids and I will go to their practices and work with them in the back yard. Because that is this time isn't it? To be frustrated, yet loving. To work with them to improve, yet let them have fun. To try and "coach" them at home and have them not listen to one word I say because I am dad. This is that time right? And these will be the times I reflect upon in the future when they are playing high school sports and me wishing I could get this time back because I loved it....even though they drove me crazy.
After writing about how I struggle sometimes, ok, a lot of the time with my kids, Al Eckert an administrator at Silver Creek Middle School sent me this writing, and I thought it was so good I wanted to share with everyone.
Listen, son:I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead.I have stolen into your room alone.Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me.Guiltily I came to your bedside.
There are things I was thinking, son:I had been cross to you.I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel.I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes.I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.
At breakfast I found fault, too.You spilled things.You gulped down your food.You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread.And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, “Goodbye, Daddy!”and I frowned, and said in reply, “Hold your shoulders back!”
Then it began all over again in the late afternoon.As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles.There were holes in your stockings.I humiliated you before your friends by marching you ahead of me to the house.Stockings were expensive—and if you had to buy them you would be more careful!Imagine that, son, from a father!
Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes?When I glanced over the paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door.“What is it you want?” I snapped.
You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither.And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs.
Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me.What has habit been doing to me?The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding—this was my reward to you for being a boy.It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth.I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.
And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character.The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills.This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush and kiss me good night.Nothing else matters tonight, son.I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!
It is a feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours.But tomorrow I will be a real daddy!I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh.I will bite my tongue when impatient words come.I will keep saying as if it were a ritual:“He is nothing but a boy—a little boy!”
I am afraid I have visualized you as a man.Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary on your cot, I see that you are still a baby.Yesterday you were in your mother’s arms, your head on her shoulder.I have asked too much, too much. What's that have to do with sports? Take a moment and ask yourself as a parent how you react to your children when they are playing athletics. There is nothing, nothing wrong with expecting for them to be as good as they can be, to work hard and to listen to their coaches, but sometimes, sometimes we just need to be mom and dad.
I have been accepted to go on a mission tour this summer in southeast Asia (if you want more info email me at firstname.lastname@example.org) with Athletes in Action. Because of that I was invited to go to New Orleans and volunteer with Final Four events for AIA and I accepted.
One week after the tornado hit Henryville, I received in the mail a packet from the school in Smithville, MS sent by teacher Jill Horne. Inside that packet were letters written by students from 3rd grade all the way through to junior high. Smithville had been hit by an EF 5 tornado last year and it is a town smaller than Henryville and they endured many deaths.
Inside those letters were story after story of encouragment, about turning to God, that things will get better, and to don't be afraid. As I sat and read those letters, I started thinking about our town and did we really deserve all of the good things that had happened to us since the storm. Probably not. What those letters did was remind me that even though we may not deserve such great things happening to us, we need to deserve it in the future. We need to reach out and help communities that will go through similar situations.
Since I decided I was going to volunteer in New Orleans, and since Smithville was on the way, I made it a point to stop in and personally thank those students and teachers for thinking about us. I learned and had reinforced a few lessons that day: young people are pretty neat sometimes, after tragedy, life does go on, the events will never be forgotten as they were eager to tell me their stories from a year ago, and you can lean on others, you have to lean on others to make it through tough times.
Smithville schools are a group of trailers (new school being built now) attached to each other, they have storm shelters outside of the facility (good idea), they have students that were picking on each other, they had events going on, they were living their lives. Life goes on, I saw it with my own eyes and I heard it with my own ears.
I am typing this today, April 2, our first day back to school in a month and so far, it has been chaos; a good chaos the kind of chaos that sounds like kids ready to get back to some kind of normal. Give it a couple of days and things will become normal and it will be better and we will all have a great story to tell for the rest of our lives.