"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Coaching football and guiding the boomers

I once interviewed a retiring Morris teacher who was head varsity football coach in the 1960s. He coached sub-varsity after his tenure as head coach. That's a little unusual - being willing to coach the younger grades after you've experienced the Klieg lights of having the varsity reins.
So this guy gets credit as a "trooper." He had the "privilege" of being a teacher and coach when the boomer youth made their way through our public educational system.
He told me he wasn't enthused about the post-season prep football playoffs which were new. Yes, there was a time not that long ago in the scheme of things, when the end of the regular season was the end of the season, period.
So what did the teams play for? Well, they played for their conference championship. The teacher/coach told me that in the era sans playoffs, "when you won your conference championship it really meant something."
One of the problems with the post-season is that all but a handful of teams end the season with a loss. Basketball has dealt with this reality for a long time. But not football.
Why was football a late comer? The biggest reason is probably that it is an outdoor sport, so extending the season can bring the predictable weather perils including snow and ground hardened by sub-freezing temperatures.
I'll toss out the name of the former Morris coach because I don't think I'm quoting him in any way that he would find objectionable. He's Stan Kent.
Hats off to Mr. Kent and his colleagues of that era for guiding the boomers along. We were coming of age at a turbulent time when our whole national culture was feeling shocks. Conventions were being challenged left and right. Justice on racial and gender issues was bubbling up.
By the early '70s we finally got girls sports established, awkwardly and with some pain at first, as the pioneering varsity teams didn't have the proper mastery of game fundamentals. But with time and the underpinning of (legally mandated) institutional support, it succeeded completely.
Mr. Kent happened to coach varsity football when the high school sports model was more along the lines of the movie "Hoosiers." Kent coached the Tigers at Coombe Field before it was called Coombe Field because Bill Coombe was still with us. I played a year of elementary basketball under "Mr. Coombe." Later I had him for seventh grade social studies.
I remember playing some elementary games at the old Morris armory, a memorable edifice that burned down in the mid-1960s. The public library is there today. I also remember playing an elementary game at the Donnelly town hall against the Donnelly boys who had their own cheerleaders.
"Get your men, get your men," Donnelly coach Dave Holman implored his boys as they went on defense.
We wore T-shirts instead of actual uniforms. The same was true of Little League baseball - T-shirts rather than major league facsimile uniforms of today.
I got to thinking about the high school football playoffs because of looking at the Star Tribune sports section Thursday. The section announced the slate of quarter-final state playoff games. I was sure I would find Big Cat Stadium of Morris in the listing of venues.
One of the biggest selling points of our still-new football stadium was that it could host these grand, high-level High School League playoff games. But I couldn't find Big Cat in there.
I don't know the reason but I find this unusual.
Fans everywhere have to hold their breath through these late-stage playoff affairs until everyone finally ends up indoors at the Metrodome. I don't think it's named for Hubert Humphrey anymore. Humphrey was a Democrat and that equates with some pretty bad things today. We don't want to alienate the tea party people. So today it's "Mall of America Field at Metrodome."
It could be worse, tea partiers, as there was a time in this state when we named a highway after socialist governor Floyd B. Olson. Of course, to properly view these decisions of putting the HHH and Olson names on things, you need a sense of historical perspective. And that's quite too much to expect of tea partiers and the right wing in general.
I recall covering three games at the "Humphrey" Metrodome for Prep Bowl. Working for the legacy media, I covered the Morris Area Tigers in one of those years and the Chokio-Alberta Spartans in the other two.
The nine-man game was always first in the morning and nobody seemed fully awake and ready for it. Both times covering the C-A Spartans, I asked for my press credentials at the appropriate window and was told "they haven't arrived yet."
But I was able to talk my way down to the field. Those were the days when "press" people commanded easy respect. Today I use the term "legacy media" but then it was just the "media." There were the standard outlets that everyone took for granted.
Today I can just imagine what a madhouse it has become with how diversified the media picture is. Associations like the Minnesota State High School League all across the country have had to go through contortions adjusting to it. Since I'm pretty much out of the picture now, I can only speculate on where they're at.
The most logical resolution, to me, would be for the League to arrange to have its own photos taken at state events and then have those photos available online for any media entity that wants them. Since anyone can claim to be "media" today, there has to be a sense of order.
Picture-taking doesn't really cost money today because we have digital cameras that only involve a one-time purchase. I should attach an asterisk here because with the rate of improvement in all this technology, realistically you need to purchase new stuff every 3-4 years. This past fall for Morris Area football, I used my old Canon 35mm SLR camera, probably dating to the mid-1980s, and had film developed (and CDs made) at Thrifty White Drug in Morris.
The system served me fine although those developing expenses can add up. I greatly appreciate everyone who became aware of my website and visited. But to be honest, I wish I could see more evidence of a growing audience.
Since I'm being honest, I also admit it would be great to sit in the auditorium for the Lions Fall Sports Program and have coach Witt recite my name in his acknowledgments. But that's shooting for the moon, I guess. At least for now.
Jerry Witt is an elementary teacher unlike Mr. Kent who taught high school history. Kent and his generation of teachers guided us through times that were transitional in our society, and these educators merited kudos. We saw that they could be a little ossified and unmotivated at times but we didn't care! We didn't have helicopter parents back then, and our parents were pretty laid-back and relaxed about how things went at school, relatively speaking.
I do remember Mr. Kent asserting some firm discipline in class once. There was an irreverent spirit in class one day during unstructured time - I suspect there was much more unstructured time then than now - and a class clown type of student was speculating on how "extra credit" might be arranged in sex education. (There was no sex education in this particular class so it was just idle chatter. Sex education was an edgy concept at the time, a part of all the societal tumult and evolution we were going through.)
This particular student, who I will not name, went on about this "extra credit" until suddenly, abruptly Mr. Kent said "that's very un-funny!"
The "un-funny" resonated in a way that shut us all up immediately. The law had clearly been laid down. Those may have been edgy times but the fist of proper order and decorum had to be shaken once in a while.
We were reminded of that quite adequately. This is the stuff of class reunion reminiscences.
We got a new head football coach when I was about a sophomore - no, I didn't play so you can't blame any grammatical or spelling errors on head injuries - and he was so ballyhooed in his arrival, as a real genius and disciplinarian. But as I recall it, he underachieved badly. Mr. Kent would have done just fine staying in the role - most likely better.
Finally we arrived at the Witt chapter which has gone on about 30 years now. Where has the time gone?
Many coaches with that long a tenure have developed a wide girth but Witt is totally the opposite. He looks like he could run a 10K tomorrow. Now we just have to get him and the Tigers back down to Minneapolis for Prep Bowl again at "Metrodome."
Hubert H. Humphrey, RIP.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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