"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)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hancock GBB: a long, continuing tradition

Anyone who checks this blog from time to time knows I write a lot about the change around us, both local and at the macro level. It's reassuring to see that certain things don't change, like the Hancock girls basketball program.
This quality has gone from one coaching regime into the next. The current regime is overseen by Jodi Holleman. She deserves a grade of A-plus. Anyone who works with her knows she goes the "extra mile," readily doing a lot of the little things that might not be spelled out in her contract.
Ensuring a strong summer commitment is part of this. Plus, nurturing the talent at the lowest grades (where organized basketball is practical).
Dedicated as the current regime is, let's not forget that it picked up the torch, as it were, from a regime that really set down building blocks. That previous regime was overseen by an individual who, as it turned out, had human failings that resulted in dire legal consequences. There was prison time.
The history of that person at Hancock can never be assessed without weighing those flaws that brought him down in terms of his teaching/coaching career. But if we could put blinders on for a moment regarding those flaws, and remember his coaching years, what a program that was for such a small school!
Who can forget the packed UMM P.E. Center for tournament games? Many of those years were when the two-class system was in effect. Making state was arguably harder.
Sometimes I think the two-class system actually made teams work harder, because they knew they weren't going to be insulated from larger schools in the post-season. It almost seemed like a baseball player swinging a weighted bat while getting ready to hit. The extra weight made you work harder.
Hancock had the ability to outplay a lot of larger schools. Was it superior talent? Look, these were great kids and they had ability, but with all due respect I would answer "no" to that.
After watching Hancock I would sometimes feverishly tell people around Morris that there was nothing magical about what was happening there - that those principles could be applied here if we just chose. I got stigmatized a little for talking like that.
We here in Morris face a paradox: we have found it suitable to build such state of the art, extensive and downright opulent new facilities for sports. And yet we seem complacent when it comes to setting the highest standards for sports achievement.
It's as if we feel guilty suggesting that the Hancock model is doable here.
Part of us insists that school exists for academics. Yes, you're so right. But my goodness, we decided that our 1968 gym wasn't even good enough anymore. Now we have these new facilities that are absolutely cavernous.
Meanwhile Hancock sticks with its old reliable facilities and they're in state, playing at Williams Arena.
The performance gap probably isn't as great as it once was. I worked in the media in the 1980s and it was often perplexing how to handle the way smaller schools outperformed Morris so often. If they weren't outperforming Morris they were at least playing even with Morris. And I'm talking schools as small as Cyrus.
The problem with Morris Area today is a mysterious lack of spark for the post-season. Tiger teams that do well in the regular season mysteriously seem to flame out when the post-season begins.
Is there a psychologist we could consult? Is the school administration sending the right messages?
I don't know, but once again let's consider that paradox: we have opulent athletic facilities while at the same time having reservations about how committed to athletics we should be.
I remember a town leader in the 1980s saying that the superintendent "probably came up against an intelligentsia" because of UMM. It's not often I hear the word "intelligentsia."
Academic people can view sports as sort of barbaric, but the thinking isn't as prevalent as it once was. It's not as prevalent because the philosophy behind school sports has shifted.
The old "Hoosiers" model of elite sports has been modified so that participation and fairness are enhanced so much more. More sports are offered. The boomer generation (mine) would have really appreciated the new approach. We were born too early.
I think academic people as a whole have softened in their views toward athletics. Athletes aren't "heroes on campus" anymore. They are student athletes who blend these experiences with gaining knowledge.
I don't think University of Minnesota-Morris professors have any problems with athletics anymore.
UMM football players blend in with the overall student population much better, seamlessly probably, than in the 1970s when so many of these individuals had a "swagger" that could be annoying. Annoying as it was, most local people kept these thoughts to themselves.
The citizenry was also reluctant to suggest that our high school sports programs might be underfed or under-motivated. Making this judgment just seemed too "political" for most people.
As a media person I couldn't escape the realities. It was all plain as the nose on your face.
If I broached the subject, I risked being ostracized here on Sinclair Lewis' "Main Street."
Hancock got a reputation for climbing mountains in the 1980s and it probably didn't start with girls basketball. I think the tone was originally set by wrestling, where a unique personality name of Spencer Yohe plunged forward undaunted. Girls basketball picked up on that momentum.
The Hancock girls developed a running and pressing personality. You might say it wasn't ladylike. Who cares? Is this what held back Morris?
Finally Morris got a reprieve when the four-class system was instituted for post-season. No longer would Morris Area have to be compared so closely with those Hancock Owls.
But the ghosts of that earlier era are surfacing again as Hancock plays at Williams Arena while the Morris basketball programs, boys and girls, are languishing in terms of post-season.
The Morris boys mysteriously lost to West Central Area at home in the first round - a first-round knockout. The Morris girls lost to Osakis at the start.
I won't claim I know all the answers. But it seems we need programs that are a little more befitting our facilities here, and our status as the "big school" in the Morris area.
BTW, Happy St. Urho's Day!
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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