Korby's Connections: Kids connect with some sporting quotes
February 12, 2021
In my many years of coaching, I’ve heard some great unrehearsed lines from our local young athletes.
My coaching officially started while I was in college at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Jerry Erickson was Cloquet’s varsity boys basketball coach and asked me to coach fifth- and sixth-grade boys at Washington Elementary. He also took me to a few coaching clinics and had an outline of potential practice drills and schedules.
I felt prepared. But some things you just can’t predict, and it made for some interesting tales and memories. Here are a couple of my favorite coaching stories.
In those days, Cloquet participated in the Great Northwest Wisconsin basketball league. My Cloquet team of sixth-graders was playing Cumberland in Siren, 100 miles from Cloquet.
The format called for brackets with four games in one day, with all schedules determined by wins and losses. With our talent split into two teams, we rarely won more than two games, which was OK. I probably took coaching a little too seriously and always tried to win all four.
Some still talk about my courtside chair throwing, like Indiana coach Bob Knight, after my disgust with a referee in a fourth-grade game in Esko.
We should have thumped Cumberland. The kids had jested the team’s nickname should be Cucumbers and thought we’d easily win. Nothing was further from the truth. We couldn’t do anything right. We couldn’t make layups and they were draining outside shots. We were dribbling it out of bounds and passes were errant.
I knew I was losing it, so with about three minutes left in the first half, I left the bench and went to the locker room. My team was coachless. I heard the buzzer go off while I was in the restroom. We were down by 12s.
Returning to the gym floor at halftime, my players were all nervous, asking where I had been and if I was OK. A little bit of a fib, but I told them their play had made me so sick that I had to go to the restroom and throw up. Puzzled, one of my players, Nathan, asked, “If you had to throw up, how is it you still have gum in your mouth?” An acute awareness, and a favorite line.
My bizarre behavior worked. We won by 20. Coaching is rewarding.
Both of my kids were on the same Little League team, sponsored by the Cloquet firefighters, and we were playing an evening game in Carlton. The players were young, 7 to 9-year-olds, and for most games we used a pitching machine for consistency. The machine, when adjusted properly, would “throw” about 90-percent strikes. They were not cheap, and some ball clubs preferred actual pitching. Carlton was that way.
Kids who asked the coaches for the opportunity to pitch were usually given the chance. Nate was a bigger, stronger kid for our team and could throw the ball very hard. He had one fault — he was a bit wild, especially to left-handed batters. Nate cruised through the first inning. In the second inning, Carlton had back-to-back left-handed batters.
Nate’s first pitch almost went over the backstop. He showed a little anguish on his face and I could sense it as well. We yelled encouragement and told Nate to forget it and throw strikes. He reared back on his next pitch and fired the ball, which went right to the batter’s helmet. A hush fell over the crowd. Carlton coaches rushed out to help the batter. He was OK. No concussion protocol in those days.
Seeing his facial expression, I went to the mound to check on Nate. I could tell he felt bad and we both could hear some of the crowd’s displeasure. Trying to boost his confidence, I told him to try and relax, and to take some time and a deep breath before his next pitch. Nate acknowledged, and I went back to the sidelines.
The next Carlton lefty took his spot in the batter’s box. I saw Nate take a few seconds and find a comfortable spot on the pitching rubber. The batter dug in with his spikes, a mistake. Nate took a huge deep breath before his windup, as instructed. He fired the ball and — you guessed it — hit the batter even harder than the first, directly in the helmet.
After a brief silence, the crowd was showing more disgust and was even a little hostile. I went back to the pitching mound while the home team coaches attended to the Carlton batter. He appeared OK, no blood, thank goodness.
Nate looked terrible. I tried to settle him down. I figured I better bring in a relief pitcher. He stared up at me with baby-faced eyes and said he didn’t try to do it. His parting, dead-serious question from the mound: “Is his mother coming out here?”
Got a story idea for Steve? Contact him at [email protected]