Category Archives: Reads

This Is Our House

“This is our house.”
You hear this quite often in sports.
Home field.
The home field advantage.

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At the western gateway of Clay Center we have our sports houses.
We have Unruh Stadium for football.
We have Kelly Campbell Field for baseball.
Our home fields. Our houses.

Campbell Shack Unruh Scoreboard 2

But our sports houses have not been taken care of very well.
Sports fields need maintenance. Almost daily maintenance.
Our fields and stadiums have not been maintained well.
They need some care.
They need us, the community.

Unruh Stands South

Campbell 1B Dugout

There’s been a lot of finger pointing about these problems.
Lots of blame, lots of ideas, very little action.
It reminded me of a phrase Coach Dail Smith would tell our football kids.
“When you point the finger of blame, remember three of your own fingers are pointing straight back to you.”

It was time to become part of the solution.

In late 2013, Rex Carlson, Larry Wallace, Jr. and I took on a project to renovate Campbell Field.
The mayor gave us the fancy title of the ad hoc Committee for Campbell Field Renovation.
Why in the world would we take on such a daunting task?

First, there was the eye test.
Things had fallen apart.
The playing surface was a mess.
Dugouts, mounds, bullpens, fence…all a mess.
Lack of daily maintenance, lack of water, and lots of Kansas wind did major damage.

Second, there was the ear test.
People were saying a lot of bad things about our baseball field. Many of these people were the same people who failed to raise a finger to help, who failed to hold up their promises and turned away from their commitments.
Their words stung. Their words lit a fire.
Their words fueled a change.

Third, we opened our own eyes and saw the work being done for area youth baseball. We saw kids enjoying the game of baseball all around us. We saw teams practicing and working to get better. We saw youngsters smiling and playing the game.

We knew these kids deserved a decent place to play the game.

We also knew the most important thing to accomplish was a renovation plan that could be maintained within the limited budget and resources of the city and the city recreation department. The plan needed to be smart, it need to be maintainable and it needed to maximize every dollar graciously donated by people and businesses of our community toward the project.

With the blessing and support of the city, we are working toward making Campbell Field a safe, playable, rural Kansas 4A high school baseball field. This is our goal. Our goal is not to build a professional or collegiate field. Our system could never maintain such a dream field.

Campbell Infield

In all honesty, facilities aren’t not the best of investments. The more resources you spend on them, the more resources it takes to maintain them. Our philosophy is to take care of what we have so our community can spend the bulk of their  limited resources on programs, not facilities.

We are getting closer to our goal and have set up a fund for donations through the Clay Center Community Improvement Foundation to help the common sense renovations of Campbell Field, Schaulis Field, and Montel Field. If you are interested in helping the cause through  a greatly appreciated donation or an in-kind donation, please contact Rex, Larry, me, or the CC Community Improvement Foundation for information.

I hope a similar, common sense financial approach will be taken with Unruh Stadium renovation.

Unruh from scoreboard

A plan to fix the structural problems and maintain the facility for the long-term. A plan to address the ADA compliant issues with perhaps ramp/viewing areas (30-40 feet across) at the ends of the stands following the basic design Oakley, Kansas used on their WPA-era stadium renovation a few years back.

 

Oakley Stadium1

 

Maybe even redesign the player and fan space in the stadium by turning the current home locker room, men’s restroom, storage room,and referee room at the south end into a new men’s and women’s restrooms/concession area in that space. At the north end of the stadium, expand the visitor’s locker room into current women’s restroom and add additional showers in that space. A new metal building could be constructed for the home locker room/referee room/storage room in the grass area south of the stadium where the team bus currently parks. The fencing behind the stadium needs a face-lift anyway and could be moved to accommodate this structure.  If funds are available or raised, a limestone arched entryway/ticket booth addition would look great attached to the north and south end of the stadium.

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I thoroughly appreciate my years enjoying this view while coaching football.

It was a blast to have coached football and baseball in Clay Center.

It was an honor to be a part of something so special.

We do have something special in Clay Center. Believe me, coming from a 6A city school, what we have in Clay Center, with our fields, our fans, and our kids are all very, very special.

I think it’s time to go to work. It’s time to keep our special things special.

Purpose. Pride. Passion.

The Clay Center Way.

 

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“Beware the Autumn People” Halloween Read 2014

Excerpt from SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury.

Chapter 39: Charles Halloway speaking to Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade in the library as they investigate and try to evade the evil Mr. Dark, the Dust Witch, and the other Pandemonium Shadow Show Freaks.

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His voice trailed off. ‘. . .Beware the autumn people. . . .’

‘What?’

‘An old religious tract. Pastor Newgate Phillips, I think. Read it as a boy. How does it go again?’

He tried to remember. He licked his lips. He did remember.

‘“For some, autumn comes early, stays late through life where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ’s birth, there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring, or revivifying summer. For these beings, fall is the ever normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond.
Where do they come from?
The dust.
Where do they go?
The grave.
Does blood stir their veins?
No: the night wind.
What ticks in their head?
The worm.
What speaks from their mouth?
The toad.
What sees from their eye?
The snake.
What hears with their ear?
The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles—breaks.
Such are the autumn people.
Beware of them.”’

After a pause, both boys exhaled at once.

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NOTE: If you have never read this book, or, if it’s been a long time since you have, I highly recommend it. Classic Bradbury in a spine-tingling fashion.

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Hitting Position: The Hosmer Breakdown

Hitting Position

Hitting position is a fundamental common to every good swing. The stances may vary, the styles may vary as much, or more, than the individual fingerprints of each and every batter, but HITTING POSITION IS A FUNDAMENTAL

A batter who gets to hitting position EVERY PITCH, no matter where their stance starts, makes for a consistent hitter. It’s important and it’s vital, and it’s simple. Hitting position consistency is key to being a consistent hitter. The best hitters in MLB get to hitting position every single pitch.

What is hitting position?

Hitting position starts the moment the stride (front) foot hits the ground. If you freeze frame this moment, this are the factors necessary for a proper hitting position:

  • Eyes level.
  • Front arm square or about at a 45° angle.
  • Stride foot landing of ball of foot and with a solid “stick” to stop forward slide of body. Outside of foot should be facing the pitcher.
  • Bottom hand stays in loaded position (at back shoulder level and over the back foot no more than 6 inches away from shoulder) with no lift of slide forward as weight shifts forward with stride.
  • Bat at 45° angle, do not wrap bat behind head.
  • An imaginary line drawn from the left foot to the neck to the right foot and back to the left foot should form a nice, isosceles triangle, indicating a balanced body.

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Load

In order to swing with a quick and powerful hitter’s swing, the body and bat needs to be loaded properly. Technically, it is a plyometric, pre-stretch of the muscle groups which allow for an explosive muscle fiber contraction and a quick, powerful swing. I tell hitter’s in my coaching sessions that it’s like shooting a rubber band at your sister. Do you take that big, thick, Sunday morning paper rubber band and only pull it back an inch before firing it in the direction of their beloved sister? Heck no! You pull that rubber band back as far as you can so you can fire it at that beloved sibling with explosive speed and power.

A baseball swing is just like this, and with a bonus. You can not only hit the ball hard every time at bat, but you can sleep well knowing that sister is not planning late-night revenge upon your person. Win-win situation.

The Load

  • Loose, relaxed grip on bat from a loose, relaxed body.
  • Bouncy – Athletes move on the balls of their feet, not flat-footed or with weight on the heels.
  • Hitter’s rhythm – rock side to side, when one heel comes off the ground the weight shifts to the other heel on the ground. Hitters should naturally rock with this rhythm almost unconsciously, even when just standing around. (It’s how we find each other in the crowd…look for the guys rocking back and forth in hitter’s rhythm).
  • Load – When weight rocks to back foot, the hands load to the back shoulder and lock into place. The rubber band has been pulled and now you are ready to stride and stick the perfect hitting position.

Offseason work

The great thing about these simple drills is the young hitter can perform them over and over and over again in front of a mirror from the comfort of the house all winter long without fear of breaking the new lamp or swinging a bat into the family’s new 52” HD television in the living room.

  • Bouncy Feet vs. Flat Feet – feel the difference between athletic feet (on ball of feet) vs. Coach Hays’s fat, old man feet (flat feet) as you hop 10 times with each style. Then do 10 side-to-side hops with each style.
  • Rock and Rhythm – a relaxed back and forth movement to train body the quiet weight shift of a hitter.
  • Rock, Rhythm and Load – check for proper load position, especially with lower hand to back shoulder.
  • Load, Stride, Freeze – check yourself for proper hitting position in the mirror.

 Hitting Position Breakdown of Eric Hosmer

 HosmerFrontViewHosmerSideView

Here are a front and side freeze frame from the Vine video of Eric Hosmer’s home run in the 12th inning in the ALDS against the Angels. Hitting position. I froze the video when his stride foot hit the ground. Almost perfect. He naturally loads his bat a little further back than his shoulder, which runs a fine line between his compact swing when he’s hot and if he loads the bat even an inch or so further back. The further back a hitter loads, the straighter his arm becomes in the load beyond 45° the longer and slower his swing.

He is also shown here landing on the ball of his stride foot. As he swings and opens up the weight shifts back to his heel. His style, but one thing Hosmer does when he’s in a slump is land more on his heel than ball of his foot. When he does that his back shoulder dips, his arm straightens and his swing is long.

Right now, he’s money. Right now, he’s sticking his hitting position.

Hitting a baseball is not rocket science.

But, hitting with a fundamentally sound, consistent hitting position is the science of hitting rockets.

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A Past Post – “Game Of Tears: September 14, 2001″

(Author’s Note: Of all the things I’ve written on this blog, this post from 2013 is something I am probably most proud of. I really had forgotten about the football events around the 9/11 disaster until last year. For some reason, it all came flooding back in a full-bore emotional wave. It was tough to revisit; it struck an emotional nerve, a serious emotional nerve. This 9/11, say a prayer, take a moment to remember, be a little nicer to your fellow man, and smile away the small problems in life.) 

It was Football Friday Night in America. Maybe it shouldn’t have been. Believe me, it was hotly debated before the decision was made to move forward with the week’s scheduled games. This was no ordinary Football Friday Night, this was the Football Friday Night a mere 80 hours after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. It was also only one of two times I’d been brought to tears associated with a football game, either as a coach or a player.

CONTACT/S: 30 Exhibition -ACP

In the grand scheme of things, football is not life. Sure there are ups and downs, wins and losses, injuries and triumphs all associated with this great game. Even so, I’ve never really felt the need to cry over a sport, even one I am so passionate about. But on that night, September 14, 2001, standing on a football field in my homeland of Wyandotte County, KS, tears streamed down my face from the emotion of that awful week in American history.

The powers that be in the state decided to go ahead and play the scheduled games that Friday. I don’t envy the people who made that decision; it had to be a difficult one to say the least. But we needed to move forward, we needed to establish a normalcy in our own backyards. We needed  to find some way to accept the inexplicable tragedy and restore some means of logic into our lives.

At Tuesday practice the evening of the tragic events, all I remember is that we were shell-shocked. I don’t recall much from that afternoon except trying to establish some sort of normal practice within the quagmire of shock. And these poor teenage boys asked question after question of which there were no answers to.

After we watched the horrific images on television, we tried to cope with the unimaginable event as best we could for the next two days. America was attacked on its own soil by terrorist. As hard as it was, we tried to keep this on the periphery and keep a football focus in order to give the kids a place to escape the tragedy, if only for a few hours.

Friday came. Game day. We made a two and a half hour bus trip to Kansas City Piper High School. The normal pre-game preparations ensued as game time crept closer. I was looking forward to this trip because this game was in Wyandotte County. I was born and raised in Wyandotte County, it is in my blood. It is a tough-minded place that produced tough-minded people. The whole Kansas City family was there and my own family made the trip also. I felt a great sense of pride coming home coaching the visiting team against a school I really hadn’t liked since the misguided days of my youth.

Both teams lined up before the game in the middle of the football field. Uniform color did not matter one bit as the kids and coaches and officials stood together for a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks. So there I stood in silence, the soil of my homeland holding me onto a planet tipping wildly out of control, questions and chaos threatening to punt me into the stratosphere of despair.

The moment of silence seemed to last forever and a day. There was nothing but stillness and quiet. No whispers and no jokes from even the most immature of teenage boys. No noise from the large crowds gathered, the traffic seemed to freeze in time and even the sun dove for the horizon in hues of orange across the cloud-tinged blue sky. Solemn. The very meaning of the word.

Then the National Anthem began and I think everyone within a ten mile radius of the stadium sang the Star Spangled Banner that night. It was beautiful. It was meaningful. Of the hundreds of times I’ve sang it in school and the thousands of times I’ve heard it at various events, it has never really hit an emotional string. But, this time, on Piper High School Field, mere days after terrorists attempted to destroy the very heart and soul of America, the national anthem hit home.

We sang it loud and we sang it poorly. Nobody cared. We were united. When we hit the last three lines, I think the true spirit, emotion, and meaning of the Star Spangled Banner flooded across me for the first time ever.

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

I understood. The meaning was crystal clear. Our flag was still here, our country was still here, and it would take more than an act of terrorism to squash our spirit. The flood of emotions pent-up all week flowed down my cheeks in the tears. The horror, the sadness, the loss, the pain, and the total helplessness dripped with each salty tear from my eye.

I wasn’t sure whether it was right to play those games on the Friday night until that moment. It was the right thing to do. By moving forward with these sporting events it not only provided a distraction away from 24 hours of news coverage, it gave a reason for Americans to congregate and spend time with their community. It gave us a chance to begin the healing process.

We won more than a football game that night. We, as a group, learned to persevere and to move forward.

God Bless America!

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Apples and Crackers

When it came to coaching football, I was stupid. Seriously, most of the time, I was too oblivious to things going on outside of football while we were supposed to be doing football. Case in point, apples and crackers.

Apples and crackers? What in the heck do they have to do with football? Sit down, get a cool drink, and I’ll tell you.

It started with early season home JV games, you know those late August/early September HOT games. For this particular first home date, we played an area team who would bring both their freshman team and JV team over for a doubleheader. Me, as JV coach, thought (with the football coach’s blinders firmly in place) this would be a perfect opportunity to practice. Since our JV game would be starting a bit later than usual, we could get a full varsity team practice in. So, I made the last-minute, executive decision to practice instead of letting JV kids have some time off after school. Perfect. An extra almost-full practice. Priceless.

Well, maybe not. The first year we did this, we loaded the JV team up after the practice and drove to the stadium. We arrived about halftime of the freshman game. While standing around before warm-ups, a few of the kids talk about how hungry they are and how they had nothing to eat since lunch. Parents with high school boys are well aware of this time warp, which extends the hours between lunch and 6:00 PM into a seemingly 19-day fasting period for these youngsters. Long story short, I knew we would play like dookie and whine like cats in the bathtub if I didn’t find something for them to eat.

With the visual of 20+ angry mothers confronting me about not allowing their fine sons to eat before playing a JV football game, I scoot over to Coach Lane, explain the problem, and we coaches pool what little coaching cash we have for him to run to the store. He asked me what in the hell he should get for them. I went blank and when my brain kicked into gear, I blurted out the first two food items which entered my mind. Apples and crackers.

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Ten minutes later, after we are completely dressed out and the freshman game is about at the end of the third quarter, Coach Lane returns with four giant bags of Jonathan apples (my personal favorite) and four boxes of Zesta saltine crackers.

That night, the boys ate like kings. I’ve never seen young men enjoy a meal of two completely ridiculous “power” foods like those boys did that night. I was fortunate to grab two apples for my own dinner without losing a limb in the process. Those apples and those crackers disappeared in about two minutes. Smiles all around and life was good.

Game On!

Apples and crackers became a tradition for the first home JV game for the next several years. It was like a team banquet or something for these kids. Some still talk about it. The majority of the time, stupidity fades faster than a shot from a Roman candle. But, sometimes, there is a rare occasion where stupidity sticks and enjoys a long life. The incident of the apples and crackers was one of these rare events.

Live well, boys! Celebrate the start of the 2014 football season with an apple and a few saltine crackers.

Enjoy the snack with the zeal of youth.

Enjoy it for your football memories.

Most importantly, enjoy it for Friday Night in America.

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Football is NOT Life: Reprise 2014

I  wrote the blog post, Football is NOT Life, in 2010. I was two years out of my bad breakup with football coaching. The obsession with coaching the sport was waning and life, my real, actual life was beginning to seep back into its position of dominance in my psyche. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never experienced it. Football coaching, coaching in general, has a tendency to take over the way one thinks.

How would I block this play against this front? If they shift into this formation, how will our defense adjust?

Everything football all the time. Every day, all year long, probably 50% on average of all my thought processes circled back to football. That percentage probably jumped to 80% during the season. Analysis of every, single detail to find a way to be better. Every day.

Devising not only a Plan A and a Plan B, but a Plan C through Z also, just in case.

I wrote this mostly for me. I was the guilty party. I needed to put this on paper and post it to always remind me, Football is not life, life is life.

I am also re-posting the original blog piece for you.  You know, you folks out there who have let things slip out of focus. The ones who are half crazed with the emotion and the frustration and the disappointment associated with sports, especially when things are heading south in a hurry.

Everybody wants to win, it is written in the marrow of our bones. However, not everybody can win and we need to remind ourselves there are worse things in life than losing a game of football, no matter how much it hurts.

Respect the kids and respect the coaches. Respect the work and effort everyone invests, no matter how disappointing the outcome is. Use games and sports to build character in our young people, not to expose poor character.

Please read this post and think about it.  If it helps, then pass it on to the next person before we adults take all the fun out of this great game.

 

(originally posted on September 21, 2010)

FOOTBALL IS NOT LIFE 

I know this may sound highly irrational and maybe even a bit hypocritical coming from me, but contrary to what the t-shirts say, FOOTBALL IS NOT LIFE!.

Football is the greatest damn game ever invented, but it is not life.  Football is intensity, competitiveness, sportsmanship and violence, but it is not life.  Football requires immense strategy and teamwork, but it is not life.  Football provides education, drama, entertainment, and a solidarity which binds communities, campuses and fan bases throughout the nation, but it is not life.  Football is universal, it is played by presidents and paupers, genius and idiot, big and small, aggressive and passive, rich and poor, but it is not life.  Football should not be all consuming.  Football should not be the top priority.  I know this for a fact, I have tripped and fallen down this hole before (see my story).

Football can be like a package of Oreos, both need to be consumed in moderation.  You’ve been there, you opened the package of Oreos and left it out on the counter.  Sooner, rather than later, the whole package is gone and you don’t feel so good.  But if you open that package and only take a couple of Oreos and place the package in the cupboard for a later date, they not only taste spectacular, but last and satisfy for days upon days.  Football is not life.  It should be taken in moderation and/or with a tall glass of milk, (1% or skim preferably).

Football has it’s proper place, it has it’s proper perspective. Football is not the primary reason for the existence of high schools, colleges and universities.

Yes, football is important.  It is important to compete.  It is important to work hard to be the best coach or player you can be.  It is important to compete with purpose, pride and passion.  But I think Coach Paul Lane said it best with his prioritization of the sport, “Faith, Family, Football, in that order”.

Football is important to me.  But football is not life.  Let’s work to keep football in it’s proper perspective and place. I would hate for you to get a football belly-ache.

WilsonFootball

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The Snap

The sound. The sharp snap of a chin strap being fastened. It is a beautiful sound; a quick click of metal fastening to metal, followed by the crisp echo as the sound waves move through the plastic shell of the football helmet. A beautiful sound.

We have a unique situation for football in our town. Our stadium, the historic Otto Unruh Stadium, built in the depression by local workers using local limestone, is across town from the high school. So, for games, we had to ride busses from the school to the stadium. Some may look at this as an inconvenience, but I always thought it was pretty darn cool.

First, it gave the kids a game-mentality to associate with the stadium. We knew when we went to Otto Unruh Stadium, it was game time. We knew it was time to go to work and take care of business.

Second, the bus ride was kind of fun. After a home win, there was nothing better than to drive back across town with cars honking, people waving, and a bus full of singing, happy, sweaty, stinky, beat-up-but-not-feeling-a-lick-of-pain teenage boys. If we lost? Let’s just say the mood was a little more somber.

The most awesome thing, though, was the bus ride out to the Unruh Stadium. We made that ride in total silence. Yes, you read that correctly. 40 teenage boys fully dressed out to play a high school football game, riding in a school bus on a 10 minute drive across town in complete, utter silence. It was one of the many brilliant ideas of Coach Paul Lane.

The kids all knew the Coach Lane Silence Drill, especially on the second bus which carried most of the lineman and younger JV kids. Coach Lane and I were coach riders on that bus. Every once in a while, most often early in the year or riding out for a freshman or JV game, one of the younger kids, pumped up on nervous adrenaline, would say something. A simple hand up by me, or a stern look from an upperclassman would silence the bus again.

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The best part of the ride would happen after we crossed the bridge over Huntress Creek and prepare to turn left on “C” Street. As we came off the bridge, the sun would be falling over the limestone grandstands of the stadium a few blocks west of the bridge. You could feel the intake of breath throughout the bus. There was our house in all its glory, decked out with the orange and black flags, and the other various decorations associated with Friday Night in America. The scoreboard would be on and the lights may already be on, Otto Unruh Stadium was ready. Our stadium.

The Coach Hays part of the Coach Lane Bus Silence Rule was when we turned the corner on “C” street, everyone was to be strapped up and ready to step off the bus with fire in our eyes. The part which I hope stays fresh in my memory for the rest of my life would happen right there. The moment when the bus driver would turn the corner and behind me I would hear, no I would feel, the snap of 40 chin straps being fastened in almost perfect unison. It gives me chills just to think about it. That beautiful sound of the snap, 40 times within a second, and spread out just enough to where I could almost hear each individual snap.

The bus would continue, the silence would continue, and when Coach Lane stepped off the bus inside the stadium, Rocky, our radio announcer in the booth, would start “Welcome to the Jungle” at the second Coach Lane’s foot hit the ground. Friday Night in America, boys and girls.

I miss that ride. I miss that sound probably more than just about anything from the coaching days at CCCHS. In my head the echo of those snaps lingers. I can only hope when I am on my deathbed, after I see the faces of my family and after my life flashes before my eye, the very last sound I hear as I turn the corner toward my glorious stadium, will be the “SNAP!” of a chorus of football helmets.

 

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