The Best Years?

There’s a nugget of life advice often given to high school kids, particularly high school athletes. A nugget that is so off-the-rails I cannot believe it has survived

“These are the best years of your life.”

Best years? Lord, I hope not! The best years of your life in high school? That seems kind of depressing forecast on the power and potential of each young athlete and student.

The BEST years?

No, but they are special years. They are years in which the high school students are afforded unique life opportunities. They are special because the future is a blank and open canvas.

Teenagers, listen up! You may feel a giant load of pressure right now to define your future. The system will tell you that you should have the specifics of life cemented firmly in place by graduation day. WTeenagers, when that day arrives and this pressure mounts, fling off this weighted jacket of the system’s expectations.

The canvas of your future should be painted with your passions and desires and likes and dislikes. 

It’s okay not to know exactly what you want to do with your life when you are 18. It’s okay to say no to the dreams others have for you that aren’t fit for you. It’s okay to try something and fail and then get better for another try.

So why do we so often call these high school years the best? They aren’t. Or they shouldn’t be if you pursue your dreams.

Why do we, as adults, anchor kids down with low expectations? Teenagers grow up. Teenagers have great value even though they often bury or masks their potential. And sometimes, kids just need to get away and find another environment in which to blossom.

There’s an old coach’s saying. “The best thing about a freshman is that he becomes a sophomore.”

I believe in that saying and an expanded version which reads,

“The best thing about teenagers is that they become adults.”

As a coach, as a teacher, or even as a parent, remember those teenagers who are driving you absolutely bat-poop crazy today, have the potential to be awesome and productive citizens in the near or far future. They need dreams, resources, and some adults to believe in them.

Believe in your kids.

See the good in them.

Recognize their potential.

Help them down the path to fulfill their passions.

Make them work to achieve their dreams.

Be there to help them rebound when they fail.  Give them the space to back up, reassess, grow, and attack time after time until the dream is a reality.

Develop in them a strong gluteus maximus rubberi, so they know how to bounce up when life knocks them on their ass.

And please people, stop it with the “best years of your life” advice to teenagers. Teach them to believe in the potential of tomorrow. Teach them to work and to fail and to bounce back.

The high school years are special years. Enjoy every minute and every experience. But graduating high school is not the endgame. Life is the endgame. And, if my math is correct, most of us hope to have much more life to experience after high school.

To each and every teenager I ever had the opportunity to coach, I am proud of the adults you have become or are becoming. Your best years were definitely beyond any of those years you spent on a sports field with me.

Keep the faith in yourself!

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Campbell Field Renovation: Phase One

We’ve talked previously about how the Campbell Field Renovation project started with an almost busted nose and how the upgrades to the batting cages rose out of tragedy.  Now it’s time to start the meat and potatoes of how to renovate a baseball field with minimal money and very little skill. (Hint: It’s all about living in a great and giving community where people are willing to give their hard-earned dollars, their time, and their skill to help give our kids a decent place to play baseball.) 

Soon after we made the decision to start improving Campbell Field, there was a story in the local paper about how our baseball field was an unsafe eyesore. The comments were harsh and only barely based in truth. The hardest part to stomach was that these comments came from people who knew nothing about the field, the history of the field, or had ever raised a finger to make the field better. I can’t speak for the other two members of the newly formed ad hoc committee, but it pissed me off.

If we needed any added incentive to improve Kelly Campbell Field, this provided the fuel to drive the project. I guess as a positive side to the facility being called out in public like it did, it was that we three were not the only ones ticked off by the disparaging comments in the media. When news spread we were starting this project, many members of the community stepped up and donated money, and services and time. It was something special.

So here’s what we presented to the city council as Phase One of the plan and the people who were involved in each of the projects. I tried the best I could to remember all the names of the wonderful community members who have helped at Campbell Field. If I leave anyone out, I apologize in advance. Please send me a message and I’ll add you to the honor roll.

Once again, a huge “Thank You” to the baseball community of Clay County and beyond! This renovation project was truly a labor of community love for the game.

Phase 1 (Fall 2013)

A. Initial preparation for infield grating.

  • Spray and kill grass in designated areas.
  • Remove baselines sprinkler head and base anchors from the infield.
  • Remove dead grass.
  • Tilling and grading dirt in high spots for field shaping.
  • Shape infield with available dirt.
    See diagram #1

Thanks to:
Gary Carlson and Art Tannehill for their expertise and skill grading and reshaping the infield.

B. Seeding grass around the infield area.

  • Ground and soil preparation
  • Seeding
  • Water

Thanks to:
Phil Francis for soil prep and seeding.
Clay Center Coop for the donation of the grass seed.

C. Limestone track around dugouts and batter’s walkway.

  • Sod cut from high pole to high pole, 3’ wide, 3” deep.
  • Fill with crushed limestone, level, and roll pack.

 

 

 

 

Thanks to:
Scott Howe for the use of his sod cutter.
Brian Martin for the donation of limestone screenings from Martin Quarry.
Arlan Close for hauling the limestone screenings.
Sean McDonald and CTI for use of a John Deere bucket tractor to place the limestone.

D. Construct dugout protection screen.

  • 25’ long, 4-4.5 foot high pipe frame, attached to concrete.
  • Slide and tie netting over the frame.
  • Install safety pad rail over top of posts.

Thanks to:

Steve Cyre of Clay Center Public Utilities for fabrication of dugout screens from recycled pipe.


E. Bullpens

  • Double mound and double plate bullpen mounds for both home and away side of the field.

Thanks to:
Morganville Lumber for the donation of the original wood frames.
Andy Bent and Barrett Long for building the original frames.
Top Cut Construction for rebuilding the bullpen frames in 2017.

Until next time when we take a look at Phase Two.

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Imperial March Mode

There are hundreds of different high school offensive and defensive schemes in the football world. I could stack coaching books from floor to ceiling and still probably not have all of them covered. It’s a creative game that has been infused with the intellect and talent of decades upon decades of innovators who changed the game.

Contrary to popular belief, though, scheme really doesn’t matter as much as execution in high school football. Actually, it’s more about how a team executes its scheme than the scheme itself. This, as much as raw talent, is what separates high school football teams.

I was (and still am for the most part) a relatively mild-mannered individual. But when it comes time for the competition, things change. The attitude changes, the approach changes, and my goal is to create chaos. Create chaos by playing in Imperial March mode.

Imperial March mode?

Darth Vader mode.
Dressed in black, take no prisoners mode.
In your face from all directions, steamroller mode.

Play simple. Play fast.
Play hard. Hit harder.
Again and again and again.

Intensity to the umpteenth power.
Control the line of scrimmage by storm and swarm.
The sound of collisions audible from the stands.

An attack force distinguished only by a jersey number and performance.
If we’re the favorite, destroy the opponents hope.
If we’re the underdog, be like David and go after their Goliath.

Get the picture?
Imperial March.
Our empire ALWAYS strikes back.

Now that’s an entry!

 

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Never Satisfied

The internal drive. That intrinsic motor that fuels your efforts.

It’s a blessing and a curse. A means of frustration and a means of fulfillment. It’s about never stopping your development and attacking life with the purpose of getting better every day.

Never stopping.
Never resting.
Only looking back to get better at moving forward.

It’s what a coach does. It’s what a player does. It’s what a parent does, a teacher does, a writer does, a “fill-in-the-blank-on-whatever-kind-of-person-you-are” does.

Or should do.

The greatest enemy of progress is not your opponent. Nor your talent. Nor your situation.

Your greatest enemy is complacency.

The biggest mistake you can make is thinking you are totally, completely, and absolutely 100% ready to roll. Resting on your laurels is a sham. I’ve seen many coaches and players fall victim to this.

I’ve done it more than I’d like to admit myself. It’s hard to admit or accept when your efforts aren’t cutting the muster. But you have to fight through complacency. The best person to motivate an improvement is you.

It’s been said, “You are only as good as your last game.” Meaning that you are only as good as your previous effort.
This is misleading.

You are only as good as you dare to be tomorrow.

If you didn’t push yourself today, resolve to do so tomorrow.

Never quit striving to be better.
Never settle.
Never be satisfied.

That, my friends, is a winner’s heart.

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TLW Batting Cages #ClayCenterBaseball

(Part 2 of the Campbell Field Renovation Project focuses on a special place, a very special family, and the memory of a very special baseball player.)

Out of great tragedy, rises hope.

 

One of the greatest upgrades to the Campbell Field field baseball complex is the addition of the TLW Memorial Batting Cages. One of the things I am most grateful for in this whole field renovation project is this wonderful area donated to the baseball community following the tragic loss of one of our own.

I remember TLW coming to our Clay Center Baseball clinics when he was barely big enough to hold a bat up. He was my kind of baseball player. Ornery-awesome, to coin a Coach Hays phrase. Ornery as all get go, but willing to do the work to be the best ball player he could be. He’d be acting like a fool between drills, but once it was time to work, he soaked up what you were teaching him and attacked the skill with gusto. He was a kid who was right up my alley. I like ornery-awesome players and TLW was a classic.

As a baseball community, we can never do enough to show our gratitude to TLW’s people. Wendy, David, Jared, Janae and the rest of the family, THANK YOU!

Thank you for giving us a great place to hit baseballs and to coach hitting. But most of all, thank you for giving us a place to remember the TLW in his element. Every time I’m at the cages, I am reminded of that little baseball player with the big glove, the big bat, and the big heart.

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The Beginning. #ClayCenterBaseball

This is the first in a series about the Campbell Field Renovation Project. As we wind down on our renovation’s goal of having an acceptable place to play high school age baseball, I’ll give a bit of history in story and pictures, lament on some of the trials and tribulations involved in such a project. But most of all, I’ll try to convey our gratitude and joy for the community’s support of this project. Today we start at “The Beginning”.

The Campbell Field Renovation Project. It officially started in September of 2013. It actually started about a little over a month earlier than that, though. It all started with Lody Black’s nose.

Yes, Lody Black’s nose.

We had started a baseball workout group in mid-July of 2013. We had about 6-10 kids showing up for the workouts. It was a good thing. Except for the field. It was in poor shape. The lip was so high around the infield/outfield grass line from years and years of blowing dust because there was no decent irrigation system that when you stood in center field, you couldn’t see anything below the knees of the batter in the batter’s box. That was problem 1 of 1000.

Well, another problem was rocks. I know you folks who spent time on or around Campbell Field think the rocks are bad now, but you should have seen them then. Imagine years and years and years of dust blowing off the infield only to be replaced with dirt from highway and roadside ditches. Needless to elaborate further, there were rocks. And glass. And rebar. And chunks of asphalt. And…

On this particular night in late July of 2013, we were doing a ground ball fielding drill. We tried to clean off an alley in which to field ground balls relatively rock free. We are cooking in the ground ball drill. I am hitting fungoes from home plate the kids are fielding and dropping the ball into a bucket. On about the fourth bucket, the line of kids begins to shift geographical location. (Anyone who’s worked with kids in lines before will understand this phenomenon.)

As I hit ground balls, the line shifts slightly from 3B to SS area. I hardly notice and keep hitting grounders, one after the other. Lody is up next. He’s the oldest one there. He’s going to be a senior. He was one of my favorite local baseball kids ever since he was a wee tyke. I hit a screaming grounder. Lody moves left to field it. I see a line of big white limestone rocks in the path. Lody sees a big white baseball coming his way. The ball hits a rock, veers upward like a missile and hits Lody directly on his nose. His nose bursts open in a fountain of blood and flattened across his face. Fortunately, Lody was okay. In fact, he may be a little more handsome after this event.

We decided then it was time to do something. The condition of our premier high school baseball facility was anything but premier; it was totally unacceptable. So, myself, Rex Carlson, and Larry Wallace, Jr. talked to our mayor about the problem. Mayor Thatcher agreed something should be done and deemed us the ad hoc committee for Campbell Field Renovation.

 

We accepted the challenge. I went home, opened up a Google search and found out that “ad hoc” means, “No money.” But, that didn’t matter. We live in this great community of Clay Center, Kansas. Through the generosity of this community, we were able to get donations of materials, talent, equipment, and money to get the job done. Thank you!!!

We made a document of all the projects we needed to do and presented it to the Clay Center City Council in September of 2013. It was a plan set in three phases, mapped out in a logical order to improve the field and do it around the high school and summer team’s use of the field. This week, we finished Phase III. We had the final few sprinklers in the infield irrigation system and an automatic control system installed. (No more us manually turning on the system every morning before work and every evening during hot spells. The older I get, the tougher it gets to do this every day.) 

After four years, we are turning the corner. We are winding down the activities of the ad hoc committee for Campbell Field Renovation. The little ad hoc group has expanded to include a couple of guys (Butch Swihart and Brian Moon) who know what they are doing and are the main reason that things got done. (Note: You need a job done right, call Butch and/or Brian.)

The city has a couple more little projects we’d like to see finished. We need your help. We need to apply some good old citizen pressure on the city to come up with a smart solution to this problem. And fast!

  • Scoreboard. Our scoreboard is broken. It’s the second most thing people “inquire” to me about on Campbell Field. This is a major piece of equipment to replace, with “major” meaning “expensive”.
  • Press box/bathrooms. The bathrooms are an embarrassment. It’s the numero uno point people talk to me about on Campbell Field. It is past time for something to be done.

If you haven’t been out to see the upgrades, stop by and have a look. It’s a great, little high school sports complex. Campbell Field and Otto Unruh Stadium.

Clay Center Pride.

And if you happen to run into Lody Black, thank him for taking one for the team. But most of all, tell him he’s got an all-star nose…

 

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The Best Decision I Hated

After high school baseball practice my first spring as a Rule 10 coach in 2000, I dropped off a book to newly promoted head football coach Paul Lane and assistant football coach Matt Brenzikofer as they talked outside Coach Lane’s classroom. The book was COMPLETE CONDITIONING FOR FOOTBALL by Mike Arthur and Brian Bailey. I’d bought the book several years earlier both for personal enjoyment/education and to help a high school kid I knew to get in football shape and to convince him to play the game. 

Out of the blue a few weeks later, Coach Lane and Coach Brenz stop me after baseball practice. I thought he was just going to hand back my book with that “go away, kid” dismissal one would expect from Nick Saban or Jim Harbaugh. As I mentally prepared to take the book back, say as few words as possible, and slink out the door trying to save a little face, Coach asked if I wanted to be a freshman coach and strength & conditioning coordinator.

I froze.

He asked me if I knew what was in the copy of my book he waved in front of me and if I knew how to implement any of it. I nodded yes. He said that I was the guy then. I told him I didn’t know anything about coaching football. He smiled and said something along the lines that I would surprise myself what I knew and how I could teach the game of football.

After a little wrangling at work to rearrange my schedule to a 6:30 AM to 2:45 PM work day, followed by an eat-your-lunch-while-driving-back-for 3:30 practice trip from MHK to CC, I took the job.

Being a Rule 10 baseball and football coach was one of the top 5 greatest decisions I ever made.

After a summer of winging it through a successful inaugural summer conditioning program, August rolled around and time for football. I was assistant freshman coach to Eric Burks and I am very grateful and very lucky to have started coaching football with him. What little football knowledge I had was on the offensive side of the ball, mainly blocking and running the ball. That was what I had my heart set on coaching for the freshman. Coach Burks had spent several years as varsity defensive coordinator and was now down at the freshman level. On our first meeting to plan the freshman program, he asked me what I wanted to coach.

I said “offense” before he even had a chance to finish his sentence. He looked at me. He smiled. He said that he thought he’d like to do offense because it would be invigorating to change sides of the ball. To his credit, he still gave me the choice. Me! The newbie idiot who knew only enough football to fill Coach Burks’s left pocket.

I thought about it.

I remembered the lessons my parents taught me about starting at the bottom of the ladder and working your way up. Keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone. I thought about Coach Burks. He was very excited about being able to dust off his offensive football coaching skills. I admit it now, I was scared. I didn’t know defensive fronts from storm fronts. I didn’t know the first, the second, or the last thing about secondary coverage schemes. Blitzes might have just as well have been spritzes. I was clueless. I was scared to fail.

Even though it went completely against my heart. Even though I knew it would knock me completely out of my comfort zone. Even though I knew I could completely look like a fool in front of my adopted hometown, I made the decision to be the freshman defensive coach.

Turns out, it was the best decision I’ve ever hated in my life.

I hit the books. I knew I couldn’t fall flat on my face. I couldn’t risk being the sore thumb which stood out on the stellar coaching staff Coach Lane put together. I didn’t want to embarrass my family or let down the high standards of the CCCHS community. Most of all, I did not want to let Coach Lane down. I knew he took a giant risk hiring me. I also assumed he took quite a bit of crap from the above high-standard, CCCHS community about hiring a nobody with no experience.

I studied defense. I read articles. I watched film. I asked questions. I tried to soak up everything I could from the other members of the staff. Slowly but surely, I fell head over heels for defensive football. And you know what else I discovered? That part of being a defensive coach is…studying the different offenses! Kaboom!

The strategy. The fundamental techniques. The intensity. The contact. The physicality. The schemes.

It was like a door to a new world was opened. I crawled through the dark, wardrobe door and found a football utopia. Defense. I learned the defensive fronts and gaps. I learned the linebacker techniques and schemes. I even learned about three-deep zones, squats & halves, bracket, zone over, zone blitz, and man coverages. I was like a kid in the candy store.

Defense.

I found my football groove.

Found my groove by being shoved out of my comfort zone.

Found my groove by doing the job I was given instead of doing everyone else’s job.

Found my groove through discipline and knowledge.

I found my football groove seventeen years ago through the best decision I ever hated making.

Do the work. Do your job. Every man, every play.

Even for the coaches.

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