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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Dear Juniors, Part II: The Oreo Lesson

Rising Seniors. You guys like the sound of that?

Seniors. Not Juniors anymore. (There’s a whole new bunch of those annoying !@#$%’s coming up also.)

Halfway through the summer and now your orbit is heading back toward the school year. And fall sports.

Time for something new to think about. Time for a lesson from…Oreos!

What’s that, you ask. Oreos? Yes, my young friends. Oreos.

The King of Cookies (Store-bought. Mrs. Hays is still the Queen of Cookies).

The Sultan of Sweets.

The Mayor of Milk Dunk.

Oreos. 

Why Oreos, you ask. Well, there’s a life lesson to be learned from the thin chocolate cookies sandwiching the cream filling.

Oreos, as previously mentioned, are at the top of the heap for sweet snack foods. They had it all. For year upon year upon year, they ruled. Then a few years back, they started experimenting with all kinds of crazy-ass new flavors. None, save the vanilla, even hold a candle to the original.

Now, it seems, they are approaching sanity’s precipice at 150 MPH in a hijacked ice cream truck. Oreo has spent so much time and effort lately trying to be everything to everyone.

In the process, it lost a bit of who it was.

Rising Seniors, pay heed!

The Oreo Lesson.

  • Know who you are.
  • Be who you are.
  • Don’t try to be all things to all people.
  • Be the best you that you can be.

Just don’t eat a whole package of Oreos with a tall glass of milk in one sitting. (From experience, that’s not who ANYBODY needs to be.)

 

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Colossus 7-4-2017

We are a nation built on a dream.
A state the Fathers could not and would not live.
We are a nation built on blood and forged in fire.
A violent overtone to obtain the ground we walk upon.
We are a nation with scars, deep and ugly.
An abuse of our power on many fronts and turns.
We are a nation set in the discomfort of change.
A pained evolution toward the dream of equal creation.
We are a nation still young, still growing.
A nation moving forward making mistakes along the way.

We are a nation built on a dream.
A promise of The New Colossus
We will take the tired.
A place will be made for the poor.
We are all part of the huddled masses yearning to be free.
A people different, a people similar.
We will turn the wretched into hope
A secure shore in a world of tumult.
We will be the dream, bound as one nation indivisible.
A lamp beside the golden door.

 

By Gregory F. Maxwell via Wikimedia Commons

 

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Leaders

An often overlooked fundamental of good organizations is leadership. By overlooked, I don’t mean ignored. We have leadership out the ying yang in our society. Presidents, governors, mayors, superintendents, principals, head coaches, captains, student councils, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. We have leadership coming out of our ears, but still, often experience poor leadership.

How does this happen? We spend so many resources and time and effort in order to set up our leadership structures. It should work, right? It should be easy, right? All the proper offices are set, the job descriptions were written, the people hired and trained, the team roster set and fully prepared, so why does the system fail?

Leadership void is how I always referred to it. But I was never really able to figure out a logical explanation to why this happens and/or how this happens. Until now. In the “Leaders are made, not born.” listing of the Ideas for Work blog post from altMBA.

Here’s the quote:

Leaders are made, not born.
Leadership is for other people, it seems. Leadership is for someone who has unusual amounts of courage, insight or perhaps arrogance.
Except that’s not true. That’s a myth perpetuated by folks who’d rather have you comply with their instructions.
Leadership, as we have seen over and over again, is reserved for people who care. Who care enough to see, to connect, to make change happen.
As our economy shifts to one based on connection, not industry, there are more slots reserved for those that seek to make change happen, who will stand up and say, “follow me.”
Your organization (big or small) needs more leaders like this. Are you open to making that difference?

Reading this was an “Aha!” moment for this old coach. It gave words and meaning to the random thoughts on developing leaders I’ve struggled with for years.

Leadership is reserved for people who care.

Wow. So simple. So “slap you in the face I’ve been standing right here in front of you all this time!” As I say to my people when they lose something and it’s sitting out in plain sight. If it was a snake, it would have bit you.

Leadership is reserved for people who care.

The trick as a coach is to identify who these players are in your program and provide them with enough space and safety to become the leader their deep investment in the program deserves. That means not going with players for leadership roles merely based on their age (seniors only), their position (QBs, catchers, point guards), or their popularity. Leadership is about caring for the program. Leadership is about showing up every day to make the organization one cares about a little better off than the previous day.

That type of leadership works. That type of leadership is work. It’s not easy. Especially with high school kids. Caring for something can’t mark you for an attack. Caring cannot be something that earns ridicule.

It’s okay to care.

It’s okay to want something to be better.

It’s okay to care enough you piss people off.

The first step to effective leadership is to care about the organization and its well-being. If you’re in a leadership role, closely examine how you care for the organization you lead. Do you need to make changes? Do you need to swallow your own ego and arrogance to show your people your care? The job of a coach is to allow this to happen. Sow the seeds of emotional, physical, and mental investment early and often. It’s an integral part of team-building as we talked about in the post, Culture.

First and foremost, allow people to care.

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Culture

I ran across this list, 17 Ideas for the modern world of work from altMBA, and it has me thinking. Dangerous, I know. But it’s summertime and my head is less likely to explode sitting on the back patio listening to the birds chirping. I’ve read this list several times. I know it’s targeted to the business world, but I see many parallels to the sports coaching world. One thing on the list caught my eye from the very first time I read it; it is the idea of culture. Here’s the quote from the altMBA list:

Culture defeats everything.
We accept the culture as something fixed, immutable, impervious to our efforts to change it.
And because it feels so permanent, we also begin to ignore it. A bit like gravity.
But culture is the deal maker, the deal breaker, the energy that changes everything.
Do culture on purpose. It’s worth it.

Out of the list of ideas, I like this one the most. Culture is a game changer. In sports, we call it things like team chemistry, coaching philosophy, captain’s councils and the like. What these really do is to establish the culture of a team. Whether you’re coaching T-ball or kid’s tennis or club basketball or small town high school football, you must establish a culture of success. I guarantee there is not a highly successful program out there which doesn’t have a well-established “winning” culture.

As coaches, we were more than likely players at one stage in our life. When deciding what type of culture you want in your program, I always like to start looking forward by looking back.

First, what program culture would I have liked playing in? Recall the good and the bad from my experiences. Incorporate the good but also use the bad as well. Design your team culture to best avoid the things you considered pitfalls from your experiences. Do not repeat crap! 

Second, look back on what worked and what didn’t work in your previous campaign. Does something need to change? Do we need to adjust what we did in the past with what we think the future holds? Ask yourself the hard question and delve deep to find the answers. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, think everything is peachy perfect. Even an undefeated, state title team has issues. Be honest and be better. Most importantly, make the changes!

Next, look forward.

What is your dream as a coach? What’s holding you back from these dreams? One of my favorite little life snippets is, “Dream it & go do it”. Take the first step on your dreams. It’s like writing a story, or a blog post rant; it’s all a blank page until you start laying the words down one by one. Build the dream. Brick by brick.

What are your players dreams? Ha! I got you there, didn’t I? How many of us coaches ask players for input on their culture? Kids in this 21st-century world are smart. They may seem to care more about snaps and contacts and followers, but they are smart. Include them. Include their dreams. Sure the team is run by one voice or a few voices, yours as the coach and the voices of the coaching staff, but doesn’t that ONE VOICE sound a whole lot sweeter when it rings of many? The culture needs to reflect the team with all its inherent roles and positions included. The team becomes the culture, the culture becomes the team.

Take a hard look at your personnel for the coming season. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. If you think one kid would be better playing a different role on the team, sell it to them. That’s right, you have to be part salesman to be a coach. Not only do you have to inspire team members, you have to convince them to do things they don’t often like to do. Getting the pieces to fit, sometimes takes a bit of maneuvering and wiggling and not hammering. Sell it. And sell it within the scope of the culture you are creating.

Success begets success. Perhaps the hardest part of this team culture idea is the passing down of its principles and customs to the next generation of players. I’ve struggled in the past both with highly talented upperclassmen caring for what comes after them and incoming newbies who know all and believe they have “arrived”. It’s hard to convince 17-18 year-olds they will carry their home pride with them when they move to the next step in life. It’s hard to fully convince kids of any age to buy in and fully invest their physical, intellectual, and emotional self into something where there’s a chance one might fail. Peer to peer influence is so much more effective in establishing this facet of culture. Failure is an option. Never accept failure. Fail and regroup and come back stronger as an individual and as a team. Keep swinging, as the baseball coach in me likes to say.

I do like this idea of culture. It rings true and plays a huge part in the success of an organization. If you are a coach or a player, think about these things on the altMBA list. Let them rattle around in your head a bit. See what develops and then get busy.

I will continue to ponder the list, for sure. (You should hear the rattling in my head right now.)

Until next time.

Now, go get yourself some culture.

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Sports Fields

There’s something special about a sports field. I could go Wide World of Sports and talk about the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” types of activities which occur on a sports field but it goes beyond that.

It’s something visceral.

It’s something old and ancient.

It’s about community and people coming together.

The “Friday Night in America” feeling.

There’s something special in the field I played little league baseball on and the fields where we practiced baseball and football. All those other fields where we’d show up on a hot summer morning or a fall/winter Saturday to play pickup games.

I will always be tied to those fields as much as I am tied to the house I was born and grew up in. They are as much a part of me as my school or my church.

Now, I am old.

I live in an entirely different place than where I grew up. Worlds away, it often seems.

But there are still sports fields.

And they still grab ahold of me.

They grab me and anchor me to the essence of what my adopted hometown means.

A football stadium that oozes the history of this town through the memories of sons, fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers who played there. A stadium built of limestone quarried on a farm just outside town and hauled stone by stone to be placed by local workers during the depression.

A baseball field with more frustrating problems than solutions. But a field getting a little bit better every day thanks to the generous and caring individuals and businesses in town. A field of remembrance as well as a field to play ball on.

Those are the two places in Clay Center, Kansas that pull me into their strong orbit. Places I’ve grown to care deeply about. Places to appreciate every single thing done to preserve and improve upon them. From the city and the baseball field renovation project to the school district’s improvement projects on Otto Unruh Stadium (especially the masonry restoration done by Jan Kissinger’s company and crew), I, for one, am grateful.

Community

Connections

Competition

That’s what sports fields do.

That’s why they are special places.

 

 

 

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