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And in the beginning

GRANT'S TOMB:

December 14, 2001

As many of you know and many more are about to find out, my time here at the Imperial Valley Press is quickly coming to a close. My wife and I will soon be moving to Texas for some fun, Aggie style.

So with my impending departure, I have begun to reflect on my time here in the Imperial Valley and more specifically at this paper. And it seems the more I think about it, the more I wonder, just how did I ever end up working here for the past five years?

There seems to be no simple answer to this question. But I can relate to you a little story about just how I ended up staying in this Valley for a much longer time than I'd ever planned.

It must have been the fall of 1996 and my father (for reasons I'll never understand) asked me whether I'd be interested in helping him coach basketball. At first I was apprehensive. I was taking a break from college, mostly hanging out and mooching off my parents, and it seemed strange to me that the master would ask me for anything. Ultimately I agreed. The chance to watch the great coach in action for an entire season seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up. So I signed on and soon became Brawley Union High School's freshman basketball coach.

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The first thing I was told about my team was that I would be lucky to win any games. Now this did not exactly jibe with what I had in mind and that was perfection. A few years earlier, when I was in high school, a friend and I had coached a recreation league basketball team and in our one glorious year of coaching had managed to go undefeated. Thus, I figured I was a coach without a loss on my record and I planned to stay that way.

Reality quickly set in when I attended our first practice and saw just what we had to work with. I have to admit that things looked pretty grim for the Brawley freshmen that year, but that did not dampen my expectations. I still informed all the other coaches that they could lose all the games they liked, but I was going undefeated, because, quite frankly, I was an undefeated coach.

I shouldn't say that our team had no talent, for that's not the case. In fact, there was a lot of talk about the junior varsity vulturing our best player, but in the end it did turn out to be just talk. And the rest of our starting five wasn't so bad. We didn't have a lot of size, but what we were missing there we made up for in scrappy determination.

I made a promise to myself (and tried to pass it on to the team) that no matter how badly we were beating the other team we would never give up. We would play as hard as we possibly could for 32 minutes and only then would the freshmen Wildcats take a break. (Don't think that's a typo either. I still believed that I could will us into perfection.)

My real dose of the way things were came in our first game, which just so happened to be in Blythe against Palo Verde. While we didn't get our heads handed to us, it was pretty close to that and after just one game as Brawley freshman coach my perfect record had been blemished. As I sat in the locker room following the game I was disheartened, I was hurt, injured, depressed. What I wasn't was happy, which is not something I could say about all of the freshmen Wildcats. Yes, a few were laughing and it was at that point that I had to teach everyone the proper way to lose — heads up, stern look on your face, eyes forward, no smiles and let them see the gritty determination in your eyes to get them the next time as you leave the locker room. That's the way I'd always done it, anyway.

Things actually turned around from that point and the freshmen Wildcats eventually finished their season with a passable 9-11 record. In the end I don't think I did a good enough job of keeping them focused every time out, as there were plenty of games we should have won, for they actually were not a bad little team.

So there you have it. Shortly after finishing helping my dad (his team got to the section quarterfinals) I joined the Imperial Valley Press, forgoing my return to Texas (and education) in order to write this column. Well, there were probably other mitigating factors, but for our purposes we'll just leave it at that.

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