As I was driving home Sunday evening, I reflected on my three days in Boise.
It didn’t take long before it dawned on me how incredible a weekend it was and how fortunate I am to have spent it at the boys state basketball tournament.
I wrote eight game stories in three days, but was witness to many more fantastic contests. The icing on the cake was, of course, the Snake River vs. Shelley 3A championship game Saturday afternoon.
Don’t get me wrong, there was some fantastic basketball played by teams from all over the state. Eastern Idaho squads had a great showing as well, not just by the county rival Panthers and Russets who duked it out for a title. But it is this game that still stands out to me the most.
Let me just say that I am more than impressed by the work that Shelley head coach Dave Hadley and Snake River head coach Robert Coombs do in their programs. All too often coaches don’t care about anything but winning. That is not the case for Hadley and Coombs. They are about teaching young men through the game of basketball.
If you haven’t seen Coombs in action during a game, you’re missing out. The man is as intense and vocal as anyone I’ve seen, but don’t mistake it for a big ego or pride. He cares about the kids on the floor.
Hadley is similar. He sometimes does the Jim Harbaugh dance and gyration when things get intense on the court. Just by talking to him I can tell he cares deeply for each player that suits up as a Russet.
Allow me to share a few moments from the 3A state title game that I think sum up what I am saying and help illustrate my point. Of all the games and individual moments I witnessed during the weekend, these are the ones I want to focus on.
During the 3A title contest, which was a very physical one, both coaches seemed irked by some no-calls from the referees. Personally, I thought they let way too much go, but at least they were consistent about it on both ends of the floor. Anyway, after a series of back-to-back plays where kids from both sides had been tackled or knocked over, and no whistles were blown, Hadley and Coombs looked at each other for a second or two and smiled.
Both men were laughing about the no-calls. In the heat of the moment when it was rough on the floor, the two coaches were calm and shared a laugh. There was no malice or sarcasm about it. It was a split second of humor in the midst of a battle. I loved seeing it.
A few minutes later after, a Shelley player had his feet taken out from under him on a layup attempt, and no foul was called, Coombs directed a comment at the referee. He said “that’s how kids get hurt” and may have added something about blowing the whistle.
Remember, this was a Shelley kid on the other end of the floor that was tipped onto his head, and Coombs was worried about him and questioned why no foul was called. That’s called sportsmanship, folks.
After a phenomenal basketball game had ended in overtime, and Snake River was crowned champion, Hadley had a couple of minutes to talk to the crowd, his team and to introduce his players.
I will paraphrase here, but he said something along the lines of “guys. When you come up here, do not hang your heads. You can be disappointed, but do not hang your heads. You gave everything you had. There is nothing to be ashamed of.”
What a teaching moment for Hadley. This is what he told me later: “We came up one short. In life that’s going to happen once in a while. That doesn’t mean we have to feel bad about the entire season. We had a great year. These are great kids. It’s a disappointment today, but we lost to a good team. We lost to a wellcoached team. You can’t be ashamed of that.”
Again, what a teaching moment.
When it was Coombs’ turn to address the crowd and introduce his players, he gave his son Brad, a junior on the team, the biggest hug I have ever seen. Well, it was the biggest until I saw the hugs he gave the rest of his players. The respect and love he has for them was evident.
Of all the athletic, unbelievable plays, spectacular shots and special moments I witnessed over the weekend, it was the non-basketball ones I was rehashing in my mind over and over again.
If you were able to make the trip to the Treasure Valley, I hope you caught some of your own examples of sportsmanship and characterbuilding. There were plenty of them to go around.