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COLUMN: Coach Bandel

Jan. 10—Come with me now to a mystical place not many get a chance to experience. It is a place of anxiety, joy, happiness, anger, frustration....the gauntlet of human emotions.

It can be a place Air Force radio disc jockey Adrain Cronauer (as played by Robin Williams in the movie "Good Morning Vietnam" would admonish listeners not to "go in there, that's the DMZ."

It requires a person who can be a teacher, psychiatrist, counselor and be the wearer of many hats.

I speak from experience on this one.

I was a coach for several years in the Kirkland, Washington area. Me, big old goofy, sports-loving me, was a teacher of football, baseball and basketball for kids in the Kirkland boundaries.

I loved it.

I also at times did not like it so much.

But it was an experience that caused me to alter my schedule for my "real" job (thank you area hospitals) so I could get to the field an hour or so before practice each afternoon or evening and tend to the playing surface. Work out details. Tell those who thought they were not any good at the sport that they can be if they really want to.

Not that long ago, I was in the Seattle area visiting my own kids and a couple of guys who played on teams I coached, now grown young men, came up and greeted me as "coach".

That was not a tear welling up in my eye, it was moisture from the rain in the Seattle area.

So when I tell you that this area has been blessed with several good coaches, whom I can tell love doing what they do as much as I did, you can take it for fact.

Coaching school sports is challenging to say the least. For one, the player pool is constantly in flux, good classes come and go.

Parents all want to think their son or daughter is the next great pro. That happens to less than one percent of all who play these games.

But the real challenge of coaching, I believe, is turning some kids who didn't think they could win into a group of young adults who realize they can.

This explains the turn around at Plains, where losing, frankly, had become part of the culture of the sports programs the past several years.

Why go out for football, the mindset goes, if you are just going to get routed every time out. Why be the innards of the red circle other teams mark on their calendars as certain victories.

Because, and I firmly believe it is okay to admit this, we all want to win.

All it takes, as Smokey Bear says, "is one little spark" to ignite something big.

Such is the case at most, if not all, of the schools in this two-county (Sanders/Mineral) area.

Plains is winning because they got that first victory. That first spark of hope that running off the field or court and feeling good was, indeed, possible.

Teams like Hot Springs, Thompson Falls, Superior, Noxon and St. Regis have this down, year-after-year.

Alberton is in the process of building something good.

There are some really good coaches behind it, men and women willing to give their time and sanity to help kids enjoy sports, or at least learn the life lessons they can provide.

And the schools who have not tasted victory in recent days, I can tell you for a fact, soon will.

Coaching attracts a wide array of men and women to its ranks. Some are vocal, side-line runners and contortionists who would, if they could, don the school colors and be "out there" again.

They are, in effect, actually out there.

Now, some are "way" out there, perhaps over-enthusiastic in their quest of victory.

I know when I first started coaching, a position with a Little League team in the Kirkland area, I was no doubt guilty of that.

Then one day, as the team was unexpectedly hitting everything thrown their way, the coach of the opposing team called time out, stormed out to the pitching mound and took the ball from the hand of the stunned and no doubt embarrassed pitcher, then said loud enough for everyone to hear, "you are never pitching for me again".

When I quickly learned he was yelling at his own son, I had to be restrained by parents and my assistant coach.

It was a scene I will never forget. It was also a lesson I try to live by to this day.

"What is the number one goal of playing this game?" I would ask my players on all teams from that day forward.

Puzzled, many of the players said "to win".

"No," I responded. "it is to have fun. No one every shouted "work ball"...it's "play ball".

And, I would add along the way, winning is more fun than losing.

So when your local coach seems to be coming down a bit too hard on the players, keep an eye on that. There are some coaches just not equipped to be coaches.

It is an awesome responsibility.

But as I said at the start of this tirade, this area has been blessed with some really good coaches.

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