Friday, February 19, 2016

Tournaments and Woody Ward

The radio in the living room played at full blast, as did the one in the barn.  Both were dialed to KSPT 1400-AM. 

If I stepped out of range yesterday while engaged in afternoon projects inside or out, I could rely on text messages from Debbie, updating the score. 

The Lady Bulldogs eventually earned a convincing victory 47-30 in their first round of tournament play against Burley. 

Yup, it's Idaho State high school tournament time, and we're paying close attention to SHS girls basketball, as we have for two years now. 

This is the second year that Willie, the young assistant, and Duane, the veteran head coach, have teamed up as Lady Bulldog coaches in what I like to call "a marriage made in Heaven." 

Having been in junior high when Duane Ward was well known as an outstanding athlete at Sandpoint High, I've gone through several levels of knowing this true gentleman.  

Throughout those decades, which do include my junior high days of reading in the local paper about a high school athletic hero, to the teaching colleague who admired how hard Duane worked to get generally unmotivated students to learn English to seeing him take teams off to State in the '70s as head boys basketball coach (that was before the Title IX ruling opened the equal opportunity door for women in athletics).

I was probably advising the drill team when Duane was coaching boys basketball back in those days.  When Title IX came into effect, drill team numbers gradually diminished because many of those girls took advantage of turning out for volleyball and later basketball. 

In the '70s, the district tournaments---held in a Coeur d'Alene gym usually over a couple of nights---involved the team, cheerleaders and the drill teams from North Idaho schools represented.  

These annual high-spirited events generated the most excitement of almost any event during the entire school year, except maybe Homecoming. 

And, if a team did earn its way to State, the electricity of intense school spirit shot through the veins of virtually every staff member and student who proudly called themselves Bulldogs.  

Pep assemblies were often epic in those days, and probably anyone who was there at the time----when the high school was where middle schoolers now attend----remembers pep assemblies when that row of drawers in front of the stage, where folding chairs were stored, would suddenly open and human beings would rise up from those drawers to electrify the cheering even more.  

That unexpected sight was, indeed, one for the memory books, as were the times when the entire student body would board buses bound for the end of the Long Bridge.  

Students would pour out of the buses, gather round and yell their lungs out during a wildly exciting pep assembly.  

Then, the team bus, with open windows and waving hands, would head off down HWY 95 to whatever southern venue was hosting the State Tournament at the time.

I have no idea if a similar level of excitement was generated at Sandpoint High School this week, almost 50 years later as that same SHS athletic hero, turned teacher and coach, turned retiree and lawn care technician extraordinaire, turned coach led his Lady Bulldogs to the second State Tournament in a row.  

I'm confident, however, that his enthusiasm and "rah, rah" ways continue to inspire his teams, parents and fans who marvel at a 72-year-old who says practice is what he loves most about coaching. 

I am SO glad that my son---a good man himself----has had the opportunity to work with Duane Ward.  In addition to a coach still well endowed with fire in the belly after half a century, Duane serves as the role model any parent would want their child to emulate, even when their child is pushing 39 years old. 

The friendship between these two AND the mutual respect is indescribable and heart-warming.  When a 70-something coach and his wife spend all day in the heat of summer saving seats prior to a Festival alternative rock concert for Coach Love and his wife, that's pretty neat. 

Whatever happens at the Idaho State Tournament over the next two days, I'm sure that just about everyone---players, parents and fans---who has been associated with these two coaches will feel like they've already won some intangible rewards that will follow them throughout their lives. 

We all know that there is so much more to any athletic endeavor than simply winning the big prize, even though that's the ultimate and the oh-so-sweet goal.  In this case with these two good men at the helm, the big prize will simply serve as frosting on the cake in a much bigger, more important picture. 

Go, Lady Bulldogs.   Good luck, Coach Ward and Coach Love.  We'll be listening again today at 5:15 and hoping for the best as you take on that tough Century team. 

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