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Larry Peterson - Straight Shots

After 20 years, coaching Creston middle schoolers fun to the end

It was strange handing out awards to the seventh-grade girls basketball players Tuesday at Creston Community Middle School.

It’s something I’ve done many times. But, as I told the girls as they were standing in front of their classmates, this was the last time. And, what a fun group to have as I finished my stint coaching Creston kids in middle school basketball for the past 20 years.

It was in the fall of the 1997-98 school year that I received a call from the father of a seventh-grade boy at St. Malachy School. He knew that I had boys in the school, in sixth and third grades, and that I had done some youth coaching in town.

He said there was a large group of boys in the upper grades who wanted to re-establish a boys basketball team at St. Malachy. With my own sons coming up, I thought that might be a fun thing to do. Thus, the St. Malachy Knights were reborn, and fans ringed the small court in folding chairs and huddled together in the kitchen to cheer on the team.

It was a great atmosphere for home games. That little gym could get loud! And opposing teams would be disoriented trying to deal with pressure defense in the tight quarters of that court. Principal John Walsh organized a schedule of home and away games with several area school districts, and we also took on some other parochial schools in communities like Perry and Clarinda.

I had great coaches to work with during those days in Mark Eblen, Paul Goldsmith and Walsh. Eblen later established a girls team at St. Malachy and we had home doubleheaders. With cheerleaders, even!

Then, about a decade ago, the high school basketball coaches and administrators at Creston Middle School led a movement to consolidate the kids, who would be playing together anyway in a couple of years, and the St. Malachy teams were dissolved into one team at the public school.

So, as soon as there was an opening on the middle school staff I became an assistant for boys coaches Mike McCabe and Dick Clark.

Then, a couple of years later, I got a call from Todd Jacobson, who was then head varsity girls basketball coach.

“Why don’t you give girls basketball a try?” Jacobson said. “We need a seventh-grade coach.”

I told him I had raised two boys, and really didn’t know if I was cut out for coaching middle school girls.

Jacobson and I loved to talk ball together, sit at clinics and discuss the sport. We just seemed to share the same philosophy about working with kids. So, I gave it a try.

It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. My first team was the graduating class of 2015. It was a great group of kids that proved to me I had made a good decision.

It’s dangerous to make generalizations, but I found the girls teams to be dedicated in trying to do what you were teaching, polite and respectful as they entered another school and very team-oriented, with what I could call a collective spirit. Girls just love to support each other, unless there’s some kind of in-fighting going on, and luckily I was spared that for the most part.

Jim Hyde and Trish Dickinson worked with me as coaches during most of the girls basketball run, and they were terrific. I know from experience it’s not easy being an assistant coach. You don’t want to step on the head coach’s toes, but you also want to have a voice and contribute. Hopefully they felt they were a big part of our development as a team each year, because I certainly valued their input.

Anyone who’s coached knows how important it is to have another set of eyes surveying the action and helping you make adjustments, or make the right substitution.

I just love competition, and watching young people improve their skills. This year’s team was a great example. The top kids had already played a lot, and I just tried to not screw them up during a 10-1 season. The beginning kids went from losing their first B game 16-0, to winning five games, including three of their last five. That was progress!

Each team has their own set of unique personalities, and I treasure the memories of working with them.

I don’t think I’m done coaching. I just can’t continue coaching Creston girls because of the new split season format, which doesn’t start until January and runs deep into February. I’m not fully retired from the paper yet, and I need to be at district basketball and postseason wrestling events in February to help the sports staff during their busiest time.

If the girls were the early part of the split season, I’d still be the Creston coach. It’s just by chance that it’s set up the opposite way.

I’ve been in discussions with a neighboring school district to help out their middle school program in a more traditional November-January season. If that works out, it would be great.

In the meantime, two decades of Creston kids have made my winters a lot more enjoyable than they would have been if I was sitting at home from 3:30 to 5:30 every day. Thanks for the good times!

Contact the writer:

Twitter: @larrypeterson

Email: lpeterson@crestonnews.com

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