Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Mike Lightfoot and the Post on the Floor

I tweeted with the #TweetOnCourt because it seemed to be an interesting idea: take tweets from volleyball fans and put them on the court at the NCAA finals in Columbus, OH.  Could have said, "Go Boilers", but they were eliminated the first weekend.  Could have come up with something artificial, but that wouldn't do.  I've still gotta be real.

I eventually blended a quote from an movie based on a Dan Jenkins books with the heart of a coach, which I had done for years.  The result:

The movie was an HBO movie based on Dan Jenkins' book Dead Solid Perfect.  In the story, Kenny Lee (Puckett) was tied for the lead at the National Open and called his estranged wife, Beverly, the night before the final round.  He confided that he was afraid of proving everyone right: he had been on and off the tour more than a bad grip.  He expected to screw everything up.  Beverly responded with the first sentence.  Humorous side note-Kenny Lee was played by Randy Quaid.  Insert your own punchline here.

Time and working in the medical field has mellowed my perspective on competing at the highest level.  It seemed so important when I was playing: it paled against being in the room when people spend their last moment of life before your eyes.  I save the deepest emotion for the deepest things.  Should I ever compete at that level again, not likely, but that level of intensity will reappear.  It is a decision away.

Within the last week, one of my coaching mentors, Mike Lightfoot, announced his retirement.  Mike has coached at Bethel College (Indiana) since 1987.  That's the first Bush Administration, if you're counting.

That's also 778 wins and counting.  Seven national championships between the NAIA and the National Christian College Athletic Association.  Five National Coach of the Year Honors.  Eighteen Conference Championships.  I expect his name will be worked into a building name on campus at some point.  Had he done it at Duke, Kentucky, or UCLA, his name would be mentioned up there with names like Krzyzewski, Rupp, or Wooden.  Success brings recognition.

More importantly, the number of coaches going forth from his program is impressive.  They continue to teach values that breed success: hard work, doing thing right, team before individual, and correct the mistake without killing the person.  These values mean his work will echo through history.  I tried to take them to my teams.  I was a little more laid back.

Any discussion of Mike's success in incomplete without his bride, Jacci.  She has been a second mother to many of the young men that played in his program.  She took the brunt of raising their sons, Robbie and Ryne, who were toddlers when this started.  Robbie is still in the athletic department at Bethel, and Ryne will take over for his father at the end of the season.

Their sons are key to this story, too.  During the press conference announcing his retirement, Mike was most emotional about how his sons, who also played for him, got to cut down nets with those championship teams.

You see, all this almost never happened.

After three solid years, Mike had an opportunity to move to another field of work, likely with the opportunity of more money.  He had pretty much made of his mind to do so, but had to present it to his boys, who were enjoying what Dad did for a living.  Mike asked, "How would you feel if Dad weren't the coach anymore?"  The boys were unanimous in their decision.  Mike kept coaching, and his team won the NCCAA National Championship, their first, in 1992.  Fifteen years later, both boys got to cut down the nets with their NCCAA National Championship in 2007, this time playing.

This weekend, Mike returns to the site of his first two games as Bethel coach, Mount Vernon Nazarene.  Unfortunately, Mike remains the only coach to start his career at Bethel 0-2.  If I remember right, we lost to the host school and West Virginia Wesleyan.  He always said, "Everyone is behind you, win or tie."

How does all this tie in to my tweet on the court?  Without knowing it, I may have been directing the second sentence to Coach Lightfoot.  Enjoy the experience.  I know it's been our pleasure to watch from the stands and my pleasure to watch in practice and from afar.  I'm pretty sure he has.

Thanks, Coach!

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