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Coaching is more complex than most understand

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By John Shindlebower

Think high school coaching is little more than drawing up plays on a whiteboard, filling out rosters and running players through drills? Think again.

Coaches of student-athletes at Spencer County High School were reminded of the enormous responsibilities they have Monday night during the monthly school board meeting, when Myron Thompson, director of risk management for the Kentucky School Boards Association, shared just how liable schools and coaches can be when it comes to dealing with accidents, injuries and deaths.

One has to look no further than Louisville and the recent case of a PRP High School football player who died following a preseason practice last August to understand the seriousness of the matter. The coach of that program is now facing criminal charges in connection with the incident and there have been numerous lawsuits filed in recent years involving high school student athletes.

Most high school coaches aren’t drawn to the position for the money. The modest stipends added to their salaries are often less than minimum wage when compared to the number of hours many of these coaches put into their sport. Most do it because they love the game and they love the kids. But Monday’s meeting was a reminder that loving both will require them to make sure that rules and procedures are put into place and followed.

• How’s your bracket? If you’re like most people, the first weekend of the tournament can do major damage to your chances in the office pool. But unlike most seasons, if you were smart enough to go with the high seeds, you’d be ahead of the game this year. There were surprisingly few upsets in the first and second rounds and the top seeds are still very much alive.

• Western Kentucky provided one of the few upsets when the 12-seeded Hilltoppers knocked off 5-seed Illinois. However, I don’t think too many people were shocked because WKU made it to the Sweet 16 last year and it’s increasingly becoming obvious that the red-clad Toppers from Bowling Green aren’t satisfied with simply making the 65-team field.

In truth, Western Kentucky has one of the most impressive basketball traditions among all Division I schools. They’re in the top 15 in all-time wins, top 10 in winning percentage, they’ve had nearly two dozen All-Americans play there and it’s no shock to see them playing beyond the first week of the tournament.

The Toppers have survived coaching changes and being overshadowed by in-state programs Kentucky and Louisville, even though in head-to-head competition, the Hilltoppers have beaten both the Cats and the Cards the last time they met on the court. If WKU can hang on to their coach for a few years, the program may be poised to become the next Gonzaga – a mid-major program with major aspirations. They’re returning four starters and have a top-notch recruiting class coming in.

When you look at college basketball in the state of Kentucky, not many states, and certainly not many of our size or population can boast three basketball programs with the tradition of UK, U of L and WKU. It’s time to give Western its due.

• As for UK, the NIT is not what Big Blue fans expect. But for one night last week, it was fun to wear blue. My son and I traveled to Memorial Coliseum to catch the Cats play in the house that Rupp built, the one where they amassed so many wins before moving into the house built for Rupp.

While it no longer seats the 12,000 it was initially designed for, nearly 8,500 packed the seats and bleachers for the opening NIT game against UNLV. The fans were there earnestly  and most of them are not the type who sit on their hands in the lower sections of Rupp. The crowd stood most of the game, the place was loud, the players seemed to feed off the energy and everyone was treated to a bit of nostalgia and history.

UK should play at least one game a year at Memorial Coliseum and it should be an early game in the season so incoming players can taste a bit of that history. While I won’t go as far as to say that Memorial is sacred ground, standing out front last Tuesday evening and thinking about the history of the program, the building should be regarded as the CAThedral of UK basketball. It’s a wonderful place to watch a game!