When I was a teenager, we were always looking for a place to play pickup basketball. There was an outdoor court at Mr. Don P. Smith’s house. Same at the Junior High. We had “ways” to get into two gyms in town that had long been closed down.

Two of my grandchildren are playing Parks & Rec basketball this year. One set of games is at the old Everett School gym, the other at old Springbrook. I appreciate the fact that our local governments saw fit to preserve these valuable assets which are of greatest value to our young folks. But this column isn’t about facilities. It’s about people.

Just yesterday, I watched grandkid number two playing basketball in the Parks & Rec league at Springbrook. One of the referees was Frederick St. Hill who is a high school official for football and basketball yet here was, on a Saturday morning patiently calling the game and helping these youngsters understand the game.

Later, I watched grandkid number four playing at Everett and was thrilled to see Joey Winders and Mark McGill as the referees. The children of these two men were long since finished with youth sports yet here they were on a Saturday morning doing the thankless job of refereeing basketball for 8- and 9-year-old kids.

That is an amazing level of dedication to youth sports in this community. I’ve known Joey for a lot of years. We first met at Maryville Little League. Joey had started coaching girls T-ball there in 1982.

Now this is important—Joey wasn’t a parent coaching his kid’s team. Joey didn’t even have girls. He actually didn’t even have any children at that time. He was simply that dedicated to promoting youth sports in this community.

And he’s still at it. He has coached the Maryville Southerners in the Parks & Rec youth football program for 33 years. He coached them before his sons got there, and he’s coaching them long after they’re done. He does it for the kids. Don Sentell is another example of selflessness. Don has coached youth football for 55 years! During that time, he has coached multiple generations. That’s an amazing record of service.

Don’s philosophy is that having a parent coach a team isn’t always the best option. He seeks out assistant coaches that are interested in young athletes but who aren’t parents of his players.

Junior Masingo has coached with Don for 51 of those years.

Ricky Maples is another one still coaching. And he never had children of his own. What he has is a legacy of being a part of the lives of a lot of other people’s kids.

I coached with Ricky when my own son was playing and am grateful for the experience. I know for a fact that it would be impossible to have youth sports teams without parents willing to coach. I am convinced that it can help make you a better parent. I

think it did that for me. If you look around, there are men and women in our community that are dedicated to providing the youth sports experience that is so vital to the development of our children. These that I mention have just gone way above and beyond the call of duty.

But if you are a parent/coach, let me give you a little advice. Be more teacher and less coach.

Teach fundamentals.

Teach teamwork.

If you yell, you’re doing it wrong.

Treat everyone fairly, especially your own kids. Let everybody play.

I had a parent file a complaint on me one time for playing a handicapped player as a goalie.

I was “destroying the integrity of the game.” The youngster wanted to play goalie. I let him. It remains one of my prouder moments.

Imagine that you’re the worst player on the team. Be the coach that you wish you had.

Email Joe Black at joeblackdpt@gmail.com to write to him.

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