In Their Words is a regular feature of The Blade's sports section on Sundays. Today, sports columnist Dave Hackenberg talks with Larry Clark and Dick
Crowell, two well-known former high school basketball coaches who are still involved in the game:
Larry Clark attended his 46th consecutive boys state basketball tournament in Columbus this weekend. Dick Crowell opted to watch it from his family room. Otherwise, how would he keep tabs on all those college tournaments going on at the same time?
Once basketball gets in the blood, it never stops running through the veins for old coaches.
How else to explain two guys well into their 60s, with a combined 56 years and 700-plus wins as varsity coaches, working the sidelines these days as seventh-grade coaches?
Clark, a 67-year-old southeast Ohio native, coached for nine years at Lincolnview in Van Wert County and then for 22 years at Perrysburg and won 442 total games. He had back-to-back, 20-0 regular seasons (1979-80, 80-81) and captured five Northern Lakes League titles at Perrrysburg, where he retired following the 1995-96 season.
He became the school's seventh-grade coach the following year, soon left for four years to help a former assistant, Larry Asmus, coach the varsity at Otsego High, and then returned to the Perrysburg seventh-grade job. His 2007-08 team went 14-3, tying for first in the NLL and then winning the league tournament.
Crowell, 64, is a native of the Cleveland area, where he began his coaching career at Kirtland and Brush high schools. He moved to Toledo to become coach at Bowsher for the 1974-75 season, the same year Clark took the Perrysburg job. The two became good friends through the years.
Crowell rang up 284 wins during his career before retiring after the 1993-94 season. He has been out of teaching since 2000. He just completed his second season as co-coach of the seventh-grade boys at OLPH School, where he splits the duties with Terri Zmuda, the sister of one of Crowell's former players at Bowsher. OLPH compiled a 13-5 record this past season and lost a close game in the finals of the CYO Division-A tournament.
Clark retired from teaching at the same time he got out of coaching, but after two years off returned to the Perrysburg system as a junior high industrial arts teacher, a job he still holds. Crowell is now an agent with Loss Realty.
Crowell: "These seventh-graders are like the high school kids I coached in the 1970s and '80s. They don't think they know it all and they're eager to learn and find out what it takes to win games. My last few years at Bowsher were a bit of a nightmare. We had talented players, but they wanted to do it their way, not my way. I ran into a brick wall, couldn't break through it and our record showed it. I had to get out."
Clark: "I didn't have problems like that. I think we were getting a lot out of the kids, right to the end. But after those two 20-0 seasons we probably averaged 15 wins a season, which is pretty good, but it felt like we were just average. It just flat out became too stressful. That's why I gave up the varsity job, but I couldn't stay away from the game too long."
Crowell: "Since I started coaching again, even though it's seventh grade, I still have sleepless nights during the season. I lay there and think of drills that could help us. The first day of practice I told them I had no idea how to coach junior high kids, that I knew how to coach high school kids, and that's how we were going to practice. The kids always seem eager to improve their games.
"I know our season took a turn for the better after Larry's team kicked our tails in a scrimmage over the holidays. I kept telling the kids they had to learn how to play the game right. It was like a light came on. 'So, that's how hard we have to play this game.' Larry's team sure played hard, just like they always have."
Clark: "Kids still want to learn, sure, but everything is AAU now, even at this level. They all play on some team somewhere during our offseason. I think they get some real bad habits."
Crowell: "Absolutely. AAU ball isn't about coaching. It's all about playing."
Clark: "They play so many games in the summer, maybe 50 games, that losing a game with us doesn't mean as much. The meaning of a loss, the desire and the hurt, isn't there the way it used to be when kids played for just their school team."
Crowell: "Everything is done for kids today. The parents take care of everything. Kids aren't accountable for themselves. Nobody jumps on their bikes to get to a game in the park or on the playground. That's all more of the AAU factor. And coaching has changed, too. Don't get me wrong, there are still some great, hard-working coaches. But there are also too many guys who really don't want to be a coach, they just want to say they're one. When Larry and I coached, we went to clinics every summer, traveled all over to visit with other coaches, talked the game to death and wore out legal pads drawing up plays and drills. We loved the game, still do, and maybe that's why it's harder for us to walk away from it."
Clark: "The best high school player I ever coached? That would have to be my son, Mike. Andy Fisher was awfully good and went on to be a better college player at Toledo. But Mike ran the show at point guard. He knew more than any kid I ever had about the game, maybe more than me. He was inducted into Perrysburg's Hall of Fame a few weeks ago and he told a story I'd never heard before about a five-overtime game we played at Maumee. We called a timeout with just seconds left in the last OT and I drew up this elaborate play. When we broke the huddle, one of my assistants, Tom Schadek, grabbed Mike by the arm and told him, 'Don't pay any attention to anything your old man drew up. Just get the ball and shoot it.' And, yeah, he made the shot."
Crowell: "That's easy; Dennis Hopson was the best player I ever coached. He went on to become Ohio State's career scoring leader and had a long pro career. But I'm three times more proud of him now than when I coached him. Two years ago, he went back to OSU to finish his degree and my wife and I attended his graduation party. Now, he's Rollie Massimino's top assistant at Northwood University in Florida and he wants to be a college head coach."
Clark: "I'm always trying to learn new things about the game and I know Dick is the same way. I still plan practice first thing in the morning. I open my file drawer and pull out practice plans from 20, 25 years ago to get ideas. I was never too smart, but I tried to outwork other guys."
Crowell: "I love practice. I live for practice. One thing that hasn't changed through the years - I would still just as soon go to practice all week and let somebody else coach 'em on game nights."
Clark: "I guess my players eventually figure out who I am, or who I was. Sometimes they meet in my classroom for a snack before games and there are about 50 pictures up on the walls covering 22 years of Perrysburg High basketball. They ask questions. But, heck, the majority of people in town don't know me anymore or know that I was ever the head coach."
Crowell: "The only way my players know about me is if their parents went to Bowsher. I don't think it means anything to them and maybe it shouldn't. All I know is I've had more fun coaching these kids the last two years than I've had in a long time."
Clark: "How long am I going to keep going? One year at a time, man. I still like teaching and as soon as I hit the practice floor I get re-energized. When practice is done, I'm done. I go home and go to bed."