By Hyde faculty member Corey Begly
It has been a rare opportunity to be the boys varsity basketball coach the past three years. We have made trips to state semifinals, NEPSAC tournaments, and long journeys across New England in the fabled Hyde bus 3. However, I think what makes our program unique are the events off the court. Our team-building weekends are always carefully planned by the coaches and carefully dreaded by the players. Don’t worry… they get over it.
This year, our trip was wrapped in mystique. We made up many tales and eventually found ourselves in 2.5 feet of snow in Eustis, Maine… taking aim at a collective comfort zone.
Since the trip, the Phoenix have gone on a tear with a 4-0 week and one of the first wins ever vs. class C power Winchendon. The following is a blog that I hastily wrote in my notebook about special moments, reactions (at times humorous), and the lengths we go to build trust and break from comfort.
DAY 1: PREPPING FOR A COMMUNITY COLLEGE GAME, OR NOT….
We welcomed the guys back on a Wednesday after a long break, eager to get back into NEPSAC play. We ended on a nice note with a win over Avalon Prep from Maryland and felt some of that momentum in practice. Energy was strong and many of the players had trained over break—a first sign to me that this could be a serious group. We also ran a clinic for the local 7th grade team—always great to give back!
We have a blend of experience, size, and explosiveness this year. Our senior backcourt of Noah West and Miguel Prieto have led the way, and garnered a solid amount of college interest. Underclassman Edwin Ezedonmwen and Christian Beeke have played large roles, and veterans Khalil Depass, Serge Mudogo, and Greg Kidger have had big impacts on and off the court. At the end of practice I explained to the guys that we would be prepping for a game up north vs. a solid community college team on Friday and Saturday.
The kids were excited!
‘That’ll be a great scrimmage, Coach. It’ll be exciting, and less practice!”
Little did they know that they’d not only be practicing basketball but also falling in 2.5 feet of snow!
Each Friday we have faculty meetings, opportunities for the 36 teachers/administrators to get on the same page. This is only noteworthy because I need to provide a shoutout to my coworkers. All week I had said in many different ways… DON’T TELL THE PLAYERS OUR PLAN. We held it together. By Friday afternoon we were still playing a community college, thanks to the Hyde staff.
After a positive Friday scrimmage and late game situation-based practice, I had my final meeting with the team.
“Ok… just bring your normal gear for an away game. Oh yeah, bring your onesie and your pillows.”
The pillow comment nearly gave it away. Senior Aman Wisdom, a very bright guy, caught on.
“Pillows? Why do we need Pillows?? It’s a hotel, right?! With a pool? Coach is crazy.”
I quickly recovered and kept the dream alive. Nearly lost… we loaded the bus with 13 players, two coaches, and one giant secret: EUSTIS!
WAL-MART: ALL GOOD THINGS COME TO AN END
- Farmington Wal-Mart.
- 9 PM.
- “Why are we getting off the bus, Coach?”
- “Because I said so.”
- Hasty speech.
- 17 cat T-shirts purchased
- Attitudes flare
- Long Subway sandwich foot-long purchases
- Hit the road on a silent bus to Eustis
- Game on.
Musings on my role and setting the stage for 2 days
I learned early on in my coaching that is it not a popularity contest: if you are always trying to make your players happy, you simply won’t have an impact on their lives.
I recall my first practice at the JV level, nearly four years ago. Fresh, fired up, and ready to go, I set the guys up in the hurley drill, a cross court ball handling drill. One player was struggling and as frustration grew, he started swearing. Quietly, quietly and suddenly, a massive f-bomb, and he kicked the ball across the gym. The other players stopped and stared at me… what would the new coach do? I paused and then promptly sent the young man out of the gym without question (He eventually played a large role on that 13-1 team). Many other examples exist, but I know that to get to a player’s soul, a coach must be demanding, consistent, and unafraid of criticism. Most of the negative attitudes early on came from a collective uncertainty. Only two of the kids had ever been to Eustis and certainly not in the middle of winter. I heard the grumbling, but I ignored it. I knew it COULD be a great weekend, and the kids would learn something.
At Eustis, we stay in large YURTS. Yep, just like the Mongols. The kids didn’t fully get this as we had our first meeting.
“What’s a Yurt, Coach?”
“I’m not staying in that tent.”
“There is a tree on that one!”
We eventually ushered them into their abodes for the weekend, and we were pleasantly surprised by the size of the beds and the fact they had heat. Half the team was with Coach Wimmer in Yurt Two, and the other half was with me in Yurt One. Communal livin’.
Day 1: EVERYBODY UP, PRAC, HIKES, TECH FREE + FIREWORKS
In my early days, I went to a high level basketball camp called 5 STAR. It is still near and dear to my heart. Despite making you want to cry and severely testing teenage Corey’s toughness for a whole week, 5 STAR made me much better as a player and hey, maybe even as a person. It was where MJ made his name. No… I was certainly not MJ. Yet, one thing I took from 5 STAR was their unique ways of waking up young ballers early in the morning. The go to was whistles and Frank Sinatra blaring from the loudspeakers. A lesser used strategy was when a staff member would enter the cabin screaming EVERYBODY UP, EVERYBODY UP, IT’S A BRAND NEW DAY. It worked and made us mad, which probably led to more competitive drills. I followed suit, and the reaction was the same.
Another advantage of Eustis is that we can put the kids to work—specifically in team cooking and cleaning. With Chef/Coach Wimmer at the helm we made a variety of meals including omelets and his famous burritos. Great teamwork.
We traveled to the anti-gravity center/gym for a tough two-hour practice, focused on defensive shape and the art of the box out. A key figure in our tale this weekend was TRIPP HENDERSON, a 6’8 bundle of fun. He also knows hoops, and we took to the court ready for action… with our own twist.
Our practices this year have been intense, and this was no exception. The kids competed and got up tons of shots. Suddenly as we got on the bus, the mood began to shift.
“Are we hiking, Coach?”
“What gear do we have?”
“I might transfer to Hebron!”
Maybe not so much.
The Great outdoors
There are two Maines… southern and northern. Seems obvious right? Well, away from ‘Little Boston’ and the mid coast region, conditions certainly do change. The snow PILES up, 2.5 feet of it. As we got suited up in boots, jackets, gloves, and classic winter hats, we were somewhat ready for the conditions. Tripp brought us to a frozen lake, through the woods and past a few snowmobilers. A John Muir quote came to mind…
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
Next up: team building and communication games. We lay down on the frozen lake (first and last time for many of these guys) and worked as a team, having fun in the process. It was great to see the guys get involved and work together for a common goal. Suddenly… the FUN started happening: Tackling, Wrestling, Jokes, Stick Wars. You name it. I even was ambushed by the entire team, an acceptable punishment for my surprise at the Wal-Mart. I’ll take it. After all, I am a player’s coach.
We headed inside, weary but ready for burritos and games in the evening.
I understand the angst teenagers feel when they have their phones taken away. As adults, most of us feel it is not a huge deal and being away from the device for a few hours could actually do a bit of good. IT DOES!
Try to think like a teenager. The phone is like a small piece of their soul. Harry Potter…you know. All your deepest, darkest secrets…your crushes…your pictures…your hopes and dreams…all on one glowing rectangle. After spirited debate with some of our players, we were able to obtain all of the phones. Victory for the coaching staff.
Without the phones, we built a competitive spirit for the first ever Eustis Olympics. No photos exist from this momentous event, but the guys got their uniforms (Cat shirts) and competed at 2K, Ping Pong, Lodge Golf, Paper Ball horse, Chubby Bunny, and finally…. BB-Gun shooting practice. Don’t worry—it was safely handled by Mr. Tripp.
In the end… dare I say it…we ended in a tie. So much for winners and losers. Either way…without the tech, the kids really focused on each other and supporting their team in strange circumstances. Good fun had by all.
Coach makes a mistake, haunted gyms, and final musings on the trip
I woke up early Sunday morning ready to seize the day. Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a very active person. Going to the frozen tundra does not change this fact. I suited up for a morning run… it couldn’t be that bad, right? Sun was out…seemed okay out. I put on tights, my Wal-Mart wolf onesie, gloves, and a sweatshirt and headed out to run into town. About five minutes into the jog, I realized that this was a terrible error. My feet hurt. My face hurt. Other things hurt. As I slapped the gate, I started to worry a tad for my safety. Luckily I made it back to the Yurt and Tripp simply said,
‘Coach, you know it is negative 9 out…’
Never stop learning, right! DOH.
We finished our trip with a very random practice at the Farmington Rec Center. This place is a relic. I think Abe Lincoln played pickup here and likely controlled the glass. It was a tad concerning going downstairs into the basement, but maybe the clapping and energy gave the ghosts a show they’ll remember.
As we returned home, it was clear that the trip was a success. The guys may not admit it, but many had a great time.
We all have comfort zones. I like waking up at 8:30, easing into the day, getting in the tub, and reading an interesting book. Can I do this everyday? Nope.
Let’s get more specific without the joke… Human beings like routine. Our culture today exists, and we make decisions with the expectation that the outcome is known ahead of time. Basketball for me is a great equalizer. You never know if you are going to win or lose. Not really, at least. It wouldn’t be any fun if you did. So you PREPARE for all outcomes, just like life.
At Hyde, we prepare to be the best possible you. I feel Eustis ties into this message. It is the land of equal opportunity—everyone gets to hike, feel cold, turn in phones, take turns cleaning, dancing, creating snow angels. It is a place where our team could shed collective walls and show who we really are. I think it’ll pay dividends in the close games to come, but also as a memory to bet on in the future. We’re aiming to play on March 5 this season. Go Phoenix.