The Man Behind the Website You Visit Twice a Day

It is Saturday morning in September. At a home on the East Coast, three homes in in the Midwest, and another on the West Coast, several volunteers are scanning college volleyball websites, live stats, game tracker, stat master, stat broadcast, conference websites, and the NCAA volleyball website, for college volleyball scores. The person coordinating this enterprise is Rich Kern, a former civil engineer and avid birder, who has been gathering and sharing collegiate volleyball scores since 1995.

Initially Rich Kern began reporting Nebraska volleyball scores on a Nebraska state website that included information that the University of Nebraska sports information office provided him. After two years, the sports information office developed websites for each of the sports at Nebraska and Kern managed the volleyball website for two more years before he started his own website richkern.com. In the last twenty years richkern.com has emerged the “unofficial record” of women’s collegiate volleyball competition in the United States.

You might think that after two decades of providing this service, that with the technological advances that have moved us from cell phones larger than a brick to the current hand held computers we all carry, the gathering of college volleyball scores would be fully automated. You would be wrong. It is labor intensive. Kern and his colleagues will not finish searching for scores until at least 2:00 am on Sunday morning.

There are over 1,300 NCAA and NAIA women’s volleyball teams playing at least one and probably two matches on a Saturday morning in the preconference season. Kern’s team makes an effort to report each score within a minute or two of the end of the match. This means that on Saturday afternoon each of them may be tracking as many as a couple dozen matches at any given time on several different screens. When Rich described this process to me, the image that came to mind was that of an air traffic controller trying to watch a combination of passenger jets, FedEx, UPS and private planes circling an airport waiting to land, except that some of them never land.

If team members can’t find a score on the NCAA website, they search conference and school websites where they may or may not find the score. (Interestingly, there are a couple of prominent NCAA division 1 schools that are slow to post results on their volleyball website if their school loses.) Sometimes schools may not post the score until the next day and some Division III schools may not post their scores until Monday morning.

Two or three days before the fall season begins, Kern loads collegiate volleyball schedules compiled from the NCAA website into a data base so that he and his colleagues know what time a match begins and when it is likely to end. But if a college is playing a nonconference opponent with a common name, like St. Mary’s, and the location is not identified (St. Mary’s – Kansas) he may have to check out several websites before he can be sure which St. Mary’s is on the schedule.

To make things even more complicated, some of the people compiling scores have a home team they want to watch so they leave their computers while other people take up the slack. It is controlled chaos until the conference seasons begin in the third week of September when it becomes obvious who the St. Mary’s team is and teams aren’t playing two matches on one day.

The website also has some valuable and some quirky information on the won loss percentage of coaches at each institution and the average height of each roster. I would personally find it interesting if it listed which players on every roster had helicopter parents and which ones had fighter pilot parents. (A division I coach explained to me that fighter pilot parents don’t just hover over their child; they are willing to go to court if their child is uncomfortable.)

The other section of the website that many coaches frequent on richkern.com are the RKPI and Pablo rankings for Division I teams. RKPI is Kern’s effort to replicate the RPI (ratings percentage index) that the NCAA committee has used in all sports to determine at large bids and seeding for the NCAA tournament. When Kern developed the RKPI formula the NCAA did not release the rankings until the season was over. That has changed and the first RPI rankings are now published after there has been enough competition for them to make sense.

The RPI ranking system is based 25% on wins, 50% on your opponent wins, and 25% on your opponent’s opponent’s wins. It does not value whether or not you played at home or on the road or how much your team won or lost by.

Where a game is played is taken into account on the NCAA basketball RPI but not in volleyball which is unfortunate. Men’s basketball teams are flying to competitions, frequently on charter aircraft. Some women’s volleyball teams are still vanning to road matches which is much more fatiguing. When I asked Kern why he thought the NCAA did not factor in the value of winning on the road in women’s volleyball, he didn’t hesitate with his response: “It would take more time and money to do so, and the NCAA cares less about women’s volleyball than basketball.”

There is also the feeling that the RPI system can be gamed by playing teams that are going to have a positive win loss record but are from weaker conferences. Because there are more conferences on the East Coast than the West Coast, it is easier for teams in power conferences like the ACC and the SEC to schedule teams that fit this description. RPI doesn’t look at whether a team won 3-0 or 3-2 only whether or not you won or lost.

The Pablo ranking system was developed by a current university professor who wanted to overcome some deficiencies he saw in the RPI system. Pablo is points based. It doesn’t factor in sets won or lost but the total number of point differentiation in a match. Because of that it values a decisive victory more than it does a victory where there is very little difference in the total points scored. Pablo is also more predictive than RPI and in recent years the NCAA volleyball committee has used it as one of the tools beyond RPI to determine at large and seeding. Pablo does factor in whether the match was played at home, on the road, or at a neutral site. The majority of Division 1 coaches that I have talked with believe it is a much more accurate ranking system than RPI.

For several years richkern.com has been a subscription website. Coaches encouraged him to make it a subscription site because they recognized its value and they were afraid if Kern couldn’t cover the costs associated with the site it might disappear. There is a high percentage of Division I and II subscribers with fewer NAIA and Division III subscribers.

Rich Kern and his wife Jeanne are avid bird watchers. They have been to the Arctic Circle, India, Norway, Costa Rica and many other remote places looking to identify rare and not so rare birds that you and I are not likely to see. But none of those adventures can take place from August to December when Rich is in his basement tracking 30 matches on the internet, with ears cocked like a telegrapher in an old Western movie, trying to report what the volleyball world is telling him. He is doing it not because it is a profitable business model, but because he and his team see themselves as servants to the growth of the game.

–Terry Pettit



My Take on Nebraska Football — Terry Pettit

         Nebraska has fired the Athletic Director twice at mid-season in the past decade, and in both cases the football teams’ performance only got worse during the second half of the season.

There might have been more integrity in firing the head football coach, which would have given those teams the opportunity to prove the administration was wrong. It surely would have been fairer to the head football coaches, who were left playing a game of chutes and ladders with only one dice. But it is more complicated than that.

In 2007 the morale was so low in the UNL athletic department it had to be done. Coaches throughout the department were on the verge of leaving because of autocratic leadership that appeared to be soulless.

2017 is different. The current football staff seems to have lost the team in the last two weeks. Despite that observation, the current staff also appears to have attracted a number of high level recruits who might  chang their minds if Riley is fired prior to the December 20 signing date. The administration didn’t trust the former A.D. to hire the right person because he didn’t get it right the first time. But if they got another A.D. in place who could hire the right coach, they could fire Riley at the end of the season or at least after December 20. This is the contemporary version of having your cake and eating it to. If Nebraska’s slide continues, the new Athletic Director, Bill Moos, may be forced to fire Riley before the early singing date.

It takes a lot of hard work, talent and luck to get to the place that Nebraska football was at in the mid-90s. It also takes a lot of questionable decisions, administrative indifference, and a lack of collaboration by a lot of people for Nebraska football to get to where it is today. But if anyone has a right to be angry it should be the players who have not been put in a position to reach their potential as a team for almost twenty years.

One former head coach had never been a collegiate head coach or coordinator.

(Please do not use Tom Osborne as an example of someone who did not have head coaching experience but had great success. Tom Osborne was the defacto head coach of Nebraska football during the Devaney’s championship seasons.)

One had not had success in the college game. One led with his amygdala, and one was a good man who lacked the edge to create the toughness it takes to build a championship team in this environment.

When I was hired at Nebraska in 1977, Coach Osborne’s base salary was about $40,000. Mine was $12,000, so you could say I was overpaid. I don’t like the millions of dollars that are paid to power five football and basketball coaches, but whether or not I like it is not the point.

If you want to be competitive and hire a coach that gives you the chance to be competitive for several years, you have to pay more than the competition. The competition includes schools like Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia and others who are paying outrageous salaries.

I also don’t believe you have to be 55 to be a great football coach. I trust my life to pilots under forty, and a stock brokers under thirty-five. Right now, I could get pretty enthusiastic about a President under fifty.

Nebraska needs to take a risk if it is going to return to being competitive. What you don’t risk is character. That’s a deal breaker. But it is really not as complicated as it looks. John Cook won the Big Ten Conference before he became the Nebraska head volleyball coach. Tom Osborne won two national championships before he became Nebraska’s head football coach.

To win at Nebraska you need to have had success as college head football coach. You need to be on the upside of your career. You need to be a good fit, but most importantly you need to have shown that you can win and win again. You need to be extraordinary.

–Terry Pettit



Timeout for Crazy Time

Crazy time is when you only see five players on the court and the libero is hiding behind her teammates at the end of the bench.

Crazy time is when a freshman you wanted to redshirt has to play because of an injury and she can’t get out of the way of the setter in transition.

Crazy time is when your best player forgot her uniform and you have to decide whether to teach her a lesson or have a chance to compete.

Crazy time is when an experienced player continues to attack the ball without varying her point of contact, placement, or arm-speed.

Crazy time is when your assistant coach signals for the serve on the wrong side of the clipboard.

Crazy time is when a setter tries to make the most spectacular set in every situation.

Crazy time is when there is a head coach, two assistants and a volunteer coach on the bench and one person is doing all the talking in a timeout.

Crazy time is when “startled” appears to be your teams’ base position.

Crazy time is when the AD and the SWA sit together at home match where you beat your rival and neither comes down to offer congratulations.

Crazy time is when you find out a club coach is encouraging one of your players to consider transferring to a “power five” program.

Crazy time is when an SWA encourages a player to come to the SWA with her problems rather than having the player talk with the head coach first.

Crazy time is when the opponent releases into a rotation defense when you are out-of-system and your left side player keeps tipping over the block.

Crazy time is when the opposing setter, not much bigger than a marble, two shoots the ball for a kill at a critical point in the match.

Crazy time is when any player makes a goofy mistake then turns to her teammates and says, “My bad.”

Crazy time is when you have 10 more kills then the opponent, twice as many blocks, two more service aces and you are down 2-0 because your players can’t get out of their own way.

Crazy time is when you focus on strategy and tactics and your players don’t know who is going to pass the ball in the gaps.

Crazy time is when a head coach communicates out of frustration rather than choosing a posture, tone and language that will give a player the best chance to adjust and play with confidence.

Crazy time is when there isn’t a core group of people on the court that you can coach rather than manage.

Crazy time is when you tell yourself the lie; the behavior on the court doesn’t reflect my coaching.

Terry Pettit – www.terrypettit.com



Coaching The Coach In The Mirror

There are three benchmarks that many coaches look for when evaluating a recruit: talent, attitude and effort. To that I would add a fourth, the willingness of an athlete to be uncomfortable as she develops. This combination usually leads to an exceptional player.

As coaches we don’t think of ourselves as performers. We consider ourselves teachers and leaders, and yet I believe that holding ourselves to the same standards that we use to evaluate a player is a reasonable way to measure our preparation and work habits.

It is a cliché to say that coaches work hard, but there is at least as much variance in how hard and focused individual coaches work as there is between athletes in their commitment and preparation to reach a goal.

There are head coaches who are working fifteen hours a day to make a program better, and there are coaches checking in at 10:00 a.m. and punching out after practice. While there are some successful coaches that can error on the side of thinking too much about their program, (I can think of one head coach who cannot sit through an entire movie without thinking about how to make her third rotation stronger) I know of very few consistently successful high school and college coaches who are not out-working their competition.

Are their programs that begin with significant advantages? Yes. It is easier to interest a recruit in Stanford, Texas or Florida then it is to some of their competitors. But even at those schools sustained success is not as easy as it would appear. If Stanford were to put together two or three consecutive seasons where they did not compete for a conference championship it would dramatically impact their recruiting. Recruiting is very fickle. It is not always where you are ranked that is important but the direction that public opinion believes you are moving. Two recruiting mistakes in the same year combined with an injury can send a program spiraling to a different level.

We all know how important a positive attitude is for the people we are coaching, and each of us could list at least a couple of players who never reached their potential because of their sense of entitlement or the fact they just didn’t get it. The same can be true of coaches. There are assistant coaches who believe they are not getting the opportunity to become head coaches because of their gender, when in fact, it is there decision to see themselves as victims that prevents their development.

There are head coaches who take far fewer risks then they ask of their athletes. In scheduling, networking, and recruiting they choose to play it safe. Why go after the better players when I am more likely to be rejected? Why schedule stronger competition when we are more likely to be defeated? Why network with peers when it is more comfortable to communicate with people I already have a relationship with? Why develop an offense different from other teams when if it doesn’t work I will look foolish? Why work at increasing our attendance when we have so much competition from professional sports? Why continue to work at building something remarkable when the person I report to is only interested in us being competitive?

Many of us could not respond to the same demands and expectations that we place on our student athletes if an administrator placed similar demands on us. We ask athletes to be uncomfortable every day. We ask them to set stretch goals and to lay a foundation through strength training, nutrition and conditioning that will give them the best chance to reach their target. We ask them to stay in town during the summer so that they can develop a sense of purpose with their teammates, and we ask them to work camps so they can understand the game from a different perspective. We ask them to refine fundamentals, and if we are a great coach, we never stop asking.

What do we ask of ourselves? How uncomfortable are we willing to be? Do we travel each year to spend a couple of weeks learning from our peers? Do we spend a month during the spring visiting junior programs within our region? Do we develop local and regional coaches? Do we develop relationships with better coaches that will impact our scheduling? Do we watch men’s volleyball and try to determine what aspects of the men’s game we could apply to our own? Do we hire assistant coaches with talents better than our own or do we choose comfort over talent? Who do we ask to help us to hold ourselves accountable?

Talent, effort, attitude and the willingness to be uncomfortable are characteristics that are just as important in coaching as they are in a prospective team captain. So consider strapping this compass to your wrist. Did I work as hard today as my middle blocker? Did I take more risks than the freshman that I am teaching new footwork? Am I as open minded to new ideas and fundamentals as the setter I trying to retrain? Do I reflect the passion that I want from our libero? Am I projecting an attitude that the culture we are building is getting better every day, or am I caught up in a cycle of defeatism and victim-hood? We all know the athlete who spends more energy trying not to work hard then it would take to embrace the opportunity. Sometimes we can be that person. — Terry Pettit



Four Lives That Mattered

      My father and three close friends died this past year. Jeff Schmahl was a colleague, confidant, frequent golf partner, and the father of HuskerVision; Weyland Beeghly was my roommate at Bethany Theological Seminary who entered the foreign service and served at the American embassy in Moscow while writing and singing songs about pig farming; Harold Andersen was the former publisher of the Omaha World-Herald, a lover of poetry, Augusta National, and one of the most generous and welcoming people I ever met. My father was my mentor, best friend and the foundation of our family.

I had the privilege of talking with Jeff, Harold Andersen, and my father shortly before their deaths. Weyland had suffered Parkinson’s disease for the last ten years that he believed was caused by the former Soviet Union shooting radio waves into the American embassy over several years. He had a disarming wit, and in my mind was one of the unsung heroes of his country, quietly going about his work of estimating the crop yields in the countries he was stationed. My last conversation with Weyland was in late October, and he was growing more frustrated as the disease prevented him from doing simple tasks even though his mind could recall the smallest details of our friendship. He died on December 10 from complications in surgery. We walked down Michigan Avenue together in 1968 protesting against the Democratic National Convention powerless beyond our choice of shoes.

Jeff died of pancreatic cancer, and in his last year and a half wrote a powerful blog titled “The Last Train” about his passions, his family, and his battle with the “Big C.” His work ethic, his values, his commitment to his family and friends were inspiring. The toughest thing about Jeff’s death was that chemotherapy had seemed to give him a reprieve until everything turned at the end. In our last conversation, two weeks before his death, we set a golf date for September.

I called Harold Andersen on my way to the Final Four in Omaha. He had just been released from the hospital, and he answered the phone with a strong, enthusiastic voice. We talked about the movie “Spotlight” which I encouraged him to see with his wife Marian because it focuses on the value of investigative journalism. We talked about poetry and the chances of Nebraska winning a fourth National Championship in volleyball. We agreed to talk again soon, after the championship.

He died the next day and his obituary noted that he was considered a “giant” in the newspaper industry. The University of Nebraska had no better friends than Harold and Marian Andersen who gave continuously to provide for a better university.

My father died of a weakened heart at 93 with my brother Jack and I in the room and my daughter Emma having held his hand for most of the morning. He was a remarkable man. Anything that Jack and I learned about coaching was through his mentoring. His wisdom was exceeded only by his humility. When he was in pain during hospice we wished for his death to come soon, but as soon as he passed I wanted to talk with him and continue to do so. Without his presence, I have gone through weeks of not quite knowing who I am.

What these four people had in common was a love of face-to-face conversation. They loved language, ideas, and they didn’t have to have the same opinion as the people they had coffee with or played golf with or went for long walks with. They didn’t see themselves as the center of the universe but they didn’t suffer fools either. They considered themselves lucky and when I was in their presence I did too.

— Terry Pettit



Thanksgiving 2011

 

I love places:

like the earth barely covering

the stem of the tomato plant

on the balcony sunning

or other ones with names:

Jeremy’s Run near Luray

where one morning April

a brook trout beautiful

rose speckled from darkness

to the whirling light

off a Panther Martin.

There are some places,

the Appalachian trail,

or Route 1 north of Mendocino

that are too big for me

to comprehend.

I am better off with little

streams like the one

falling out of Turquoise lake

toward the Rio Grande

South of Taos leaning

into the mid day sun

or on Guadalupe plaza

where Gringos, Navajos, hippies

and touristas feather in

and out of store fronts,

small fish on coral.

Have you seen Pea Ridge

in Northwest Arkansas

covered with fog smoke

in March lifting from cannon

fired a century and a half ago?

I am so happy I saw it

before everything I own

had a camera embedded in its skin;

I cannot survive without naming

the grasses that part

fresh and gold green

beneath my feet

or calling to killdeer,

milkweed, spiderwort, obsidian.

The naming of things

is the first to go

followed by story and recollection,

and then the places themselves

fall away into a fen of ambivolence.

Meganser, ash fall, Northern Lights, crayfish.

We have been given a lifetime

to learn to love

the world we live with.

— Terry Pettit



When Do You Leave Coaching?

Assuming that you are not booted out the door, when is it time to leave the coaching profession? There is no right answer. It depends on what has motivated you throughout your career, whether or not you have developed a passion outside the coaching profession, whether or not you have the talent and experience to be successful in another business, whether you can afford to leave, and for some of us, whether or not we can give up an addiction.

Maybe another way to approach the issue to ask when should we consider leaving the coaching profession?

One of the things that complicates thinking about retiring or a changing professions, is that while coaching volleyball in general is not a lucrative profession, if you have coached long enough you probably have reached a point where it can provide a comfortable living when combined with income from camps, clinics and in a few cases endorsements and television revenue.

When I retired from coaching volleyball at Nebraska, I was 53 years old, at the peek of my professional career, with a supportive administration, and a freshmen class that was the one of the best, if not the best in college volleyball. I had a contract that stated I could not be paid less than the women’s basketball coach (who this year will have a base salary of over a half million dollars a year.) What was I thinking?

 

Several factors weighed into my decision to become a mentor to coaches and leave the coaching profession.

When I began coaching in the early 70’s it would take me less than a month to recover from the season. By 2000 I was barely recovering (physically and mentally) from the stress of the season when pre-season practice began in August. I was battling diverticulitis on an annual basis that became so acute it required surgery in 2002. One of my closest friends, Paul Hammel, also shared the observation when we were fishing last week, that I was a different person during the season. I didn’t ask him what he meant but I’m sure he wasn’t referring to being a more balanced human being.

In 1999, I had seen our oldest daughter Katherine play less than two or three collegiate matches in her first three years as a setter at Colorado State because of conflicts with my coaching responsibilities at Nebraska. In her junior year I left the Nebraska team as it changed planes in Denver on a return trip to Lincoln, and rented a car to drive to Fort Collins, only to discover as I was about to leave the rental car lot, that my driver’s license had expired the day before.  I rented a cab from the Denver airport to Moby gym in Fort Collins in time to get to see her play on a Sunday afternoon before returning on later flight on Sunday evening. Retiring from coaching would give me the opportunity to watch her play several times during her senior year.

In 1998 my long time assistant Cathy Noth left coaching following our appearance in the Final Four in Madison to pursue a family and other interests. It is not that I couldn’t imagine hiring other exceptional coaches, but Cathy had been a great fit for me. Her strengths complimented my weaknesses. I am what Gallup calls a maximizer; someone who is interested in pushing the core of a team to reach it’s potential.

One of Cathy’s strengths is her great sense of inclusiveness. She had the ability to tell me who had done a great job on the “B” side of the net during practice and then I could take that information and interact with and support a player that I might not recognize without Cathy’s insight.

Toward the end of my coaching career I felt that one of the things that separated the great division 1 programs from the good division 1 programs was the talent and accountability of the head assistant coaches. Cathy did not see Nebraska volleyball as Terry’s program but as our program. I did not look forward to the time and energy it takes to develop that level of trust with another assistant coach.

The mindset that dominated my coaching career was my competitiveness, or perhaps more precisely an intense focus of doing everything possible not to lose. I have seen glimpses of this same quality in many of my coaching peers such as Mick Haley, Mary Wise, John Cook, John Dunning, Don Shaw, Dave Shoji, and several other coaches that I haven’t had the opportunity to know personally.  It is not so much a celebration in the joy of winning, as wanting to avoid the anguish that comes from losing. I should note while this trait may have some value in a competitive environment it does not work so well in parenting, mental health or developing a healthy spousal relationship.

There is also what Jung refers to as a shadow side to the intense competiveness that defined my career. It is an equally intense urge to create rather than compete. I find as much pleasure in writing a successful short story or poem as I did in competing with Texas and Stanford. By 2000 I was growing tired of trying to beat people. I wanted to exercise different muscles, and different parts of my brain. I wanted to explore the shadow side of my personality and to do that I would have to leave coaching, not because I didn’t love coaching, but because coaching did not allow me the time and opportunity to explore the components of creativity that I had not been able to focus on.

It was scary. I would be making significantly less money.  I would be giving up something that I knew I could do at a high level. Perhaps most important I would be giving up my identity as the Head coach of Nebraska volleyball for something much less public, with fewer external rewards, and with a destination that I couldn’t even articulate. During my final season as the Head Coach of Nebraska Volleyball in 1999 when I went to bed each night, I grieved what I knew was going to give up. Everything had been set in motion. John Cook was hired to be my associate head coach for a year, and then take over at the end of the season.

In January I would  become a mentor coach for the nineteen sports at Nebraska and help John as he transitioned into the role of head coach. The transition would be smooth because John would have developed relationships with the players, and he would have had a season to reacquaint himself with the culture that surrounds Nebraska Volleyball.

I would conduct roundtables on coaching, work individually on coaching issues with individual coaches, and serve in whatever capacity Director of Athletics, Bill Byrne felt I might be of use. One of the things that I insisted upon was that no head coach or program would report to me. I did not think that it was possible to both mentor and evaluate a program and create any sense of trust. Bill granted me that freedom and I believe that it was critical to the successes that came out of the coaching enhancement program.

It is now twelve years since I have prepared for a season of Nebraska volleyball. I have missed preparing for big matches. I have missed the joy of seeing a player take a risk and work to develop a skill or movement that she didn’t have when she arrived. But I miss those things less and less with each year.

When I left coaching, friendships (even those in the volleyball world) transitioned with me. I am in better physical health and I have the time to daydream, read a book in one day if I want, stand in rivers with a fly rod, and on the best days write something worth reading. It is not a better life but a different life, complete with different challenges, rewards and disappointments.

I am reminded of the words of one of my own mentors, the poet William Stafford who wrote a poem titled, “On Quitting A Small College.” The poem ends with the words:

. . . I miss it now, but face
ahead and go in my own way
toward my own place.

 



Looking For Ghosts

Horseteeth Ringen. The phrase sounds like a Russian greeting in translation or perhaps a salute before tossing down a shot of whiskey at an Irish racetrack. It isn’t either. It is a boy’s name.

When I was a kid in Northwest Indiana my father stopped the car across from a vacant lot near the Shell Station on the North side of town. “That,” he said, “use to be Brown’s Field where we played pickup baseball when I was growing up. Horseteeth Ringen hit a home run here one day, touched first, second and third, and then as he touched home plate, collapsed and died of a heart attack.”

I was mortified. A little bit because the thought of a twelve year old kid having a heart attack was frightening, but mostly because this poor kid, who could be me, had the nickname, “Horseteeth.” Even with the backlash against political correctness this couldn’t happen today.

But nicknames were still around in the 50s and 60s. There was kid who played basketball at my college that was called “The Kosiosko County Jumping Jack.” My two favorite nicknames are both from baseball, one for one of the greatest first basemen of all time, “Stan the Man Musial,” and the other a pun on Musial’s nickname given to a relief pitcher named Don Stanhouse whose combination of Harpo Marx hair and primal screams led an ESPN wag to give him the nickname, “Stan the Man Unusual.”

Today most nicknames are the first letters of a teammate’s first and second names; K.D., C.J., T.K., or hybrids of the first name with a couple of letters tacked on, Kimmer, Jimmer, and Emster. I wonder if in the South “Bigun” is still popular? Horseteeth, Badfeet, Enormous Head, Slowtwitch and Smelly would be snipped off in the first encounter with organized sport, which for most kids is about three.

Some of you may be wondering if the story about Horseteeth is true. It is, but because it took place in the 1930s you are going to have to take my word for it. If it happened after 1994 you could look it up. Horseteeth would likely be on Facebook or Myspace and possibly have an account with Friendster, Linkedin, Twitter or Classmates.com. If Horseteeth’s last name was Swenson you could possibly find him on Lunar Storm, a networking site in Sweden, and if he had a true disability, not just bad teeth, you might find him on disaboom, a network for people with MS, cerebral palsy and other health issues.

But of course Horsetooth died before any of this existed. Horsetooth died before television and Pez dispensers. If he collapsed after hitting a home run in 1994 you could google his name, search for him on pipl.com, and chances are you would find an archived news story about an unfortunate kid who collapsed in a field in Crown Point, Indiana with an undetected heart defect, while playing an unauthorized game of baseball next to a Pennsylvania Railroad roadbed where the tracks had been ripped up thirty years ago.

* * *

She would be fifty-six years old now; five foot ten inches tall, although if she were still wearing the Afro she had when I first met her, her personality, her presence and her hair would make her seem much taller. Her most distinguishing characteristic besides her skin color would be the fact that she is left-handed.

Carolyn Hawkins was from Henderson, North Carolina nineteen miles and 45 minutes North of Louisburg College one of the oldest two-year colleges in the United States. Louisburg College was chartered in 1787, held its first classes in 1805, and became Louisburg Female Academy in 1815. In the early part of the twentieth century it became affiliated with the Methodist Church and reorganized as a junior college.

Carolyn and I both arrived on the Louisburg campus in the Fall of 1974, she as one of the first female athletes to be recruited on an athletic scholarship, while I was hired to teach English and coach men’s golf and tennis. Neither of us was prepared to be a part of the first women’s volleyball team that Louisburg College fielded and both of us assumed our roles, mine as coach and Carolyn’s as player, by happenstance.

Carolyn was recruited to play on Louisburg’s first women’s basketball team by the head coach, Sam White, a confirmed bachelor who had spent most of his life coaching baseball at multiple levels in small towns throughout the South. I became the volleyball coach one week before practice began when the President of the college overheard a conversation at a dinner party that I had played for a men’s team in Chicago.

Both of us assumed our roles because we were asked. Carolyn was encouraged to tryout for the volleyball team by her high school basketball teammate, Debbie Tyson, who was also recruited to play basketball at Louisburg, and who would later go on to become the head volleyball coach at the University of Virginia. I said yes to the President when asked, although I thought he was talking about a men’s volleyball team. I was no more aware of the fact that Title IX legislation had been passed the year before providing opportunity for women in sports than I was that woods and ponds North of the College were home to copperheads, water moccasins, abandoned tobacco barns, and large mouth bass bigger than possums.

Carolyn had two nicknames: Hawk and Turkey. The first was an abbreviation of her last name but also conveyed the change in alertness that came over her in competition. The second was a high school nickname that I assumed referred to her ability to become the center of good-natured kidding about her tendency to be oblivious to whatever was happening whenever she was not in competition.

On a team of fifteen players, none of whom had ever played organized volleyball, her number was eighteen, which was only possible because we made our own uniforms from shirts and cloth bought in Raleigh. The numbers were sewn on by a lady who was friend of Dr. Ruth Cook, who served as Louisburg College’s first senior women’s administrator, and who watched women’s basketball and volleyball competition from a lawn chair perched on a stage in the gymnasium.

Because we ran a 4-2 with the setter positioned at the net in the middle of the court, Carolyn was both a left side and right side attacker, although using those terms would indicate more tactical preparedness than was actually the case. She was the first player in the history Louisburg volleyball to spike the ball, and by the end of her sophomore season was probably the second best attacker in a state that has as many Division I schools as any in the country.

Her development as an attacker allowed her to earn a full volleyball scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when she graduated from Louisburg with her junior college degree. She may have been the first black female athlete to play volleyball for North Carolina, which was located 55 miles and an hour and a half from Louisburg depending upon which two lane roads you took, and how many men with hats on were driving below the 50 mph speed limit.

She was not the first black athlete. Phil Ford was running the famed four corners offense for Dean Smith and Tarheel basketball. Local rival North Carolina State had recently won its first national championship with David Thompsen whose vertical jump challenged the laws of physics. Duke had not yet become Duke. The ACC was becoming the best men’s basketball conference in the country. Women’s volleyball, like women’s sport in general, was like a small amusement park ride on the edge of the state fair.

If Chapel Hill seemed like a charming, progressive college town that might appear on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post to most people, it must have been a culture shock to someone raised in Henderson, North Carolina via Louisburg College. Small towns in the Piedmont were in parallel universe waffling between 1775 and 1955.

Farmers still played marbles at near dusk in Rocky Mount. The owner of a small breakfast café that was my first restaurant meal in Louisburg talked about darkies while he was cooking sausage on the grill. Public sanitation did not include the black neighborhood on the other side of the river. White folks vacationed and golfed at Nags Head or drove South to Myrtle Beach. Black folks fished with worms in the Tar River.

1975 marked the second year for integration at the High School. Four drugstores were located at the same intersection on the square in a town of two thousand people. The movie theater had been closed for several years. Entertainment outside of high school sports was still segregated. People rooted for State or Carolina for different reasons. White people because they were alums, black people because of David Thompson, Charlie Scott and Phil Ford.

The campus that Carolyn Hawkins moved to was bivouacked in the twentieth century. Chapel Hill was actively recruiting black athletes to compete with North Carolina State; The Carolina Coffee shop on Franklin Street welcomed blacks as did the men’s store across the street which provided the men’s basketball staff and players with a as deep a discount as you can get on the dress suits players wore when they traveled. (On most college campuses in the 70s, discrimination was not primarily black and white, but football and men’s basketball on one plane and every other sport on another. To some degree this continues at many major institutions.)

1976 was Carolyn’s first year at North Carolina and my last year at Louisburg before moving to Nebraska. We competed against each other that Fall at Louisburg with Louisburg winning in straight sets, and Carolyn playing well for the Tar heels. After the match she was more “Turkey” then “Hawk” mingling with her former teammates, laughing while being both the center of attention and affection.

I could tell she missed the intimacy of Louisburg, but I was also reassured because her head coach at North Carolina, Beth Miller, was a very caring coach who would provide all the support Carolyn needed to succeed in an opportunity that none of us could have dreamed of two years before. Beth told me that while Carolyn faced the challenges that any student does from moving to a major university from a small liberal arts two year college, she was confident that Carolyn would ultimately succeed and graduate with a degree from one of the most prestigious schools in the country. And she did.

She played her senior year but then I lost track of her, partly because I was consumed with my own challenges at my new coaching position at Nebraska, partly because there was no internet, no cell phones, no texting, no twitter, no facebook. I would run into some of her former teammates who entered the coaching profession at clinics and conventions, and following hugs and embraces our first interaction almost always was, “Have you seen Carolyn? Do you know where she is?” And then we would retell stories about how we could get her to perform at a higher level in practice if we had someone come in and pretend to video tape her for the Raleigh evening news.

In the early 1980s one of my best friends, Terry Davis, a former basketball and volleyball coach at Louisburg High School told me he thought he saw her walking down the street in Greensboro, North Carolina but by the time he doubled back she was gone.

There were reports, with no attribution, that she had joined the military, and then for a year or two there was rumor that she had died, either in an accident or perhaps in military service. With the advent of the Internet, several of us have tried to find her. Her family is gone from Henderson. I phoned the administrative offices at Louisburg College and they do not have any records indicating that she ever attended the school. I was so dumfounded I couldn’t speak.

Beth Miller lost track of her as well. There are over forty Carolyn Hawkins listed in Linkedin living in North Carolina. There are hundreds on Facebook, none of the images have her countenance or smile. Of course she could be married with a different name. She could be living in Europe. Pipl.com does not list any death records that would correspond to her age, but she could be deceased.

I’ve explored the best people search engines: Google, 123 people, spock, and spokeo. There are pay sites that are probably more thorough but I have been hesitant to use those resources for a couple of reasons. After two years of searching for a former high school teammate, I finally found a phone number and address and there was a 99% chance that it was him. His relatives all matched. The age matched. Everything said it was him. But I hesitated. Why?

Something in me said that perhaps he didn’t want to be found. He hadn’t check in at his high school or college website. He hadn’t contacted any of our mutual friends. He or anyone from his family hadn’t been seen at class reunions in over thirty years. Two years before I called someone that I thought for sure was him based on a picture on facebook. Same bone structure. Same interests. Same age. The gentleman laughed, appreciated, and understood my passion to find my friend. But it wasn’t him. That is one reason. And the other reason . . . perhaps she is gone but as long as I don’t know for sure there is hope.

So why do I do this? Am I looking for someone from my past or am I looking for myself in my past. With a former player it’s different. Even when they are fifty-six it is like looking for a lost child. There is a sense that I should have made more of an effort. That I should have made sure that she was doing okay. I should have been there when she enlisted, got married or disappeared.

To some degree Carolyn Hawkins represents the first generation of young women who had the opportunity to compete. They played before there were accurate statistics or records. They played before there were media guides or youtube. For the most part, their pictures are not in trophy cases and they are either to busy to attend or not invited to reunions. They are becoming ghosts. But they still live in their coach’s mind. If I saw her today coming around the corner, if by chance I am lucky enough to find out that she is alive, healthy and doing well, this is what I would say:

Hawk, how are we doing?

Terry Pettit is the author of Talent and the Secret Life of Teams, available at www.terrypettit.com



How Can We Justify Intercollegiate Athletics?

I believe that the purpose of a university education is to teach students to learn how to learn, and to learn how to take responsibility for their own development. There are other things that take place of course, the memorization of scientific tables, learning how to write a readable essay, the reading of great and not so great literature, the socialization that comes with living in dormitories, fraternities and sororities and the introduction of the arts and music through required attendance at recitals and exhibitions. But all of this to me is secondary to the idea that idea that a college education is one place that we can go to learn different ways we can take accountability for our own development.

For the sake of the argument, let’s assume that you agree with me. If so, what is the purpose of intercollegiate athletics? How can we justify spending millions of dollars on a small percentage of the student population?

Some might argue that we can justify football and men’s basketball because they provide entertainment for the university and local communities, and in some cases generate revenue that allows other students to participate in the competitive arena.

If revenue is the primary justification for an athletic department, universities, we would be better off taking the football budget and investing it in Berkshire Hathaway, Apple or Google. If entertainment is the primary goal then we could take the money and have cirque de sol troupes visit the campus quarterly and provide free tickets to every student, faculty member, administrator and donor.

The best justification that I can find for the amount of money that we spend on intercollegiate athletics is to come back to my original premise:if a university education is where we go to learn how to learn, then an athletic department can be a laboratory for that endeavor. Intercollegiate athletics can be not only a cauldron where we learn about ourselves, but where we learn to take responsibility for our own development, where we learn the principals of leadership and teambuilding, and where we learn how to take action based on those principals.

My vision is that coaches have the potential to build a culture that promotes self-actualized leadership, one where student athletes progress from being directed and coached to becoming situational leaders who become passionate about their own development. The first step in the process is to give student athletes a framework for making better decisions.

Hear is a list of values that a coach or athletic department might consider when developing a compass for decision making:

Integrity
A strong work ethic
Teamwork
Tolerance and respect for our teammates, opponents, and people outside our community.
A willingness to be uncomfortable in our pursuit of excellence.
The last value interests me in particular. Given the nature of contemporary culture where many incoming student athletes have had even their smallest problems solved by their parents, we have to begin by changing the mindset that accompanies the people we are coaching. We have to educate both them (and their parents) that if we are doing our job we are going to create a supportive environment but one that continually challenges student athletes to take responsibility for themselves and their personal development.

Our first task is to teach our players how to make better decisions. Imagine that the values that I listed above were like the directions on a compass, and that we taught our athletes hold each decision that they made up to those values. (Imagine a wristband that each player wore that listed the core values; a compass for making decisions.)

At the end of a tough practice the head coach decides that he will push the team through a series of shuttle runs to develop fitness and mental toughness. The player has a decision to make. Do I glide through the exercise, working hard enough to stay ahead of a few other players so as to not draw attention to myself, or do I push myself as hard as I can? Which decision is consistent with the values and behaviors that my teammates and I have committed to?

Is there integrity in giving less than my best effort? No.

Do I have respect for my teammates if I do not work hard? No.

Am I honoring my commitment to be uncomfortable? No.

It is more likely that team members (and coaches) will hold themselves accountable to difficult tasks if they have already committed to specific behaviors before the challenge is before them.

Does this mean that everyone wearing a wristband will automatically become a great teammate? No. Does it mean that everyone will automatically give his best effort in every drill? No. But even when they do not choose the behavior that is consistent with our sense of purpose, they will be aware of it. Our first goal is awareness. Our next goal is not to be perfect but to be better. What we are trying to do is to move from directing a player into the appropriate behavior to coaching a player who has already committed to specific values and behaviors that give her the best chance to get better.

As coaches we tend to see our most difficult challenges in physical terms: blocking footwork, defensive pursuit, a strong left side attack in endgame, etc. . . . but every behavior that we hope to create on the court is preceded by a decision in the brain. Leadership is making decisions based on predetermined values. We have to train leadership as consistently and as passionately as we do transition footwork or any other sophisticated response that leads to success. Leadership cannot develop until we first teach our team members how to follow a commitment to healthy values and behaviors.

Terry Pettit is the author of Talent and the Secret Life of Teams which can be ordered at (www.terrypettit.com).



A Coach In Full – by Terry Pettit

There are two things that can happen as an exceptional coach moves into the last third of his career. He can get stuck by refusing to adapt or he can make some seemingly small but significant adjustments that allow him to become an even better coach.

Most of us get stuck. We don’t alter our vision of how to recruit, train or play. We push down harder on the unique talent that allowed us to become a good coach in the first place without addressing changes in technique, in the culture, in the size of athlete it takes to compete.

When this happens frustration can turn to anger and we began explaining our predicament in terms outside our control. Our lack of success or progress is framed by the conference we’re in, the lack of a BCS football team, the kids that aren’t coachable, the lack of minorities in our community, or the focus of the athletic department is on women’s basketball.

Whether or not a coach has the courage and will to adapt will determine if he spends his final seasons talking about kids he coached ten years ago while dumping camp money into a SEP IRA, or putting himself in position to be as uncomfortable as he was when he was a developing coach. If he chooses the later he may discover that a behavior or philosophy that once was beneficial may be at the heart of why he is stuck today.

* * * *

There are 329 NCAA Division I volleyball programs. If we assume (albeit incorrectly) that each team has equal resources, talent, leadership, strength of schedule and coaching, the odds of winning the national championship in any given year would be one 1 in 329.

The odds of the same team winning four consecutive national championships are 1 in 11,716,114,081. Just for the fun of it lets say that out loud: One in eleven billion, seven hundred and sixteen million, one hundred and fourteen thousand, and eighty-one.

Of course division 1 volleyball, is not played on a level playing field. In thirty years of NCAA women’s volleyball tournament competition only ten schools have won a national championship. In some years there are only a handful of teams that have a realistic chance to compete for the title.

As the 2010 season began most people outside the Big 10 conference believed that Penn State, with the graduation of All American setter Alisha Glass and National Player of the Year Megan Hodge, (both currently playing with the US National Team), plus a preseason injury to sophomore outside hitter Darcy Dorton, would probably not allow Penn State to contend with preseason favorites Stanford, Nebraska and Florida.

Big Ten coaches had a different point of view. They were focusing on Penn State’s returning All Americans, senior right side player Blair Brown and senior middle blocker Arielle Wilson, as well as superb floor defenders Alyssa D’Erico and Cathy Quilico. They also knew that Penn State would be defending its three consecutive titles with Russ Rose, the best head coach in women’s volleyball while hosting the a Regional Championship in Happy Valley. They made this observation while crossing forefingers in front of their chests.

While the Lions were training a former defensive specialist, 5’6” sophomore Kristin Carpenter to become the starting setter in a 5-1 system, Stanford, Nebraska and Florida, all decided to run a two setter offenses that can be as problematic as a turboprop; they both have too many moving parts. 6-2s struggle to maintain a rhythm, are vulnerable to back row attack and the setters in a 6-2 system can have about the same opportunity for leadership as the pusher in a two-man bobsled.

Stanford, Nebraska and Florida all lost in Regional Tournaments to teams (USC, Washington and Purdue) that ran simpler 5-1 systems. The winning teams also made fewer errors, and on that particular night outplayed their higher ranked opponents.

In the meantime Penn State was hosting a regional championship in Rec Hall on the Penn State campus that did not feature a team that was on anyone but the NCAA Division 1 Volleyball Committee’s short list for an appearance in Kansas City.

In the past two years the committee has gotten the right teams into the tournament but seems to have lacked the intuitive intelligence or leadership to place the strongest teams in different brackets. Penn State defeated a game but overmatched Duke squad 3 to 1 in the Regional Finals, the first the Blue Devils had ever competed in, and moved on to Kansas City.

As the Final Four approached, Cal appeared to be playing the best volleyball in the country. The Golden Bears defeated the Golden Gophers of Minnesota 3-0 in the semifinals of the Seattle Regional before dismantling Washington with a .364 hitting percentage in the finals on the Huskies home court.

USC, who had upset Stanford in the Dayton Regional, had enough young talent to compete with anyone, but had the unenviable task of trying to beat a great conference opponent for the third time in the same year. That dynamic helped the Trojans in Dayton but shifted to Cal’s favor in Kansas City.

Cal defeated USC in the second semifinal 3-0 as junior outside hitter Tarah Murray with 23 kills and senior setter Carli Lloyd both made strong cases for player of the year honors. Murray had 78 kills in three matches with USC this year against a team who beat the Bears twice and has one of the best tactical coaches in the country in Mick Haley.

The first semifinal with Penn State and Texas was the one that drew everyone’s attention. As one coach observed, “Texas had been a ‘friggin’ light show for the second half of the Big Twelve Season.” Head Coach Jerritt Elliot said it was the best chemistry of any team he had ever coached. All American Juliann Faucette’s bad girl routine of the previous two years had evolved into solid leadership. The Longhorns had overwhelmed Big Twelve Conference Champion Nebraska in their final conference meeting with a quick tempo offense that made the Huskers 6-2 look like they were playing Mintonette.

In the Regional Final the Longhorns overcame an inspired Purdue University team that had taken out top seed Florida in the semifinal and might have persevered in the Final if the Boilers senior setter and inspirational leader Jaclyn Hart had not succumbed to injury toward the end of the first game.

It was about halfway through the semifinal match between Texas and Penn State that 12,000 people suddenly realized, Oh “s&*t” they’re going to do it again, as the Penn State skated to a 25-13, 25-13, 25-22 victory with freshman left side hitter Deja McClendon making her Final Four debut with
eleven kills, no errors, and a .733 attack percentage.

Almost everyone outside of State College, Pa., was hoping for a Cal victory in the final and there was reason for hope. Cal had the best setter in the tournament, and prior to the finals the most effective left side player in the tournament in Tarah Murrey.

Cal’s head coach, Rich Feller, is one of those coaches who has adapted in his twelve year tenure at Cal where he has surrounded himself with talented assistants Chris Bigelow and Sam Crossen and developed one of the top programs in the Pac Ten. Taking a team that was not ranked higher than fifth in a Pac 10 preseason poll to the Finals helped earn Feller the AVCA National Coach of the Year Award.

But no one has adapted more in the later half of this decade than Penn State’s Russ Rose. In 2001, just three years after a National Championship the Lions, suffered a rare early exit from the NCAA tournament losing to Temple 3-1. Some recruiting mistakes, health issues, and perhaps coaching fatigue had the Lions on the verge of being stuck.

For years Penn State’s best teams had featured two aircraft carriers, a setter and three role players. No one likes to coach the over achiever more than Rose, hence a Penn State roster that looks like a mixture of international quarter milers with a club soccer team.

At some point Rose decided he liked competing for national championships more than he liked kids with headbands in the front row. Now, everyone at the net has national team size. Rose, more than any other women’s coach has adapted the simplicity of the men’s game to the Nittany Lions M.O. The outside sets are deceptively quick, and each attacker focuses on one primary attack. It is an offense built on efficiency and tempo and it works in part because of the ball handling skills of Penn State’s liberos and defensive specialists.

Coach Rose has always had the right kids in the right position. He has always trained defense, pursuit and covering as well as anyone in the game. His players have always been low error with a great understanding of how Penn State wins. He doesn’t get in his players way and he doesn’t put undue expectations on them with hype. He also doesn’t create a dependency where they are looking for an emotional handout after each point. He has done all these things throughout his career but for the past four years he is doing it with a different breed of cat and at a twenty first century pace.

Known for sarcasm that can approach cynicism, Russ Rose would be a great guy to have in the foxhole next to you unless you were about to die. He wouldn’t tell you what you want to hear. But the sarcasm is softer now and is overshadowed by the simplicity and consistency of his message. Oregon head coach Jim Moore when asked what Russ does best, said, “He has the ability to tell his truth to his players without them rolling their eyes.”

There is a saying among coaches that we need to have our athletes train like women, with great focus and attention to detail, but compete like men. When it counted the most Penn State played without fear and Cal played as if it was not sure if it could win, leading to a fourth consecutive national championship for the Penn State Nittany Lions, 25-20, 27-25, 25-20. McClendon, Brown, and Wilson combined for 46 kills, and McClendon won her first NCAA Finals MVP award.

There are hundreds of reasons that Penn State has achieved its remarkable record in the past four years. The Penn State campus is located less than a day’s drive from more than a third of this country’s population. Inconsistent support for volleyball on the East Coast has helped Penn State mine some of the extraordinary talent that has graced State College in recent years where the nearest volleyball program that has reached a National Championship match is over eight hundred miles away. Hosting a regional helps, upsets help, and the lack of a dominant team all played parts in Penn States 2010 National Championship. But make no mistake; Penn State’s Russ Rose, a coach in full who is decidedly not stuck, played the largest part.

Penn State Wins Its Fourth Consecutive National Championship