Monday, August 6, 2012

For Steve

This past weekend, on the hottest day of the summer so far, my family piled into the middle school gymnasium to celebrate the life of my basketball coach of 8ish years, Steve. The gym was packed, which probably isn't that far out of the norm for anyone who coached for as long as Steve did. But Steve...he was anything but the norm.

Steve worked as a recruiter and basketball coach for years at colleges like Cal Poly and Cornell. In 1982, when his youngest daughter was a baby, he was told that he had a brain tumor and needed surgery immediately. During that surgery, he was apparently left too long without oxygen by the anesthesiologist, and remained in a coma for several weeks after the surgery. When he woke up, he had to re-learn how to speak, and basically re-learn how to do everything. Although he made amazing strides, he only regained use of his left arm, and still struggled with speech. His wife, Joyce, was told to put him in a nursing home and move on with life. She said no. And instead, they moved on with a new sort of life, together. To make a long story short, sometime in the 90's Steve began coaching his daughters in basketball and softball. Shortly thereafter, he established an AAU Girl's Basketball Club in our city.

I remember playing 4th grade YMCA basketball. I was 5'9" in 4th grade, so I was only inches away from the lowered hoop we played on, but also had no athletic ability whatsoever. I was super uncoordinated, and often fell for no reason at all (years later, Steve would joke that I was tripping over the lines on the floor). So, I think we were all surprised when my dad got this phone call from a man with extremely slurred speech who said, "Mike. I want your daughter." Once he explained that he wanted me on his tournament basketball team, between that and hearing Steve speak for the first time, I'm pretty sure that my dad thought it was a practical joke...but it wasn't, with Steve saying that he figured he could teach everything about basketball, except for being tall. And I was tall.

And he did teach me everything. He literally brought in a track to teach me how to run (sort of). He taught me the fun-DA-mentals (as he would say) of pass, dribble, shoot. He bought me my first pair of basketball shoes. He couldn't physically show us the game, but he brought in people who could, and the older girls showed the younger ones what to do and helped translate what he was saying until we could understand 'Steve-speak' for ourselves. From 4th grade on, basketball became my life, six days a week, year-round.

We played a lot, often with tournaments every weekend. Steve coached from his wheelchair parked at the corner of the court, using a headset and speaker box to call out plays, subs, and to often tell me to "USE! YOUR! LEGS! MEREDITH!" He taught us to give back by encouraging us to coach YMCA teams of younger kids or acting as referee when the younger girls had scrimmages.

My dad used to help fix things for Steve when they broke down--his wheelchair van, his speaker box, his motorized wheelchair, etc. So, I probably saw more often than most how often things went wrong for Steve, and I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been...but I never heard him complain. What I saw instead was his hilariously wicked sense of humor. For example, after a bout with Bell's Palsy once, he used to like to scare the bejeezus out of everyone by randomly pretending that he had it again. His daughter Meagan (who I have been thrilled to reconnect with via Mom's Group) told a story at his memorial service about him managing to escape from the van once while she quickly ran into Costco (after she'd asked him to wait in the van because she'd be right back), and wheeling behind her begging for sweets that he wasn't supposed to eat as a diabetic, and then loudly exclaiming, "I don't understand why you have to be so mean to a cripple!" and "Why won't you wait for me?!" to the horror of everyone else in Costco at the time, and to his delight. That was Steve. To say he had a bit of a mischievous streak may be the understatement of the century!

Faith, family, and school were important to Steve, and they always came first--no one was ever penalized for missing a game or practice for church or any other family reason. If you were doing badly in school, you didn't play. Steve knew everyone's parents, always, and had all their phone numbers memorized.

Looking back at newspaper articles about Steve, they are peppered with quotes like, "I'm probably a better teacher now... the chair will give you patience. And, of course, the Lord gives you what you need," and "I'd rather be in this chair, knowing Jesus and going to Heaven than bip bopping around like I used to and going straight to Hell." But unlike other coaches I've had throughout the years, I don't think he made any of the girls who weren't Christian feel uncomfortable either--he never demanded that we pray before games like others did. I remember knowing that his faith was important to him, but I also remember that his faith was separate from the game. In retrospect, he lived his life of faith as a lighthouse--making a sound only occasionally, but shining through his actions daily.

Shortly before Steve died, a Facebook page was created to keep everyone updated as he was in hospice. And literally hundreds of girls--many of whom I knew and many of whom I didn't--began to chime in about Steve. How he saw something in them when no one else did. How he believed in them. Taught them. Cared for them. How they knew that the AAU team in their city wouldn't have ever started if Steve hadn't been so instrumental in bringing girl's basketball to our city, and then the valley. All of these things that he was to me...he was that to literally hundreds of other girls as well.

I don't think I ever told Steve what an amazing influence he was in my life, or how much the opportunity of basketball meant to thank you Steve, for everything. You are missed by so many who knew you, and I can only hope that even those who didn't know you are inspired by your amazing life.

{Steve, and his wife Joyce}


  1. This made me tear up. What an amazing man. I like your analogy of a light house about his faith. Beautiful!

  2. Bwaaahaha Steve sounds like a hilarious, loving, dedicated man who lived a fulfilled life--and made sure to pass it on. This was beautiful, Mere. Keeping you in my prayers, now and forever.

  3. Wow! Steve sounds like he was an amazing man and touched the lives of so many people. This was a wonderful post, and I am keeping you all in my thoughts.

  4. What an inspiration to so many! That was beautiful. Sorry for your loss :(

  5. What a beautiful post and a wonderful man. Thank your for sharing!

  6. This was a delight to read. Gave me goosebumps!

  7. How amazing to have had the chance to know someone so well that would have such a strong impact on who you are today. I'm very sorry for your loss, but I'm glad that you shared his story!

  8. Such an amazing piece about an amazing man. I love how people can touch and change your life just by being themselves. It is so great you have so many memories to recall and smile or laugh. Thank you for sharing with us!


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