When Dad's got game

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

hey have to run a little faster, work a little harder, practice a little more.

They have to set the example, become the leaders, swallow the criticism.

Coaches' children don't have it easy.

Micah Reutzel, whose father, Brett, coaches basketball at Fredericktown, sums it up: "Every coaching tip feels like a fatherly lecture."

Several high school coaches in the Southeast Missouri region are coaching, or have coached, their sons and daughters. And the coaches, sons, mothers and teammates agree: The expectations are higher for offspring than for everybody else.

Occasionally, this leads to conflict at home. Usually, it leads to unfair discipline at practice. And almost always, it leads to a bond that is cherished by parent and child.

Oran High School's Mitch Wood, Charleston's Danny Farmer and Reutzel, who formerly coached at Central High in Cape Girardeau, all are coaching their sons in basketball this year.

All three say they expect more out of their sons than from anyone else out on the court.

"Oh yeah, there's no doubt about that," said Wood. "As a parent and a coach, you're going to treat your son differently. It's almost impossible not to. You have high expectations for your own kid and for your team, and that's a high standard to meet when you put them both together."

Wood's son, Ryne -- spelled like the former Chicago Cubs' all-star second baseman Ryne Sandberg -- has to deal with more than his father being his basketball coach. Mitch is also Ryne's baseball coach and principal.

Mitch, Ryne and even Ryne's teammates all say it's obvious that Ryne gets more than his fair share of tongue-lashings at practice.

One teammate, Nathan Seyer, said the team often sticks up for Ryne. He said sometimes other teammates will take the blame for something Ryne did just so the coach won't lay into him.

"He's always on me at practice," Ryne said. "He's going to be on me harder; it's just the way it is. You just take half of what he says and let it go in one ear and out the other. He says that too."

Proving their worth

Wood and other coaches say they're harder on their sons because they have higher expectations. Some say there's an element of making their sons prove they're worthy of playing time.

Reutzel said that aspect was magnified for his son last year. Not only was last year Brett's first year coaching Micah in serious competition, but it was also the Reutzels' first year at Fredericktown.

"You're at a new school, I'm a new coach and my son is going to start," Reutzel said. "I had to make sure I showed no favoritism. I'd bench him and leave him there too long and my assistant would remind me of that. I just wanted to make sure everybody could see he's not going to get special treatment."

That anti-favoritism sentiment was shown at practice as well, which led to a rocky first year of varsity basketball for the Reutzel family.

Brett said he is usually harder on his point guard, Micah's position, than those who play other positions, but the coach said he went overboard last year with criticism of Micah because he was his son. Brett said he felt the need to prove to Micah's teammates, as well, that there would be no handouts.

Favored sons

Brad Wittenborn, Notre Dame's soccer coach, can relate. He coached two sons, Danny and Scott. Scott was gifted enough to play varsity his freshmen and sophomore years of high school.

"There are some added difficulties because no matter what you do, people who aren't there to see practice day-in and day-out may tend to think you favor your kids," Brad Wittenborn said. "It puts more stress on them to do the right things, and they have to have a great work ethic. You can't just do enough to get by; you have to show people you earned your way."

Players also feel the pressure to prove they belong on the court.

"People will ridicule you more and criticize you more," said Farmer's oldest son, Danny II, a junior at Charleston High School. "The fans have a bird's-eye view. They check to make sure you're wearing your pants right, make sure your shirt is tucked in, they see your facial expression. In every aspect of the game, eyes are on me. That's why when you see me playing, I'm usually smiling."

Coaching one son is difficult enough. Farmer coaches both his sons -- the other is Ashton, a sophomore.

Ashton is a 6-foot-6-inch starter who averages about 16 points a game. Danny II is a 6-foot-2-inch role player who averages about 2 points per contest.

Obviously, Ashton has a brighter future on the basketball court than his older brother, who prefers football. And coach Farmer said he's been open about what he expects out of both sons.

"I'm not one to have my kid out there because he's my kid," Farmer said. "My older son doesn't play that much; Ashton, he's legit. I tell my kids what I expect and they understand."

Farmer, who said he expects both his sons to be leaders on and off the court, said he has a bit more trouble dealing with Ashton because he sees so much basketball potential.

"Ashton, I have to remember, is just a 15-year-old sophomore," coach Farmer said. "He's very young, and he played varsity last year as a freshman. He's going to play like a sophomore sometimes, and last year he played like a freshman sometimes."

Jackson girls basketball coach Ron Cook dealt with some of the same issues in his family. He coached all three of his daughters, including twins Sherry and Shauna, who both ended up playing at Southeast Missouri State University.

"It was tough at first, because one was starting and the other one came off the bench," said Cook of the twins. "One was a little better shooter than the other, and you have to be careful what you say because kids look to their fathers for approval. If I said something positive toward one, I tried to make sure I said something positive for the other one."

Leave it at the gym

All the coaches interviewed said they try not to take practice home with them. Almost all of them said they talk about sports and strategy at home when watching games together, but they try to avoid critiquing their sons' performances.

But if not careful, the time spent together on the court can cause some off-the-court friction.

Reutzel, for instance, regrets the way he handled his situation last year, although he said it wasn't completely abrasive.

Polly Reutzel, Brett's wife and Micah's mother, had to intervene on occasion.

"It was tough sometimes," Polly said Saturday afternoon at the halftime of Fredericktown's game against Oran. "You have to listen to both sides. Both have come to me and wanted me to help with this. I try to weigh each situation fairly. I know Brett is not going to do anything to deliberately mistreat Micah, but sometimes I have to remind Dad he is just a boy."

Cook said his wife, Sandra, helped a lot in similar situations.

"They had a good outlet," Cook said. "They needed someone to talk to besides Dad the coach. It becomes a family thing. I'd talk to my wife about things and they'd talk to her. She was the mediator and the catalyst, and when I'd get too demanding she'd pull me aside and give me a different point of view."

The Reutzels, since last year, have adjusted and have come to understand each other better. Brett says he has backed off and Micah has tried to understand the difference between his Dad barking at him and his coach barking at him.

The rewards

Although there are negatives associated with being a coach's child, there are positives too.

Ryne likes the fact that he has every opportunity to make himself the best basketball and baseball player he can be.

"There's definite advantages," he said. "You have the keys to the gym and the weight room."

And there's never a lack of outside motivation.

Basketball coaches are always on their children to take more shots. Perhaps that's why Micah can pull up four feet behind the arc in the first quarter of a game, swish it and trot down the court like it's no big deal.

But more than that, coaches say their respective sports have made them closer with their children.

"I've got fond memories, and it's something I can take to my grave," said Cook. "The money is not that great in coaching, but I got something extra. I got to coach a lot of great kids and I got to coach my own kids."

Being a coach's child may cause some sleepless nights, but that can be a good thing, too.

It's not uncommon for Micah to struggle getting to sleep after games. So, he'll get out of bed, turn on the TV and watch some ESPN. A few minutes later, Dad will join him.

"A lot of nights after a game, we'll sit up until we fall asleep on the couch watching TV," Micah said. "I think it's cool that we have a relationship like that."

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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