In the hoops world, many things have changed — but not everything

It has been some 60 years since I attended my first high school basketball game. It has been exactly 50 years since I last played a high school basketball game. It has been 36 years since I last coached a high school basketball game.

So when I took in two high school basketball games in the space of four days recently, I couldn’t help but notice that times have changed. Here’s one major difference. Sixty years ago we stood out in the cold for an hour just to insure that we could get into the limited seating gymnasiums of the day. That no longer occurs.

I just wish whoever came up with the idea of ticket presales had done so many years earlier!

One of the games I attended this past week was the Columbian boys against Upper Sandusky game. The other was the Hopewell-Loudon girls playing New Riegel. Here then are some reflections on the games and the times.

FORMER HEAD COACHES — One of the first things I noticed was the fact that three of the four schools had former head coaches sitting on the bench in an assistant capacity. At the boys game this was the case for both schools.

Paul Gnepper spent many years as the varsity boys basketball coach at Lakota High School. He is now in his sixth season helping Jeff Winslow at Upper Sandusky. Bill Beaston used to be the head coach of the Tornadoes and is now assisting Travis Kinn at Columbian.

Assistant coach Steve Lucius seems right at home on the New Riegel bench. He should, as he amassed over 500 wins as the head coach of the Blue Jacket girls.

It seems to me that it takes a special person to give up the reins of a program and later become an assistant. When queried about their situations I heard the same reasons for staying involved. They still love teaching the game and they really enjoy being around the kids.

THE NEW RIEGEL CONNECTION — There was a decided New Riegel flavor to the coaches. Gnepper and Lucius were both 1970 graduates of New Riegel High School. Columbian coach Kinn also calls New Riegel his alma mater. I spent three seasons as the New Riegel girls’ basketball coach myself.

If you are looking for one more example; how about long-time New Riegel boys basketball coach Rick DeMoss. He is an assistant coach at Carey High School. Do you think basketball is a big deal in Blue Jacket country?

THE OFFICIALS — There are three stripes working the games these days instead of the two from my era. The officials were introduced before each game and their names were met with applause. I remember thinking that may be the only time the crowd would be so receptive.

I was wrong however. Both games were well officiated and there were few complaints from the coaches or the fans.

THE CHEERLEADERS — I was surprised at the number of cheerleaders at the Upper Sandusky/Columbian game. It seemed like the squads were larger than what I remember. A cool sportsmanship gesture took place during the change of quarters as both squads paired up to do front flips, back flips and “what have you” down the floor.

Their gymnastic skills were impressive as they did things I would never have dreamed of even trying. Of course, that didn’t stop me from nudging my wife and saying “I could do that.”

Yeah … she didn’t believe me either!

THE CROWD — One thing I noticed was that the crowds were not as enthusiastic as I expected. Perhaps that was because the season is so young. Another factor is the fact that, unlike a few years ago, these games were no longer league games and maybe that makes them a little less significant.

Yet another possibility is that many of the fans were spending a lot of time on their cell phones. At Upper Sandusky, many were checking on the Alabama/Georgia football score as Ohio State fans had a vested interest in the outcome of that game. At least they thought they did!

It does beg the question, though — “What did we ever do before cell phones?” If the phrase “had an actual face-to-face conversation” entered your head, we are on the same page.

THE PLAYERS — Both games featured a 30-point scoring performance. Mason Vent pumped in 31 for the Rams and his composure and ability were fun to observe. Makayla Elmore had 30 for the Chieftains.

The 6-foot-3 sophomore was much taller than any player for the Blue Jackets, but if you think she scored so many points simply because she is so tall, then you haven’t seen her play. She is a talented player and rumor has it she is already being recruited by major college programs. I’ve now seen her play and I think those thoughts are more than rumors. They are fact.

One other player stood out for me. Upper Sandusky post player Jason Holly had some great assists. If someone makes a pass that results in an easy basket they are going to get a reaction from me sitting in the stands. Holly did so on more than one occasion.

The highlight of my night came at the New Riegel/Hopewell-Loudon game. As a coach you wonder sometimes if your players actually hear anything you say. Also as a coach, it is hard to sit in the stands and not do some coaching in your head.

When a New Riegel girl came up with a loose basketball in the second half she started down the floor with a teammate on both sides of her. Only one Hopewell-Loudon defender was back and she was underneath the basket. The Jacket girl dribbled into the lane where the one defender could effectively bottle up all three offensive players. I’m thinking she should have pulled up sooner.

A few seconds later one of my former players, sitting two rows in front of me, turned and said “she should have stopped at the foul line and made the defender commit.”

A smile crossed my face. After all these years she remembered something I’d like to think I taught her. It also proved that despite all the changes, the game of basketball is still very much the same as it has always been.

Al Stephenson is The A-T sports columnist.

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