The late great Coach John Grussendorf
So I glance up at the scoreboard, my view obscured by the waterfall of sweat pouring down my face. Thirty seconds left. My legs are on fire, struggling to hold me in my squatting position, back against the wall. My moans join in with the chorus o...
So I glance up at the scoreboard, my view obscured by the waterfall of sweat pouring down my face.
Thirty seconds left.
My legs are on fire, struggling to hold me in my squatting position, back against the wall. My moans join in with the chorus of complaints echoing through the AlBrook high school gym and I slowly start to sink. The metallic clicking of that ancient clock mocks us as it slo-o-o-o-o-owly counts down to the end of this torture. I’m about to surrender to the sweet, siren call of the floor when another sound rises above the din. A high-pitched command flung at me like a dart:
“Ninety degree angle, Tooz! You can do it!”
The voice inspires me to find a few more pints of resolve. I push myself back up the wall, my legs bent to the crouching position they started in five minutes prior to this agony.
And this was one of Coach’s easier drills.
Like thousands of former high school basketball players in this area, I can proudly say that John Grussendorf was my coach. And while he didn’t make me an athlete (although it wasn’t for lack of trying; I’ve never sweated more profusely than I did for him), he did make me a better person. He taught every player that it wasn’t always who had the best skill set. Success was often determined by other factors.
A few examples ...
TEAMWORK: He’d casually ask you at practice how many points you had in last week’s game, and if you knew, you had to run that many laps. You’d be surprised how many times he caught us with that one. It was always about the team with Coach, not individual stats.
CREATIVITY: One of his drills involved diving on the floor for a loose ball. Whoever returned it to him got to sit out this skin-burning exercise the next time. Once I hung back and didn’t jump in the pile. When the player who grabbed the ball tossed it to Coach, I intercepted it and handed it to him myself. Instead of yelling that I didn’t follow the rules, he smiled, said “Well, that’s one way to do it.” and let me sit.
EFFORT: During a game, Coach drew up a play for my brother which called for him to make a spin move around an opponent and go in for a reverse layup. He had struggled with it in practice but Coach told him if he didn’t do it, he was coming out of the game. So my brother got the ball, spun around and promptly dribbled the ball off his foot, out of bounds. He started walking towards the bench but Coach told him to get back out there. “If you try your best, even if you fail, I’ll never take you out for that.”
At Coach’s funeral last week, the church was packed with family, friends and former players. I hadn’t seen him since he stopped in to comfort us when my dad was in hospice eight years ago, a gesture that cemented his place in my heart. Before I left for the funeral, I saw a Facebook post by another former player, Randy Paulson, which reminded me of another aspect of Coach’s philosophy and is the perfect way to encapsulate this wonderful, inspirational man.
“I have always remembered that, although you could hear his voice above the crowd if you did something wrong, his voice was always, always, always louder when you did it right.”
My life is about striving to keep doing it right, Coach. Until the last second ticks off the clock.
Just like you.