For Youth Basketball Coaches, Rules of Game Are Outside the Lines

NATICK, Mass.  Jim Masefield is the proud father of a high-scoring point guard for the Ernie’s Hardware Hawks of the 10-11 year-old division of the Metrowest CYO basketball league, but he’s the first to admit his son Connor’s skills aren’t inherited.

“I suffered from Osgood Schlatter’s disease when I was a kid,” he recalls uneasily, referring to chronic pain in the bony protrusion below the knee that strikes young athletes between the ages of 10 and 15.  “When we received the good news that this crippling ailment skips a generation, I promised Conner he’d have a shot at the fun I missed while staying indoors making prank calls to neighbors.” 

Osgood Schlatter diagnosis:  “You will never slam home a 360 Tomahawk jam.”

To that end, Masefield has encouraged his son’s budding interest in basketball, coaching his teams when no other father would.  “When spring comes, everybody wants to be outside with their kids, so there’s always plenty of volunteers to coach baseball,” he notes.  “Nobody wants to get up at 6 in the morning in January to go to a parochial school gym that has that faintly peppery smell of old jock straps.”


But with Connor’s level of skills comes high expectations, so this year’s 5-5 record motivated Jim to learn more about the game through Youth Basketball Coaching 101, a seminar offered by Mike Antonizzi, a former junior college coach who is currently serving a two-year suspension.  “What I did wasn’t wrong, it was stupid,” Antonizzi says.  “My accountant says to always save your receipts, but I guess there’s an exception for payments to student-athletes.”

“A power forward–my kingdom for a power forward!”

This Sunday morning finds Masefield and about 15 other father-coaches assembled in the cafeteria of St. Rocco’s Middle School to learn more about the game from someone who’s actually made a living at it.  “First thing you guys got to know,” Antonizzi says as he prowls between the folding chairs and tables, “is that whoever’s cutting your hair, you gotta fire him.”

“No more SuperCuts!”

The men in the audience exchange furtive glances at each other; for the most part, they have chosen the traditional New England “boy’s regular” style–that is, no style at all.

Boy’s regular

“If you’re not paying a hundred dollars for a haircut, you’re not making the necessary investment in your team’s future,” Antonizzi says.  He holds up photos of John Calipari, head coach at Kentucky, and Pat Riley, who won five NBA titles coaching the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat.  “Do you think Riley would walk out of the dressing rooms at Madison Square Garden looking like this?” he asks derisively as he flips the cowlick of Jerry Armantrout, who coaches the Wayland Texaco Grease.

Pat Riley

“Another thing you got to learn from top coaches,” Antonizzi says, “is if you dress like crap, you’ll play like crap.”

“We have a very limited budget for uniforms,” says Father Phil Pelletier, who as pastor at St. Zefferin’s in Wayland is league commissioner.

“I’m not talking about the unis,” Antonizzi snaps.  “I’m talking about the coaches.  Where did you get this get-up?” he says with a look of distaste as he takes in the Dockers pants and “Life is Good” sweatshirt worn by Jerry Haygood of the Paul’s Pizza Pistols from Wellesley, Mass.

“Uh, my wife shops for me,” Haygood says, embarrassed.

“Exactly my point,” Antonizzi says.  “When she goes shopping for herself, do you think she pinches her pennies?  No!  So you’re entitled to a new Armani suit every season.  Get it in your contract before you agree to take over a team from somebody who’s kid’s been out of the league so long his mom’s redecorated his room.”

Left to right:  The Coach, The Assistant Coach, The Commish, The Assistant Commish, The Ref.

The fathers dutifully scribble in their notebooks as Antonizzi passes hand-outs around the room.  The men seem confused; instead of diagrams for pick-and-roll plays, they see dialogue from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire when they look down at the paper.

“The horror–he clanked the front end of the one-and-one.”

“Uh, Coach, I think you picked up the wrong job at the copy center,” Masefield says.

“Nope–no mistake,” Antonizzi says.  “This is what separates my seminar from other so-called coaches’ instructional books and videos.  The most important thing you have to learn as a coach of impressionable young men, subject to the whims and caprices of $30 buck-a-game referees with no training, is that the guys who produce winning teams year after year are the ones with the best acting skills.”

Blanche DuBois

“You,” he says pointing to Masefield, “I want you to play Stella Kowalski.  You,” he says as he taps Armantrout on the head, you’re Stanley Kowalski.  And you,” he says, indicating Haygood, “you’re Blanche DuBois.  I’m gonna have to ask the press to leave,” Antonizzi says to this reporter, the only one in the room.  “These guys don’t really get in touch with their emotions if there’s, you know, journalists around.”  I pack up my soft briefcase and Antonizzi quips “See, there’s another valuable lesson–you’re the boss, not some pencil-necked geek with a laptop.”

The dads begin to laugh as I go, but I hang around at the top of the stairs long enough to hear Haygood’s melodramatic channeling of Blanche DuBois.  “I have always,” he says in an overwrought plea for a charging call, “depended on the kindness of referees.”

With Ultimate Sacrifice, Dad Sends Daughter’s Soccer Team to Disney World

DALLAS, Texas.  When she was younger, 14 year-old Indira Singh was content to spend sunny afternoons indoors reading in the comfort of her parents’ air-conditioned home.  Then she saw the movie “Bend It Like Beckham,” about an Indian girl who falls in love with the game of soccer over the objections of her parents.

“It totally changed my life,” she says.  She began to play on Dallas-area youth teams, unhindered by parental interference that created the film’s dramatic tension.  “We want her to be with her friends, and have a normal American childhood,” says her father, Sareesh Singh.  “Except for the Hannah Montana booshwah.”

Indira’s ultimate destination is indeed a long way from Dallas.  Her team finished first in their Metro U-15 league and are on their way to a national tournament at Disney World–if they can come up with approximately $25,000 to cover airfare, hotels and meals for the girls while they stay at the Orlando, Florida resort.

At present, her team is nowhere near meeting that goal.  “We’re finding there’s a lot of ‘giving fatigue’ out there,” says Cindi Stephens, mother of Indira’s best friend Courtney.  “You know, an earthquake here, a tsunami there–people get tired of charities asking for handouts and just say ‘no’.”

So after the girls tried bake sales, car washes and other standard teen fund-raising techniques without much success, Sareesh Singh came up with an idea.  He will auction off the right to crush him beneath the Juggernaut, the manifestation of the Hindu god Vishnu as Krishna.

The ceremonial rath of Lord Jagannath which was flagged off by Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Ludhiana on Saturday

“I think if you offer people in the Dallas area something different from a raffle or a walk-a-thon perhaps we will have better luck,” says Singh, a wiry 52 year-old who works at Dell Computers.

The Juggernaut shrine is traditionally placed on a moving platform called a “ratha” which is pulled by hand as part of a Hindu festival.  The rathas are so large that over 4,000 men are required to move them, and it is considered an act of piety to throw one’s self beneath their wheels.  Because the Hindi population of Dallas is small, the winning bidder will be permitted to power the ratha with an SUV.

“If you don’t want your car washed, we’ve got something better!”

Mr. Singh, like many Hindus, believes his sacrifice will guarantee him a place in heaven.  “I am sure that this sacrifice will bring me my eternal reward,” he says.  “If not, I will remind Vishnu that I did it for my little girl’s soccer team.”

Singh is right about one thing; the unusual nature of his donation is drawing interest that extends beyond the immediate circle of the girls’ parents and relatives.  Joe Don Mooney, a successful Dallas-area real estate broker, says he will open with a bid of $15,000 for the right to push the ratha with his Chevrolet Tahoe SUV, and is prepared to go higher.

“It sounds like a fun thing to do and it’s for a good cause,” Mooney says, “plus its tremendous publicity.  If I win, I’m gonna put ‘Joe Don Mooney Real Estate’ right on the front of that big ratha, just like a NASCAR driver with a ‘Home Depot’  decal on his hood.”