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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.”