John F. Russell: Leaving a mark on Steamboat
Steamboat Springs — The other day, I was inside the Steamboat Springs High School gym when I noticed something was missing.
For years, I watched boys basketball coach Kelly Meek attempt to erode the polished floor in front of the Sailors bench with the soles of his Nunn Bush dress shoes. But when I looked down, I didn’t see a groove – there were no marks, not even a scuff.
For the first time since I started working in Steamboat, Meek is not patrolling the sidelines of the high school gym. He announced he was leaving last spring.
It’s kind of like “The View” without Rosie O’Donnell, nachos without jalapeÃ±os and, dare I say, Christmas without Santa Claus.
Gone is the stern look of intensity, the way he managed every game and the way he slapped his players on the back when they came off the court.
But what I really will miss is the way Meek used to pace in front of the Sailors bench. There always was a seat for him, but the coach rarely used it. I once saw him nervously sit on the bench for an entire half, but only after being instructed to do so by the officials on the court.
He was at the top of his game walking in front of his players. Meek loved the game and used it as a way to make the young men who played for him better. He understood high school basketball was about a lot more than titles. It was about teaching the things that really mattered – honesty, integrity and responsibility.
Players who didn’t work found themselves in the doghouse. Meek’s style allowed star players to shine but also allowed others to find a place in the spotlight based on their effort, not just their talent.
He respected hard work and dedication, and he rewarded the players who came to play. He never let a player forget that being on a team means never letting a teammate down.
Meek stalked the sidelines for 34 years. He won 544 games and 44 league, district or regional championships. His teams won the Western Slope title eight of the past 11 years. But his legacy never was measured by wins or losses.
Now, it’s new coach Luke DeWolfe’s turn. He’s proven himself as an assistant, and he deserves a chance to shine in Meek’s shadow. But I fear that the days of coaches like Meek are fading quickly.
The climate surrounding high school sports has shifted. Today, coaching is a year-round commitment, winning is expected and the demands on coaches don’t inspire longevity.
Too often when we watch the men and women who coach high school sports, we take them for granted. We think they always will be there to pass along values that are more important than the final score.
Luckily, in Steamboat, we still have good coaches. Among them are gems such as Wendy Hall and Rob Bohlmann – coaches who measure their success in terms of decades, not games.
Maybe that’s why I expected to see the tracks of Meek’s legacy worn in the floor of the high school gym. But I guess I’ll just have to be happy that he left his mark on our town.
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It seems like the best celestial events too often happen in the wee hours of the morning, in the cold dead of winter.