Coach, I've been meaning to tell you ?

From the sports editor

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By BRAD SPENCER

So often they move on, forget about you, get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life. Maybe you made an impact, maybe one slipped through the cracks. You can't be responsible. Coach them, teach them, nurture them, and most of all prepare them for the world outside the classroom, outside the gymnasium. Some will look back on the experience fondly, others will scoff. But a coach's influence goes a long way. Some will reach a point in their lives when your methods, however perplexing they seemed at the time, now make all the sense in the world. That's when they may be inclined to write you a letter.     


Dear Coach Al Allen,

This is a letter I've meant to write for a while, a thank you for the positive influence you made in my life.

Basketball was never my best sport; I was never much of an offensive threat (I still recall at one practice my senior year, you telling the team not to pass the ball to me on offense!). But looking back, it was my favorite experience in high school, because playing under you was the greatest challenge I faced, something I never thought I could do.

My freshman year, I remember I was devastated after being cut at tryouts. I think it was a bit of luck that I had lost my watch, though, because my mom called you to see if it had turned up. After learning I hadn't made the team, you for some reason convinced the freshmen coaches to give me a chance.

I think it was that second chance that always motivated me to play my hardest.

And one of the things I loved about your program most was that you rewarded hard work more than anything. Doing the little things, denying passes, diving on the floor, running complex plays?#34;I loved it all. It bred a special competitiveness and attentiveness to details in the game that lasts with me still.

When I went on to play college baseball, I remember nobody could understand why I would want to win the sprints in every drill, why I cared. But I think that was your influence.

Maybe some day, if I coach at some level, I know I will take a lot of what I have learned from you.

I was just reading online about the Pontiac Tournament, and it reminded me of one of my proudest sports moments in my life. We were playing East Peoria, at the time a top-ranked undefeated team in the second round. We were up by two I think with time running out, and I was able to deny a pass to the top scorer, and take the steal down to the other end (I missed the layup badly, but at least drew the foul, and cinched the game). When the game ended, you had the team chant "Kit!" before heading off.

I was really surprised that you appreciated my contribution so much, however small it was (I think I had three points that game in all). You, of all coaches I seemed to have, noticed and rewarded the hard work of ALL the players. How many other coaches keep special stat books that give/take points for plays such as diving on the floor or boxing out? I certainly don't know of any.

My parents and I recently talked about how your coaching style was opposite that of Coach [Jack] Kaiser, whom I also respected. Coach Kaiser would pick his lineup in the spring, and stick with it all season, rarely making changes. You on the other hand, would seem to have a never-ending line of players coming in and out. 'You didn't hustle back on defense? You're out!'

Some people might not like that philosophy, but I thought it was great. What a great life lesson, as well.

Now I can look back saying I covered Corey Maggette, Sergio McClain, and others.

So thank you very much for the opportunity you gave me, and the lessons you taught me. You are an amazing coach.

Sincerely,

Kit Kadlec


Kadlec, 27, who graduated from OPRF High School in 1996, went on to pitch for Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina. He received a master's degree in journalism at Northwestern University and is currently a newspaper reporter for the Daily News Transcript in Boston.

At the start of this season Allen said he had postponed his retirement from high school basketball.  
Contact: bspencer@wjinc.com

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