In my one year of coaching high school basketball in Burlingame, I got plenty of suggestions. Mostly from parents (their kid should be starting, you know). Officials, principals, players. You name it, all of them had advice to offer to a green 21-year-old with hoop dreams.
But some the best advice I received that year wasn’t even spoken. It was from watching a man who’d become a legend in Lyndon coaching basketball for four decades in a sleepy town 30 minutes south of Topeka.
My first – and only – year as a coach was Nick Dawson’s 35th – and final – season at Lyndon. I coached against him three times that year (1997-98), once as a varsity assistant, head junior varsity and freshman coach.
We managed to win two of those games, including the freshman game on a January afternoon in Lyndon. I remember it for several reasons, namely that we rallied from 20 points down in the second half. And that I was ejected in the first half after picking up two technical fouls.
Of course, I was the only Burlingame coach in the gym. It could have been a disaster. A forfeit because of an ejection in my 10th game … always did have a temper. Fortunately, Coach Dawson, who was so dedicated to the program that he was working as an assistant during the freshman game, asked the officials to let me stay.
Years later, I remember that like it happened yesterday. Just as I remember his grin as we shook hands after the game. As in, “You’re damn lucky I’m a nice guy …”
I cherish that win to this day, partly because his big and sophomore-laden JV team had absolutely destroyed by tiny, freshman-laden roster by 50 points a week earlier.
What I remember most about coaching against Dawson is how he treated folks – equally. It didn’t matter where you were from, how old you were, how good your team was … the handshake was the same, the words were kind.
Just as they were several months later, when I sat down with him as a reporter for the Osage County Chronicle for a story on his retirement. Here was a college kid in his living room, one who’d been ejected for acting like an ass on HIS court, and he treated the interview as if Burt Sugar asked the questions.
It was great to see Lyndon honor Coach Dawson last Friday by naming the school’s gym after him. According to reports, including this story by longtime Capital-Journal sports writer Brent Maycock, he was moved by the gesture.
Coach Dawson suffered a stroke moments after the ceremony. He died a few days later, at age 77. Initially, it struck me as incredibly sad. But the more I think about it, it almost seems fitting. He went out a winner, enjoying one final moment of glory in a place he essentially built.