Behind the lines: Rita keeping the score

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    They always seemed like eternal teenagers to me. They started dating long ago in Greybull where they both graduated. Tim Isabell was a burly, Wyoming Highway Patrol Officer, with a vise-like grip that could make the strongest man cry “uncle.” Rita was a business teacher, yearbook sponsor, cheerleader sponsor, and most importantly (at least to me) a scorekeeper.

    They raised three boys, then enjoyed a multitude of grandchildren, and then even more great-grandchildren.


    Rita passed away two days before Christmas last week.

    In the world of athletics, people focus on the all-star players and support the boys and girls who win all the games. They also focus on the coaches who lose all those games played by those talented kids. They sometimes take a few minutes off to criticize the game officials, but that’s about as far as most fans get.

    They never notice the cheerleader sponsor, the bus driver, or the person writing the scorebook.

    As a coach and sportswriter, I appreciate the work of a quality scorekeeper.


    Rita was the best I’ve ever seen in over four decades of reviewing scorebooks.

    In the modern era, keeping an accurate book is a lost art. Many coaches and managers are so slack in their approach that they just write numbers in the book and don’t even add player’s names. It’s too much effort for many of them. Some just write the first names of the kids in the book, leaving those of us who don’t know the players guessing who they are without their last names.

    You didn’t have to worry about that with Rita. She took the time to write the full names and numbers of each player on both sides of the book. When the game was over, I never took the book from her until later when she had totaled all the kids’ points and fouls, added them all together, and calculated the free throw percentage of both teams in the game.


    It was marvelous work. Her handwriting reflected her perfectionist approach to everything she did.

    There was no doubt who was handling the book when Rita was finished. It could have easily been an example of proper cursive writing in a textbook.

    She ran her classroom the same way. I spent a decade teaching next door to Rita’s business room and efficiency, decorum, and quality exuded. I’d sometimes drop in, especially after school when she was guiding the kids through the process of writing the yearbook just to watch her work. She was exceptional.


    She did lament a few times to me that shorthand was a lost art and something she wished she could teach to many of the girls who requested it.

    But times change, and administrators rarely allow teachers to set their curriculum.

    While her classroom was immaculate, her girls on road games were equally impressive.

    Cheerleaders can be a pain for a coach who has to take them on trips without a sponsor. I had a couple of administrators who punished coaches by making them responsible for cheerleaders on away games.

    With the team, you have the latitude of bringing a little extra conditioning to practice on Monday if they tried to be heroes at a restaurant or caused a problem at a motel. With the girls, you weren’t ever in control, and they knew it.

    Rita’s cheerleaders were a throwback to earlier times, yes, she was old school in every positive aspect of the phrase. They made signs, decorated the bus, baked treats for the team, and were helpful in every way.

    She was all about taking care of the minor details on a trip, the minutiae that can drive a coach crazy, or get him in trouble if he ignores it.

    If we were playing in Rocky or Lovell, Rita had reservations made, orders set, and food waiting at the Rose Bowl after the game. If we were in Greybull or Basin, it was roast beef, mashed potatoes, and gravy at the Big B (that came with a little influence from Harold.)

    Rita and my late friend Harold Bailey shared similar sentiments when it came to doing something. Harold had the quote, “Take care of the little things, the big things take care of themselves,” on his classroom wall. Rita lived that motto.

    She also provided the soundtrack for many long bus rides home down the long stretches of highway heading south from the Big Horn Basin.

    If basketball has a soundtrack, for me it will always be “18 Wheeler Roll On,” by Alabama. Rita loved that group and as we’d board the bus for home she’d hand Roy Maxson, our driver, the tape, and it would replay four or five times before we spotted the lights of Shoshoni on the hill above Bonneville.

    On overnight trips, Rita took care of the vouchers for the motels. Harold made the reservations, but Rita took care of everything else.

    She became such an integral part of the team that when we won the state basketball championship, the boys asked us to order another medal for Roy and for ‘Miss Iz” as all the kids called her.

    One night in Lovell I lost it. I got a technical foul in the first quarter, and another one to start the third period. It took three in those days to get tossed and I was on the cusp of getting ejected from the game.

    After the second technical, I walked, (OK, probably stomped) to the scorer’s table to see how many fouls a couple of the boys had.

    Rita calmly told me what the foul counts were, then without saying a word she gave me a look that said a paragraph, I’m sure her boys and Tim all saw this same look many times.

    She raised one eyebrow, looked me square in the eye, and without a sound told me to calm down, coach my team, and to not embarrass Shoshoni.

    I didn’t apologize to the boys for the two technical fouls that night, I didn’t mention it to the Lovell coaches and the officials steered clear after the game. But before we got back on the bus, I found Rita and apologized to her, promising to control my temper in future games.

    I’m sure she didn’t believe me.

    There are stars on the court, stars on the field, and stars on the track. Coaches can develop or dwindle the talent they’re given to work with, but the people behind the scenes make the program work.

    If worrying about the little things, and letting the big things take care of themselves had a face, it would be Rita’s wide grin looking back at you.

    Thanks for everything, Miss Iz.


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