Behind the lines: Tape an aspirin to it…

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    It was a blatant clip, and the officials threw the flag immediately. Troy didn’t get up so quickly. He lay there for a minute or so as I ran onto the field to check what was wrong. I was hoping he’d just gotten the wind knocked out of him by the Dubois player.

    That was my best hope.


    It turned out to be a little worse than that.

    I helped him to the sideline. He said his shoulder hurt. It was one of those “cutback” years at Shoshoni where they reduced staff and limited instructional budgets to make ends meet and I didn’t have an assistant.

    My late friend Dick Cotton was at the game. Dick came down to help me conduct triage on Troy.

    I felt Troy’s collarbone inside his pads and asked Dick to help him raise his arm. As his arm went up I felt the bone move unnaturally.


    “That’s enough,” I said. “He broke his collarbone.”

    What I didn’t realize was that Troy’s parents, the late Jim and Judy Nethercott were right behind me as I worked with Troy.

    Judy was a fun, feisty opinionated gal who always expressed herself. She gasped and started to climb over the braided metal cable that separated the fans from the players.


    Jim grabbed her and said, “Stay here, let these men do their job.”

    I’m sure he paid dearly for that act of bravery later.

    Troy was out for the season with a donut-style wrap around his shoulders for the next few weeks.


    Injuries are something rarely discussed beyond two questions. The first, “How did it happen?” and the second, “When will (he/she) be back.”

    My high freshman basketball career was a short one. I came down with a rebound in practice, landed on the side of someone’s foot and my left kneecap popped out of joint. If you’ve never had a dislocated joint, count yourself lucky, it is up there among the most painful things you can experience.

    In the primitive conditions of the early 1970s in rural Wyoming, I endured the knee out of place for almost three hours.

    Head basketball coach Chuck Frost, a giant of a man, and 6-4 senior Marvin Schmidt carried me on a World War II vintage stretcher the length of the old Morton High School down the main hallway to the parking lot.

    I was concerned at the height these two tall guys were carrying the stretcher but hung on and hoped for the best.

    When the converted station 1wagon that was the Morton/Kinnear fire department’s ambulance arrived they slid me in, but the handles on the stretcher were too long and they couldn’t close the tailgate.

    Rather than move me with my kneecap protruding to the outside of my left leg they called the Pavillion Fire Department.

    Pavillion had a similar homemade ambulance but in a much larger Ford station wagon. In what seemed an eternity, it finally arrived, and the stretcher fit.

    I didn’t realize the road to Riverton Memorial Hospital had so many bumps before that ride.

    A couple of guys carried me into the Emergency Room and Dr. Rousseau had them put me on the X-ray table.

    Dr. Rousseau started to ask me a few questions that I thought were ridiculous then with a twist of his magical hands my knee was back in place and the world was good. He had been distracting me with those questions.

    Coaches are notorious for this little statement when a player complains of pain or possible injury. “Are you injured or are you hurt?”

    At first glance, is there a difference?

    There is if you’re dealing with a pampered player with a low pain threshold who sometimes gets repeatedly injured when practices get tough.

    My assistant coach Harold Mulholland had a saying about that when a kid was fine but suddenly pulled up lame during sprints, “He’s got fat kid asthma,” Harold would say.

    I once had a budding 13-year old hypochondriac with constant injuries. One night I’d had enough, I told him to tape an aspirin to his knee to relieve the pain. It worked he said, no more pain, and he went on to practice.

    The pain came later when his overzealous mom called me, furious at the suggestion.

    The recent change in basketball free throw rules reflects an attempt to cut down on the injuries associated with battling for rebounds in the confined space of the lane in front of the basket. Two shots instead of a bonus eliminates the need for boxing out or fighting for position on half the free throws, and resetting the free throw count to zero with each period was supposed to cut down on the total free throws in a game.

    In the first weekend of action under the new rule it didn’t play out as planned. There were no major injuries among Fremont County boys or girls, but Wyoming Indian and Wright combined for 74 free throw attempts in their game. That equates to over 40 rebounding opportunities when you include the single free throw attempt after a foul on a made basket.

    The elimination of the cross-body block, the head slap, the cut block, the blindside block, and hard hits on exposed receivers has made the game ostensibly safer but has taken much of the technique a smaller player used to defend themselves against a larger opponent out of the game as well.

    Limiting the amount of full contact drills a football team can do during a week is another safety attempt. An attempt that leads to poor tackling due to lack of practice.

    Coaches often eliminate drills they find unsafe.

    I used to run a sideline tackling drill that taught players to take the opposing ball carrier or receiver out of bounds rather than trying to tackle them traditionally.

    It’s a good technique if you’re trying to stop the clock or if you have a tiny cornerback trying to bring down a big running back by themselves.

    The problem with the drill didn’t come with the tackler, but the player being tackled.

    One of the first things coaches teach football players is how to take a hit, fall to the ground, and not get hurt. The problem is the kids don’t always do what they’re taught.

    Early in my career, I was running this drill, and a kid carrying the ball was tackled, and rather than turning to take the impact he put his arm down behind him. His elbow dislocated, and it was 45 minutes before we got an ambulance to the field. That’s a long time when you’re in pain no matter how much ice you pack around the injury.

    I was emphatic in explaining to the boys why they should never put their arms back when tackled.

    For a couple of decades, I ran the drill, and no one was injured, then improbably a youngster put his arm back and dislocated his elbow.

    The drill wasn’t worth the pain I’d seen these two kids suffer so I never ran it again.

    Rules established by national organizations are great at protecting players, but sometimes a local coach knows when something just isn’t worth the chance of injury.

    Kids heal, usually, but why take the chance?


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