Behind the lines: Growing up with the game

“No matter how many touchdowns he scores, no matter how many rebounds he pulls down and no matter how many races he wins, it won’t be because of talent, it will be because you’re his dad and he got special treatment.” I heard my late friend and mentor coach Dick Cotton say this often to young coaches with small children.

He was speaking of the behind-the-back, snippy, little jealous comments that come when a coach has a talented son or daughter.

Dick knew something of this with three adult children of his own. Mark, Brent, and Beth were all excellent athletes, Mark a football player, Beth a volleyball and basketball star, and Brent perhaps the best of the three, a Division I basketball player.

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The reasons are obvious for people to make such inane assumptions because they witness it in Little League, Junior Football, club hockey, soccer, and sports like USA Volleyball. Sports with merit, but sports that far too often have less than talented kids playing shortstop, pitching, playing quarterback, playing at the net, or bringing up the ball when better girls or boys are sitting behind them.

It’s been that way since sports began in earnest and will no doubt continue as long as mom and dad’s sensitive egos are tied vicariously to their children on the field or court.

You’ll notice pool, track, course, or mat, aren’t mentioned, those sports don’t lend themselves to vicarious living since, as my friend Tim Ervin often says, “The stopwatch doesn’t care who your daddy is.”

Which brings me to a handful of exceptional football players in Fremont County this season who happen to be the sons of head and assistant coaches. These five boys would be stars whether their dads were calling plays or not, each of them would be an asset to any program in the state, and many of them will compete at the next level in one or more sports.

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This doesn’t mean that there aren’t equally talented kids whose parents are not coaches, there most certainly are.

Being a coach doesn’t mean your son or daughter is going to be an exceptional athlete, but it does give them a jump on the other kids. Despite the jealous gossip, coaches are tougher on their own children than they are on anyone else’s child. It might not be the case with pampered pets in youth sports, but by the time they hit high school varsity, all that vicarious favoritism quickly ends in the harsh light of reality.

Perhaps there was no better example of this than a couple of Friday nights ago in Goshen County. The Wind River Cougars had a fabulous football team this season but lost three of their final four games largely due to injuries to a couple of key players.

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For those that don’t believe one or two players make that much difference all I have to say is take a look at the Class 3-A state championship game where Star Valley beat Cody 14-7. Don’t call it an upset, Star Valley is good, but without 6-3, 195-pound senior Luke Talich at quarterback and free safety, Cody wasn’t the same team.  Cody was great, 23-games in a row great, entering last Friday’s championship game. With him the Broncs win 35-25 at Afton during the regular season, without him, and still loaded with 22 seniors, Star Valley was better.

Without quarterback Chris Burke, and running back Jaycee Herbert, the Cougars had just one offensive choice remaining in junior Cooper Frederick, the son of head coach Rod Frederick. The elder Frederick and his staff’s solution was to give Cooper the ball 61 times against the Southeast Cyclones. Cooper set a state record with 549 rushing yards and the Cougars took a 46-38 playoff win. Try giving the kid of another parent that many carries and you risk ending up in the superintendent’s office on Monday morning with potential litigation in today’s insane world of snowplow parenting.

Two more running backs come to mind, not quite in that same situation since they entered the playoffs with their teams intact.

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Pehton Truempler, the son of Shoshoni head coach Tony Truempler, is a football player, that’s as succinct a comment as you can make. Pehton will hit you from the time you get off the bus until you’re back on the highway home. He punished would-be tacklers with a violent running style that is difficult to describe unless you’ve witnessed it. Yes, he gets the ball in key situations, as he should. Any naysayers in the stands just don’t understand football.

If you were to mix Cooper Frederick’s ability to read blocks and dash into a seam with Pehton Truempler’s devastating running style you’d have a good approximation of Wyatt Trembly running the ball for the Dubois Rams. Wyatt’s dad, David Trembly is the longest-tenured head coach in Fremont County and has adapted to the wild, wide-open style of 6-man football in a big way. His son is a huge part of that success. Incidentally Truempler and Trembly are state champion wrestlers, and their fathers are head wrestling coaches, it’s not a coincidence.

You don’t have to be a head coach to have a talented athlete, sometimes having the son of another coach on staff can be a godsend as well.

A pair of Fremont County quarterbacks were among the state’s best this past season in Alex Mills and Brenon Stauffenberg. Both boys are perhaps better basketball players, but you can’t argue with their ability to throw the ball, read defenses, and destroy opposing passing attacks from the safety position.

Alex, the son of Shoshoni assistant coach Max Mills, and head volleyball coach Christina Mills grew up around the game, so did Brenon, the son of Lander activities director Serol Stauffenberg, and assistant volleyball coach Tiffany Stauffenberg. Brenon and his sister Demi, now a college volleyball player, didn’t have much choice while growing up in the gym where their mom and dad were college head coaches, and neither did Alex, and his younger brother Braxton.

As current Dickinson State University head football coach and athletic director, Pete Stanton told me when he was DSU’s head track coach, and our son Brian was a hurdler and decathlete, “I love having coach’s kids on the team. They know how to work, they understand the sport and no matter how hard I get on them, it’s a lot less than they got from mom and dad,” Pete said.

It goes beyond athletics. Ever notice how well the kids sing and play when mom or dad was a musician? Ever wonder why the speech coach’s kids are state champion speakers, or debaters and come home with armloads of trophies?

It isn’t because of any preferential treatment, but rather the result of demands set a little higher than our present soft culture will allow in someone else’s child.

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