Love for the game keeps youth coach motivated

Staff writer

When Stacey Sawyer was young, there was never a reason not to be playing basketball.

Often he would rely on moonlight or tennis court lights at Central Park to work on his abilities.

“I used to play all the time,” he said. “When the other kids were out partying and stuff, I was playing day and night.”

Stacey credits that work ethic for the success of his high school career at Marion, highlighted by a 43-point game as a senior in 1993 — part of a three-game stretch which he scored 96.

Concussions eventually derailed a college career, but the same work ethic is what Sawyer now tries to instill in each player on the five youth teams he coaches.

“They want things like this,” he says, snapping his fingers. “My oldest daughter asked, ‘Dad, how do I become as good as you?’ and I say lots and lots of practice.”

Sawyer began coaching when his oldest daughter, Rebecca, now in the seventh grade, was a third-grader.

Her team’s coach was in need of a break and asked whether Stacey would be interested in taking over. He now coaches boys teams from third through sixth grade, as well as a second grade girls team. His son David, 10, and daughter Cheyenne, 7, play on his current teams.

“We usually don’t let somebody coach that many teams, because it doesn’t go well,” said Margo Yates, organizer for Marion’s youth basketball league. “But he’s been practicing third and fourth together and fifth and sixth together, so that’s helpful.”

Sawyer’s teams compete in recreational leagues and in MidAmerica Youth Basketball tournaments, so he spends at least three days a week at local gyms practicing.

On Sundays he also helps middle school players stay sharp on their own plays and skills.

“I teach them how to play. They have to know fundamentals,” he said. “They have to know what basketball’s about. The rest is up to them.”

He says he coaches so many teams because other parents don’t have the time, but his work schedule is not easy.

A normal day begins with a 10-to-12-hour shift driving and hauling materials for Sequoyah Trading and Transportation in McPherson, followed by a few more hours polishing campers for Air Stream Guy in Marion. After that, it’s all ball.

“He just really loves the game,” Yates said. “I think it played a big part in his childhood, and he sees the value in it.”

And Sawyer does love the game, but he coaches as much for his family as the other children. He, along with the kids and his wife, Tabitha, travel to each game and practice together.

“We make it an adventure,” said Tabitha, who also helps by keeping statistics, giving medical help, and organizing player contacts. “It’s a fun thing. All the kids ride to practice, and I think that’s why our youngest can dribble so well.”

Stacey also relies on help from assistant coaches like Jason Wheeler and Todd Winter.

At the end of the day though, the kid in Sawyer that used to turn the tennis court lights on at night keeps him coaching with the same passion. He hopes someday to coach at either a middle or high school.

“This fills a gap for me; it really does,” he said. “If I can’t play, I’d coach.”

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