“Ken had never played or even touched a basketball before, but in this new school, he liked being on the court at lunchtime dribbling and shooting baskets with other kids. Yet when the school announced that seventh grade basketball tryouts would happen in two weeks, Ken knew this wasn’t for him. All the other boys were good. With no confidence or encouragement, Ken knew he would never make the team.
Yet unknown to my brother, the high school varsity basketball coach was the lunchtime supervisor at the junior high and he saw Ken on the court every day, making an effort to dribble and shoot. He also saw him run hard after the ball when it came off the backboard. Just a week before the seventh grade tryouts, a little miracle happened through personal invitation and encouragement.
Coach came up to Ken and said, “Kenny, I hope you’re going out for the seventh grade basketball team. You can become a very good player.” Ken said that he wasn’t and coach simply repeated his message. He hoped Ken would try out because he thought he could become a good player. Ken heard the words of encouragement but he didn’t believe it. Yet the next day, coach approached Ken and asked again. “Did you think about what I said yesterday? Give it a try. I see you hustling out there. Nobody else does. You could be really good.”
Ken decided to give it a try. And he made the team. Probably the last kid picked. He played very little that year but he practiced with all he had. In the eighth grade with fresh encouragement from the coach, he tried out again and made it. He never started but had a lot of playing time because he would hustle – getting a rebound, jumping on a loose ball, and making sharp passes. He played a lot in the summer just across the street from our house, learned to shoot a lot better, and in the ninth grade he started. JV ball came in the tenth grade and as a junior and senior, he started and was the second leading scorer on his team.
After college, Ken coached the JV basketball team at his school for over ten years before becoming a principal, assistant superintendent, and mentor to so many kids and teachers. He says now that he owes so much to Coach Kitzmiller for the simple invitation and encouragement. Coach changed his life forever.