By John Veasey
Times West Virginian
Fairmont State University’s two head basketball coaches discussed the sport as it relates to life’s problems Wednesday before members of the Kiwanis Club of Fairmont and several from Fairmont’s other civic clubs.
FSU women’s coach Steve McDonald and men’s coach Jerrod Calhoun were guests of the Kiwanis Club for its weekly meeting. Ray Richardson served as emcee for the program.
McDonald didn’t talk about any of his team’s talents but chose to talk about how basketball relates to life.
“We talk to our players a lot about staying on an even keel in their lives,” he said. “Don’t get too emotionally high when you’re up by 20 points and pull together and stick together when you’re down 10.”
He spoke of some personal life experiences when he thought that “life couldn’t get any better than this. The whole world was just fantastic for me at that time.”
But then life dealt him some cruel blows over the next few months. Both his father and grandmother died within a three-week period; his new car needed some expensive repairs; the West Virginia Wesleyan (where he was coaching at the time) squad was marooned at 1 o’clock in the morning returning home from Buffalo when the team bus broke down.
“I sat at the dinner table the next day, which was Thanksgiving, and said, ‘It can’t get any worse then this.’ So in that short period of time I went from thinking it can’t get any better to it can’t get any worse.”
“But there was no reason to be too high or too low as the team went on a 17-game winning streak after the holiday was over,” he recounted.
McDonald said “that’s something I try to relate to our kids (with personal stories). You don’t embellish a personal story because that’s just the way it is.
“We also use the phrase ‘make the next best play’ after someone makes a mistake in practice or a game. We use that phrase in practice and games. And then we relate that to life. As all of you know, life is a series of problems and hurdles to overcome. And the people that react to those problems well are the successful, happy people.
“The last thing we tell our players is the simple phrase ‘care about others more than you care about yourselves.’ And that is so difficult to get across ... to anyone, not just young people!”
He said that “we talk about life a lot. Winning isn’t what we’re here for. We’re here to take these kids from Point A to Point B in life. If you concentrate on that as a coach, you will win. Your kids will play for you.”
Calhoun said, “We’re excited about our team this year. We were very fortunate to win some close games. We’re off to a 3-0 start. We beat a Winston Salem State team on the road that was ranked 15th in the country.”
He said he worked for a future Hall of Fame coach in West Virginia University’s Bob Huggins and played under a Hall of Fame coach in Rollie Massimino (at Cleveland State).
“So I was trained very well by those two guys and learned a lot of things beyond basketball — about life. And we’re trying to implement that in our program.”
He said people thought he was crazy leaving the state school like West Virginia University but he said, “That’s the best move in my life. The community support here is just tremendous.”
“I work for an unbelievable president in Dr. (Maria) Rose,” Calhoun continued. “I think she has a great balance between academics and also athletics. I think she feels that athletics is a big part of our university; it’s not the major part of it but it’s a significant piece of the puzzle.”
He said last year the Falcons sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament.
“Our goal is to win a national title,” Calhoun said. “That doesn’t happen at a lot of places — having a women’s team that’s very good and a men’s team that’s very good. So hopefully this year we can get two or three thousand fans at every game. We play here Saturday against West Virginia Wesleyan.
“Our program is about winning. In life you have to win. We’re constantly teaching our guys life’s lessons.”
“This year we have a chance to be very good,” he said.
Email John Veasey at firstname.lastname@example.org.