The Times West Virginian

March 19, 2014

Skubis has FSHS thinking ‘Yes I Can’ at states

By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Eyes closed, the Fairmont Senior basketball team lies sprawled out across the hardwood floor at the Woody Williams Armory.

The Polar Bears each take three long, deep breaths. Then, when they are sufficiently relaxed, assistant coach Frank Skubis presses “play” on a black portable boombox.

A narrator fills the empty basketball gym with his soothing voice, which is accompanied by gentle, inspirational piano music.

“Hear the roar of the hostile or friendly crowd. Feel the texture of the ball. Sneakers squeaking on the floor. Adrenaline pumping ...”

Every Fairmont Senior basketball practice begins with one of these 5-minute sessions. Designed by Stan Kellner in the late 1970s, the “Yes I Can” method asks athletes to visualize themselves in a stressful game situation.

One player may picture himself knocking down the game-winning free throws, as Tavon Horton did to beat Bridgeport, 54-53, earlier this year.

Another teammate may envision himself sinking a mid-range jumper, just like Darhius Nunn did with less than five seconds remaining to down archrival East Fairmont, 46-44.

“Feel the critical, decisive moments as you want them to happen. Once again, clearly, vividly. Each time, always succeeding.”

“Always succeeding” has been something of a common theme this year for Fairmont Senior.

Maybe it’s Kellner’s methods. Maybe it’s hard work. Or maybe it’s just some serious cojones. But the Fairmont Senior basketball team has consistently pulled out close games, just as they have conjured up time and again while lying on the hardwood floor at practice.

“In crunch time at the end of games, (the recording) says, ‘Let it go,’” junior forward Isaac Childers explained. “Take a deep breath and let it out. Then we go out and execute.”

In six one-possession contests, the Polar Bears are an impressive 5-1, the lone loss coming to unbeaten and top-ranked Robert C. Byrd. But even then, Fairmont Senior extended the game three times — with a steal and layup at the end of regulation, with a desperation 3-pointer at the end of overtime and with a tip-in in double overtime — before falling to the Eagles, 74-71, in triple overtime.

“If you can believe it, you can achieve it,” said sophomore guard Joseph Leon.

Most recently, Horton hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to save the Polar Bears’ season and punch their ticket to the Class AA state tournament, where they will play No. 2 Poca (24-1) in the first round today at 1 p.m.

No. 7 Fairmont Senior (15-9) will not only be up against a one-loss opponent, but also the bright lights and the big stage of the Charleston Civic Center.

“Sense the excitement and the pressure of the moment. Give it a score and a time factor.”

“Make it real. You’ve been there before. You know what the facility looks like,” interjects Skubis, who first discovered the “Yes I Can” method in 1984 as the head coach at Clay-Battelle.

He helped run Kellner’s program in West Virginia for 24 years and credits the system for helping the Cee-Bees to five regional championships, 11 sectional championships, six conference championships and an appearance in the 1995-96 Class A state championship game during a 30-plus-year tenure.

But the tape became even more important to the basketball lifer in 1999 when he was suddenly paralyzed from the neck down for five months after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that starts with tingling in the extremities. The symptoms can progress rapidly, rendering affected individuals paralyzed in just weeks or even days. Just one in 100,000 people are afflicted by the syndrome, but it has been found in all ages and both genders.

During this trying time, Skubis did two things every morning.

Pointing to his pinky finger to keep count, he said, “I prayed.”

Then extending another finger, which was wrapped with a gold wedding band, he said, “And I listened to my tape.”

Little by little, Skubis began to regain feeling in his extremities and then had to endure physical therapy to relearn all his day-to-day activities: how to write; how to stand up; how to walk.

One day the therapists told him that in his next session he would begin the long process of learning to tie his shoes.

That night he vividly pictured himself grabbing the laces, crossing them and forming perfect bows.

“We went in there and I tied my shoes the first time,” he said. “My therapists were astounded.”

Through faith and a “Yes I Can” mentality, the 64-year-old returned to coaching. In this, his 42nd season on the court — the third as an assistant under Fairmont Senior head coach David Retton — he plays an integral role in helping prepare the Polar Bears mentally for competition.

“We’re blessed to have him,” said Retton. “I can’t say enough about his commitment to kids as people and kids as basketball players ... It’s just been a great coaching relationship and friendship that he and I had over the last three years.”

But they’re hoping that Skubis’ third season as an assistant isn’t over just yet.

“Quicken the action. You are now invincible. At your best. In perfect control. You are on top of your game. Hear the crowd responding. See your coach, teammates, friends acknowledge your outstanding performance.”

“Enjoy the moment, boys,” Skubis adds, as the narrator’s final words fade into the empty gym. “Enjoy the moment.”

Email Mike DeFabo at mdefabo@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.