Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lessons Never Forgotten

"He worked ceaselessly to turn boys into disciplined, responsible young men, and made them champions . . .  [The book is not only] about a coach and his players, but also about an era and the values that exemplified it."

By Steve Rucker

The realization of what he had done for us came later in life.

For me, it happened at Fort Riley, Kan., in the summer of 1969.

Our Army ROTC training company had lived on canned rations and little sleep for two weeks, but today was Saturday, the last training day of our six-week cycle. It was noon. The only remaining duty was to march back to our barracks, and our miserable lives as trainees would be over.

Our evaluator, however, had other plans. He ordered that our "march" would instead by a brutal, 2.5-mile run in full gear: helmet, rifle, load-bearing equipment, ammunition and canteens. We ran down a shimmering black aphalt road under a merciless sun. The air was clear and windless, a broiling 104 degrees.

Only 40 percent of our 155-man unit reached the company area without dropping out.

I was in the group that made it. For an hour, we stood in the area as others straggled in. Fifteen percent were heat casualties who needed help to make it back.

As I stood in formation, exhausted, I began to realize why I had come in with the 40 percent. I was able to meet the physical and mental challenges of that grueling run because I was a "Hippleman." Quitting was unthinkable.

For 20 years as coach at Marion (Iowa) High School, Les Hipple insisted on stern rules, tough conditioning and strict adherence to fundamentals. He worked ceaselessly to turn boys into disciplined, responsible young men, and made them into champions. He was my mentor and coach, and I can think of no better example of what a man should be.

Another Hippleman, Dan Kellams, has published a book about this remarkable man. "A Coach's Life: Les Hipple and the Marion Indians" is not just a book about a coach and his players, but also about an era and the values that exemplified it.

Hipple's training rules would shock today's young athletes. He did not allow his players to drink, smoke, curse, stay up past 10:00 PM, go steady with girls or drive cars (except on Sunday afternoon or with his advance permission).

While the rules are outdated today, Coach Hipple's values and devotion to his players are timeless.

And some of his teaching lives on today in Monticello, Iowa, where I coach the sophomore basketball team. Last summer at a youth basketball camp I observed Monticello's varsity basketball coach, Tim Lambert, teaching grade-school players the fundamentals of shooting a basketball. The techniques Coach Lambert used were very familiar, because he had learned them as a grade-school student from Coach Gordon Rundquist of Maquoketa Valley High School, and Rundquist had been a Hippleman.

When Coach Lambert finished his instruction, he saw how intently I was watching. "I bet that looked familiar," he said. For a moment, I was a fourth-grader again, and Coach Hipple was still there, still teaching. He would have been very pleased to see what those youngsters were learning.

And I'm sure that you, too, will be pleased to get to know the extraordinary man who is at the heart of "A Coach's Life: Les Hipple and the Marion Indians."

(Steve Rucker served two years in the Army, then remained in the Army Reserves for 23 years, retiring as Infantry Lieutenant Colonel. His civilian career has been spent largely in information technology and project management.  His sophomore basketball team finished the season with a 16-4 record.  This article was adapted from a column that appeared the Monticello, Iowa, Express.)