ST. JOSEPH, Mo. _ The perfect team, the one that was supposed to win it all, didn’t do that. The perfect team’s coach, Bob Schneider, has never watched the game tape. He expects that he probably never will. Then again, he hasn’t thrown it away, either.
Schneider’s West Texas A&M women’s team was undefeated entering the 1988 Division II national-championship game in Fargo, N.D., where 7,000 people turned out to watch the Buffs take on Hampton, which itself had just one loss.
Schneider and his wife, Barbara, had three children, the oldest of whom, Brandon, was a high school freshman. The family was all fully invested in hoops; Brandon would go on to play college basketball at Wayland Baptist and then enter coaching himself. Son Brett would also become a coach. Daughter Brooke would eventually play for her dad’s team and then become a teacher.
They all hoped that West Texas, where Bob spent the last 25 seasons of his 43-year coaching career, would win that ’88 national title. But instead, it lost for the first and only time that season, 65-48 to Hampton.
Later, a fellow coach, Bob’s friend, was joking around about it. Bob knows the guy really was just kidding. He didn’t mean any harm by using the word he did.
That’s what you call losing to a team that came in 32-1 when you were 33-0? Shouldn’t that game have been considered a toss-up?
Choke? When you’ve coached how many hundreds of kids, influenced their lives _ and the lives of those that they ended up coaching or teaching?
When someone spends four decades teaching discipline, teamwork, responsibility, hard work and self-confidence _ most of that time working with girls and young women, who need all the encouragement they can get in athletics _ how can you even accurately guess how many people he’s impacted?
Now, 22 years later, on a March Friday night in Missouri, Bob had just watched son Brandon coach Emporia State’s women to the Division II championship. To do it, the Hornets had to beat an undefeated team along the way, Gannon, in overtime in the semifinals. Then Emporia State defeated Fort Lewis 65-53 in the title game.
And Bob thought back to that remark his friend made about him long ago.
“It was a jest,” Bob said. “I know it was. But he said something to a group of people like, ‘He choked.’ I know he was joking. But I didn’t want anybody saying that about Brandon. I really wanted him to win just because of that.
“When you get to the finals, you want to win because you don’t forget it. You don’t forget when you win, and you certainly don’t forget when you lose.”
Bob Schneider grew up as far north in the Texas panhandle as you can live without being in Oklahoma. In tiny Darrouzett, right on the border. He wanted to teach history or speech, because he so admired his high school teachers in those subjects.
He graduated from West Texas in Canyon, just south of the panhandle’s largest city, Amarillo. Then Darrouzett called him back. The school needed someone to coach more or less all their sports, boys and girls. He hadn’t intended to be a coach, but he accepted the job.
This was 1958, and it may surprise some folks to hear that there was girls’ basketball in Texas high schools then. That is part of the patchwork history of athletics for females in the United States.
Girls and women did play organized basketball in many places for the opening decades of the 20th Century. Then the progress women made in the workforce in the 1940s – with so many men fighting in World War II _ resulted in a 1950s-60s backlash against women’s progress into so-called “male” turf, athletics included.
Many high schools, typically in bigger cities, did away with their girls’ sports teams. Females were advised by the girls’ and women’s magazines of the day – which were run by men, of course _ to mostly avoid competition and even be wary of displaying competence in anything but those things they were “supposed” to be good at, such as cooking, cleaning, sewing, etc.
This purging of girls in high school-sponsored team sports, especially, did not happen as much at smaller schools in more rural areas for a combination of reasons. For one, the smaller the school, the more likely the same person or group was coaching both boys and girls sports, and thus typically felt an attachment/commitment to both.
And in smaller communities, the activities of youths were often the primary entertainment. If kids were playing sports, were in the band, or were mumbling through lines of Shakespeare they didn’t quite understand, the townsfolk were there to watch them. And because there were fewer people, the accomplishments of both boys or girls were more likely to be celebrated.
Add in that many girls on ranches or in hardscrabble towns in Texas and Oklahoma, or on farms in states like Iowa or Tennessee, were used to manual labor. And so the idea of them excelling at physical activities such as sports surprised no one.
Bob Schneider then coached for a time in New Mexico, after which he came back to Texas in 1963. He took over the girls’ hoops program at Canyon High, and that school became a powerhouse. His Eagles teams won five state titles in Schneider’s tenure, when girls were still playing six-on-six.
In 1978, he went to Texas Woman’s University, then returned to West Texas to coach the women’s team in 1981 and stayed there until he retired in 2006.
Brandon took over the women’s program at Emporia State in 1998 when Cindy Stein, whose Hornets were the Division II runner-up that year, went to Missouri. Brett, who’d been working with his dad at West Texas, spent two seasons as Stein’s assistant at Mizzou before returning to West Texas.
Brett recalls drawing up basketball plays in church when he was a little kid. When his father’s team lost that 1988 national championship game, his goal became to help Bob someday win it all.
“We went to the Elite Eight in 1997, but never quite got that close again,” Brett said. “And his last year at West Texas, we thought we had the team to win it, but Brandon beat us.”
That was in the second round of the 2006 Division II playoffs, when Emporia State defeated West Texas 88-82.
“And that was Dad’s last game,” Brett said. “We didn’t know that Dad was going to decide to retire until school started the next year. Looking back on it now, I wish that wouldn’t have been the case.”
Then again, maybe that was the perfect way for a father to finish his career – coaching alongside one son, competing against another.
This was not really supposed to be Emporia State’s year. Gannon, located in Erie, Pa., was the favorite, entering the tournament top-ranked and unbeaten. Emporia wasn’t a bad team, by any means, but came into the Elite Eight in St. Joseph at 27-5. It so happens the Hornets had beaten West Texas in Canyon – where all the Schneider children were born and went to high school – along the way.
Bob and Barbara _ “I never feel my mom gets enough credit in all this; she’s been the rock for everybody,” Brett says _ have had plenty of basketball to keep track of even with Bob retired from coaching.
They followed Emporia State, of course, and also Memphis, where Brett is now an assistant coach. Wednesday, Memphis had a recruit on campus visiting, and Brett couldn’t watch the televised Division II semifinals pitting Emporia State and Gannon. Sister Brooke sent some text messages about how the game was going, and it wasn’t good. Emporia State was down by 18 points with just over 8 ½ minutes left in the game.
How do you come back from that deficit against the top-ranked team in Division II, a team that hadn’t experienced losing this season?
When Brett finally got a chance to sit down and see what happened, he was expecting the worst. But the game, amazingly, was in overtime.
Emporia had chipped away on that 18-point lead, led by senior Cassondra Boston, junior Allie Volkens and sophomore Brittney Miller. Still, Gannon was clinging to a five-point lead with 1:49 to go.
And that’s when Volkens, a 6-2 post player from Iowa, took over. She scored the Hornets’ last six points to force overtime. Junior Lacy Corker and senior Sophia Lenard combined for three free throws in the final 21 seconds of OT for an astonishing 97-94 victory that left Gannon stunned and crushed.
“I can relate to what their feelings were and the hopes that they had,” Bob Schneider said of Gannon, since he, of course, had been in so similar a situation in 1988. “But that’s why you play the game. When you get to the national tournament, everybody is good.
“(The Hornets) had their ups and downs this season. I saw Alli Volkens improve, the light came on, in the regional tournament. She started to do things she hadn’t been doing all year long, but things they knew she could do. Once she started playing inside like she did, that gave their team more confidence. I saw a team develop that last six to eight games.”
Emporia State, is located in Emporia, Kan., in the eastern-central part of the Sunflower State, halfway between Kansas City and Wichita. It’s a 2½ hour drive to St. Joseph, north of Kansas City, so Hornets fans considerably outnumbered their counterparts from Fort Lewis in Durango, Colo.,
St. Joseph had previously hosted the Division II women’s Elite Eight in 2003 and ’04, and will do so again next season.
St. Joseph sits on the banks of the Missouri River, which was so crucial a part of westward expansion. It once was the furthest-west real “city” in the United States, sometimes the last such establishment that pioneers would ever see as they met their fates on the plains. It was also the starting point of the short-lived Pony Express.
Bob Schneider, the history lover, would know all this. It was left to Brett to point out a quirky historical fact about Friday’s championship game. The Hornets had won with 65 points _ the same number that Hampton had scored in beating Bob’s West Texas team in 1988.
“I don’t know if that means anything,” Bob said, “but it’s a little ironic.”
Volkens, who was the Elite Eight’s most outstanding player, had 16 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Rachel Hanf, a freshman, came off the bench for 15 points, hitting three 3-pointers in a row in a second-half surge that put Emporia in control for good. Hanf and Miller are both from Paola, Kan., where they were once prep teammates with Kansas State freshman Taelor Karr.
Asked who would win a H-O-R-S-E contest between her and longtime friend Karr, Hanf laughed and said, “I’ll say Taelor. I have to give her that.”
But it’s Hanf who now has a national championship.
“I think this team had all the ingredients,” Brandon Schneider said. “You look at our team and see people like Lacy Corker, Alli Volkens _ they put the team first, were willing to make our team as good as it can possibly be.
“It probably wasn’t the prettiest game, especially in the first half. It was two teams feeling each other out; the game got cleaner in the second half. Rachel Hanf, a freshman, comes in with a lot of guts and made big shots for us.”
It was Emporia’s night and Brandon’s night, but of course he shared it with his whole family. Brett was the “surprise” guest, arriving just an hour before the game. Memphis is playing in the Women’s Basketball Invitational and had defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Thursday night to advance to the championship game against Appalachian State on Sunday.
That game is in Boone, N.C., and the Memphis team travelled there Friday. At about the last possible second, Brett asked Memphis head coach Melissa McFerrin – a native Missourian who played at Mizzou _ if there was any chance he could detour to St. Joe to watch his brother’s team in the title game. She basically said, “I wouldn’t expect you to do anything else. Go!”
So Brett had to catch a dawn flight out of Kansas City on Saturday morning to rejoin Memphis in North Carolina. He’d catch up on sleep Saturday night. It was so worth it. How often to you get to watch your brother win an NCAA title and have your dad, the coaching patriarch, there to see it, too?
Brandon and wife Ali just had their own son, Cash, last Sept. 26. Friday was Cash’s sixth-month “birthday.” So three generations of Schneiners were present for this championship.
“I was able to share a nice moment with my dad,” Brandon said of the celebration after the game. “It meant a lot to me.”
And it meant the world to Dad, too.
“I told him, ‘You’re going to remember this the rest of your life,’ ” Bob said. “Hopefully, you’re going to have more, but you’re always going to remember the first one. It’s not only great for the players, but it’s great for the town of Emporia. When you put that national championship (banner) on the wall, anybody who comes into that venue is going to see that. It gives me chills up and down my spine thinking about it.”