Lessons from the coach


This Saturday, an Aberdeen, South Dakota basketball coach is likely going to pass legendary hoops coach Bobby Knight for most collegiate victories. They have a few things in common besides basketball. Knight is known for throwing chairs. Don Meyer, the coach at Northern State University, has to sit in one; he’s been in a wheelchair since last September when he fell asleep while driving to a team retreat and hit a semi-truck head-on.

His leg was amputated and during the operations to put him back together, doctors discovered he has cancer in his liver.

“I have to be strong for our team now,” he told a local newspaper. “When alone with my wife, I might not be as strong, and I might break down and cry and wonder how I’m going to deal with (the cancer). When you are with people you work with, it’s easier to be strong.”

Today he told South Dakota Public Broadcasting “the people of South Dakota would do anything for people who need a hand,” and he knows that first-hand. And like Coach Knight, his players insist he teaches more than basketball. Take this description of the accident in a recent Sports Illustrated article:

When his players reached the car, Meyer was still conscious, but his left side was battered. Yet instead of panicking, the players summoned the poise that Meyer had already cultivated in them. One of them called 911. Senior captain Kyle Schwan asked a few veteran players to help the younger players form a prayer circle, then joined graduate assistant Matt Hammer and sophomore guard Brett Newton next to Meyer.

Schwan grabbed Meyer’s hand, and the young men fell back on the slogans of the practice court. We’ve gotta be tough, Coach! It’s the fourth quarter! Dead-ball breathing! Narrow focus! NBA! Next Best Action!

“They saved my life,” says Meyer, who was airlifted to an Aberdeen hospital after a 30-minute wait.

“It’s a testament to Coach,” Schwan says. “In essence he saved his own life because of the way he taught us.”

Meyer, 64, will coach in his wheelchair Saturday night. A win against the University of Mary gives him his 903rd of his coaching career, one more than Knight.

(Photo courtesy of Northern State University)

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