When Losing Is Winning
Randy Hatch the schools administrator made the comment when discussing his teams record. If we don’t go 9-0 we have failed. If we go 8-1 it isn’t good enough. You might think that these comments are from a school that has a high standard for winning and very seldom loses. Hatch however isn’t talking about winning on the scoreboard. We have nine girls in our program and we have to win with each of them. Losing one of them is not a successful season!
Carroll Academy is in West Tennessee about 100 miles east of Memphis and 100 miles west of Nashville in a town named Hunningdon. It has about 80 students and is operated by the Carroll County Juvenile Court. Many of the students are trying to get back to their home schools and helping them on their path is people like Randy Hatch and Tonya Lutz the basketball coach.
This isn’t a normal high school coaching job for Lutz. That is because the players she gets very rarely have played the game of basketball. Unlike other schools where when practice starts in October they are fine tuning their team and individual games Lutz has a different problem. Her challenge is communicating the very basics to wayward teens in an effort to acquaint them to a game they are unfamiliar with. On the first day of practice she might ask “Where is the free throw line?” “What is traveling?” “How many players are on the court at a time?” Sadly most of the girls reply with blank stares.
The team knows what they will get from Lutz. They see her as a stable, trusting, role model that gives them pointers not just confined to basketball. She might recommend hairstyles or the proper manners. On the basketball court she has to nurture her girls by starting with the very basics. Before Christmas she stated, “We have a crash course in peewee basketball-dribbling, passing, shooting, and defense.” Realizing that the odds are stacked up against them, she still gives maximum effort! “I’m going to coach like we’re going to win a state championship”, she states. “They deserve that.”
They have lost 215 games in a row and counting. Since Randy Hatch founded the school almost twenty years ago they have won only six games. Typically the scores get ugly. There was a game against Huntington that Carroll lost 91-4. Lopsided scores are the norm, yet the learning experience is priceless. “There are more important things than winning games”, Randy Hatch states. “Our job is to help them get up the ladder, we can give them a boost.”
Poverty and drugs are the environment most of the girls came from. Sometimes they had gone two or three weeks without electricity at a time. Drunk parents in rat infested houses were more the rule than the exception. Carroll Academy gets kids that fall through the cracks. They may be sent to them by the courts for drug violations, shoplifting, or other crimes. It was recommended that a girl named Haley not be allowed to play on the team. Haley had a bad anger problem but Hatch decided to give her a chance. “She gave me what I asked for both on and off of the court”, Hatch stated. “I am glad that I gave her a chance!”
A chance is all that these girls seem to ask for. Hatch stated that only one of the girls on the current team came from a traditional nuclear family. The team and it’s structure sometimes provides them with the closest thing to a family they have ever had. One of the nine, a girl named Destiny was called in for a conference with Hatch. It seems that coach Lutz had noticed something just wasn’t right with Destiny in the last game. Destiny was the best player on the team. She actually had some experience playing basketball before she got to Carroll. However on this particular night Destiny was playing out of control. Hatch asked her point blank if she had violated the schools policy on drugs. Destiny didn’t lie, she said that she had fallen to the temptation offered by older friends. Destiny was sent back to class not knowing what her future at Carroll Academy would be.
When the team gathered for it’s next practice a question was asked of the other players. “How many of you wouldn’t pass a drug test if you were tested now?” Two of the girls raised their hands. One of them stated, “There is no sense lying to them.” The two girls were tested with one of them not passing. It was thought that the other passed because she probably bought something cheap and reduced. Both of them and Destiny were suspended for the next game, but they were not kicked off of the team.
It was a decision that some would criticize. In Hatch’s mind it was the right one though. I’m sure he considered where these girls came from and how temptation is so hard for them to resist. It seemed to be more than that though. As in a true family just because one of the members falls short they are not kicked out of the family. Discipline and being accountable for their actions is a big part of what the academy is all about. Hatch and Lutz love their players and the discipline and family atmosphere are what the girls hunger for. They have lived in undisciplined uncaring environments all of their lives. Finally they were feeling love and that somebody cared! Usually the nine girls outnumber the fans for them in the stands. “That tells you all you need to know,” said Hatch, “That’s why we’re here. If their parents had been there all along, maybe we wouldn’t be here. Right now, we’re the only family they got.”
Years ago I was privileged to hear the legendary ten time NCAA champion UCLA basketball coach John Wooden speak. Someone asked him something about who the best coaches were and Wooden said something very profound. “The best coach may be somebody that nobody has heard of that is doing a great job with what they have.” There is a tendency in sports to concentrate on winning on the scoreboard. Even teams that reach enormous heights and come in second are considered losers. Wooden in his answer recognized that it wasn’t all about winning on the scoreboard. When all is said and done games are forgotten but life lessons are invaluable and last forever!
Sometimes the fortunate among us don’t really take into consideration how lucky we are. Nobody chooses the family they are born into. When it comes to that everyone is not placed equally. When people are there to bridge the gap between what is and what could be it is really special. It’s easy to look at a problem from the surface much like treating the symptoms of a disease without getting down to the roots. Carroll Academy has been there all of these years to offer discipline and tough love to wayward kids who only want a chance.
There were tears in the eyes of Randy Hatch and one of his players recently as they hugged each other tightly. She had done well and was going back to her former school. “It’s hard to let them go”, Randy admitted, “but that is what we are here for!” “This is a win for her and us!” It seems he is thinking that it’s one win and eight to go on the only scoreboard that really matters to Hatch, Lutz, and the family of Carroll Academy.
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.