The ‘Haner Talk:’ Catching Up With My Junior High Coach After 43 Years
By Joe Perdue
PGA Professional / Owner
Hidden Meadows Golf Course
After ringing the doorbell, I was standing in the rain and laughing to myself. My height hasn’t exactly kept up with my weight over the past five years, and the question wasn’t if he would say something about it, it was when and how. Even though I hadn’t seen my former coach in 43 years, I knew he wasn’t going to let this get past him.
I didn’t have to wait long. “You’ve sure packed it on Perdue,” he said as he opened the front door. “Nice to see you too Coach,” I replied. And thus began one of the most delightful afternoons that I have ever had.
I played on the 8th grade basketball team at Bremerton Junior High School for coach Jim Haner in 1973-74. It was the first time in decades that Bremerton had only one junior high. Dewey was in east Bremerton, Coontz was on the west side of town, which is divided by the Port Washington Narrows. The Coontz building had seen better days, and I was in the last 7th grade class to walk up and down its hallways. As it turns out, when the school district combined the two junior high’s at the Dewey building that year, it was just a dress rehearsal for what would happen five years later when the district combined the two high schools.
The first time I met Coach Haner was when I had him for a teacher in 7th grade. It didn’t take long for me to find out that he was the 8th grade basketball coach. I was playing ‘A’ string peewee basketball then, and I doubt that not much more than a day or two would go by that I wasn’t already pestering him about playing on his team the next year.
Somehow we ended up playing a game of one-on-one towards the end of that school year. I can’t remember all the circumstances, but the part I do remember is that if I lost, I would be on the receiving end of 10 ‘bloody shoe’s’ (remember, it’s 1973 and a teacher could legally give a kid a hack). I was pretty cocky back then, and I’m sure he needed to put me in my place, hence the game and the wager.
The game was to 21, playing by 1’s, and you had to win by two. I got to 21, thought I had won, but was told that I wasn’t keeping score very well. The game went on and on and on, and I ended up losing 40-38 (it was a helluva game). I was so mad because I thought I had won, and I hit the gym door running, wanting nothing to do with getting a bloody shoe that I didn’t think I deserved.
Fast forward to the next year. We had three days of basketball try-outs for the 8th grade team, and I ended up making the team. Nothing had been said about the previous year’s game of one-on-one, so I (mistakenly) figured Coach Haner had forgotten about it.
Right after our first day of practice was over, he said, “Hey Perdue, I think we have some unfinished business to take care of,” as he was slapping the palm of his hand with his tennis shoe. My heart sank. “Any chance of double-or-nothing coach?” At least he spread them out so I only got two of them at a time. And to tell you the truth, I don’t think he ever did give me all 10.
Since two schools had been combined into one, the school district decided there would be two 8th grade teams. Coach Haner, who was the ‘white’ team coach and Coach Rector, who was the ‘blue’ team coach, decided which 24 kids to keep, then they sat down and had a ‘draft.’
“The only thing the school district didn’t want to have happen was for the teams to be divided by east and west,” said Coach Haner as we were sipping on diet Pepsi’s in his living room. “So Rector and I had to keep that in mind while we were picking our teams.”
At this point in our conversation, Coach Haner went into another room for a second, then came back and said, “Here, I want you to have this,” handing me a Rawlings spiral back basketball scorebook. “Look inside,” he said. I opened up the book and then sat there speechless. It was the scorebook for our entire 1973-74 season.
“I saved all the scorebooks from every year I coached, and didn’t know what to do with them. After I got your e-mail about wanting to get together, I was talking with a friend of mine and he suggested that I give this to you. So here you go.”
“Oh my god, look at this,” I said as I turned the pages. “Oh, I remember this game when (David) Joiner lit up Cedar Heights for 28 points. And this game against North….I lost this for us by fouling a guy as the clock ran out to end the game,” hanging my head, still remembering how awful I felt about costing us the game.
“I always wanted to have a good balance in practice, teaching you guys good fundamentals along with making it fun,” said Coach Haner as we reminisced about that season. “I thought it was important to teach you guys how to move your feet, how to block out, how to follow your shots. You watch games now. It’s like these guys are posing for a picture after they shoot. Nobody follows their shots anymore.”
I remember having to run lines if I got lazy and reached out to try and guard someone instead of moving my feet in practice, or if I didn’t work hard enough in our rebounding drills. And Coach Haner’s attention to those details were evident in our old scorebook.
We had a pretty good team. We started out the season 5-1, then dropped a couple of games that we shouldn’t have the second half of the season, finishing 8-4. In those 12 games, we shot 255 free throws compared to 117 free throws for our opponents. We moved our feet on defense, we didn’t settle for shooting a lot of outside shots on offense.
The game was different then. There was no 3-point line, and we also had one of the best players in the league (David Joiner). He would just take it to the basket every time and would either score or get fouled. He also had a great shot from about 10 feet, so if the other team tried to clog it up, he’d hit a couple from there to bring them out. There was no reason for us to bomb away from the outside, and we were lucky to have a coach that was able to recognize what we were good at doing.
Coach Haner and I spent the rest of the afternoon talking about anything and everything. What he’d been up to, how I ended up buying a golf course in Maine of all places, coaching philosophies, the current state of disarray of the Husky basketball team, politics……there wasn’t much ground we didn’t cover.
The afternoon light had faded, and now all I could see from the coach’s living room window were the Bremerton waterfront lights. As easy as it would have been to keep talking into the wee hours of the morning, I didn’t want to over-stay my welcome, plus I needed to get going.
Playing for Coach Haner on that 8th grade basketball team was a big change for me. It was the first time I had played on any team that my dad wasn’t coaching. My dad coached peewees the way they should be coached. Everyone got to play a lot, as long as they showed up for practice and didn’t goof any more than normal 12-year-old kids goof off. Plus there was always that stigma of being ‘the coach’s kid.’ I’m not sure if that put more pressure on my dad or on me. I don’t remember it being much of an issue, but you know how peewee and little league parents can be.
School ball was different. There were only a couple of guys that I had played on the same team with before. Practice was every day for a couple of hours, right after school got out. Playing time was based on effort and performance. And oh god, did we run, and run, and run. I was in the best shape that I’d ever been in my entire life. Practices were tough. We worked hard.
On game day we wore a tie to our classes. We had to keep our grades up or we didn’t get to play, and none of our teachers would cut us any slack. We had to get signed off for grades every week. Coach Haner taught us that it was a privilege to play on that team, and that we were all held to higher standards if we wanted to remain on that team. We represented our school. I was proud to be on that team.
There are some things that stick with you in life. One of those things happened to me between the second and third games of that 8th grade year. I had a couple of practices that weren’t good, and I got benched. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time for me, because our next game was against the other team from our school. It was the first time in the history of the school that the two teams would play against each other. The game was at the old East High School gym, and the place was packed. It was a big game for everyone. And the last thing I wanted to do was to watch instead of play.
I ended up playing about half of the game, and got a couple of rebounds towards the end of the game that helped us out. After the game, Coach Haner pulled me aside and said, “Good job Perdue. See what you can do when you apply yourself?”
I have never forgotten that. To this day, when I am looking for any kind of an excuse to slack off (trust me, I can come up with 10 excuses at any given time), I remember what he said to me. Then I give myself ‘the Haner talk,’ put my head down and plow through it.
After my 8th grade year a school levy didn’t pass, and freshman sports were one of the first things cut. I made the high school JV team as a freshman, but my season only lasted five games before I got hurt, had to have some surgery, and with the exception of a little bit of city league ball, that pretty much ended my basketball career.
Coach Haner had told all of us there were other ways to stay involved with basketball when the day came that we wouldn’t be playing anymore. I took that to heart, coached some peewee teams for a couple of years, and was a referee for 14 years. These days I’ll shoot some baskets every now and then, or if we’re waiting for a bus at the school, the kids on my golf team have talked me into playing a little bit of pick-up ball. It’s a good thing there aren’t any referee’s for those pick-up games. My defense consists of grabbing the back of someone’s shirt and not letting them go anywhere.
I will argue with anyone that claims junior high or high school sports aren’t important. I learned so much from just that one year of playing basketball for Coach Haner. He taught me how to be part of a team. He taught me how to be accountable for everything I did during school, during practice and during games. He taught me to respect my opponents, my fellow teammates, and myself. It’s too bad that during his 30+ year teaching career in Bremerton, he was only able to coach basketball 11 of those years. The school district didn’t realize just how good of a coach they had right under their noses.
Coach Haner had that special knack that all great coaches have. He knew when to motivate us (aka running lines), when he needed to holler at us to get our attention, when to throttle it back a little bit if we were overwhelmed, and when to give us a pat on the back. That balance is something I think about every single day when I’m coaching my high school golf team. And every so often, one of the kids on my team will get ‘the Haner talk.’