SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Lessons Learned
By Dave Kiffer


December 02, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - We learn the most from our parents. We learn second most from our school teachers.

But often there are other people in our community who teach us things that are very important.

jpg Dave Kiffer

I was reminded of that when I heard that Carl Hobbs died a few days ago.

Mr. Hobbs was one of my early sports coaches and although I didn't turn out to be the great basketball player that I always wanted to be, that wasn't Mr. Hobbs' fault. You need great marble to sculpt a Michelangelo and I was made of much softer stuff.

But more than anyone else, Mr. Hobbs taught me how to win, and how to lose.

He also taught me that you could squeeze nine 10 year old boys into a single Volkswagen Bug, but as usual, I digress.

Mr. Hobbs coached the Methodist team in the Ketchikan Church League for many years.

If you think dealing with your own kids is "interesting" then try dealing with a dozen or so "other peoples kids." Imagine trying to keep their attention focused on the task at hand. Imagine trying to get them to do something as complicated as playing basketball. It's not an easy job.

But Mr. Hobbs was well suited to the task. He was not a prototypical "scream in your face" sports coach. He was tall, calm and quiet.

He didn't "hammer" you to do something. He just looked at you with a sort of quizzical look as if there could be no other response than to do what he had asked. He got a lot more done with a smile and wink that just about anyone I know.

My first year with the Methodist team, we learned how to win.

It was a pretty easy lesson, we were the "class" of the league. And I am using the "Royal We" here. I was a bench warmer.

The 12-year-olds on our team were awesome. They went undefeated, winning most games by 15 or 20 points which was a lot at a time when most teams only scored 20 to 30 points a game.

But there was never any gloating. It was all about sportsmanship with Mr. Hobbs. If he saw one of his players getting a little over enthusiastic, it would immediately warrant a sit down. And since the games were generally blowouts, even the "backbenchers" like me got a fair amount of playing time.

After running through the competition, we faced off for the league championship against a team we had soundly thumped just a few weeks before.

There were all sorts of rumors around that we'd have harder time in the final. For one thing - this being a small town - one of the referees was related to one of the players on the other side.

The game was barely a few seconds old, when the referee made a questionable "traveling" call on our starting point guard. About 20 seconds later, the same thing happened again. The other team scored. We were trailing - probably for the first time all year.

One lesson I hadn't learned from Mr. Hobbs was "calmness."

I leapt off the end of the bench and screamed "No!" at the top of my lungs. Everyone stopped and stared at me, including the referee.

"Sit down, David," Mr. Hobbs said without raising his voice. "Everything will be fine."

I did and it was. The final score was 51 to 14. "We" prevailed.

Later, we played a final game against the all-stars from the other teams. We won that one pretty handily too. Mr. Hobbs would not have publicly gloated, but it had to feel pretty good to coach that good of a team.

The next year, he taught me how to lose. We "graduated" our starting five and left the rarified air of world-beaters.

In fact the quality of the squad dropped so far that I was now a starting forward. I was the Dennis Rodman of the league, but without the colorful hair (unless you think that red hair is colorful enough on its own).

I couldn't buy a basket, but I sure could stand under the hoop and get rebounds. It was my job to get the ball and then make sure it went to someone who knew what to do with it.

We weren't a particularly bad team that year, but other teams were taking their revenge from the previous year a bit and we got thumped more than a couple of times.

Mr. Hobbs never changed. He coached us with the same calm precision that he had used the year before. He didn't yell. He didn't get angry. He didn't even get frustrated at all the double dribbles and travelings and missed passes and shots. He just smiled and told us to play our best. And to have fun.

It didn't seem as much fun as the year before because we weren't beating everyone else.

After one particularly bumming loss, I remember kicking the edge of the bleachers.

Mr. Hobbs was standing behind me.

"Why did you do that, David?" he asked.

"I don't know."

"The bench only beats people who sit on it," he said with a wink.

Years later when I came back to town after college (the first time!), I took an accounting class at the community college with Mr. Hobbs. I was having a personal funk and dropped out after a month or so (too many numbers!).

A year later, I had somewhat righted my personal ship and was working for the Daily News. I spent an afternoon talking about the school district budget with Mr. Hobbs - who's job in real life was the school district business manager .

He patiently explained the intricacies of the budget and the almost Byzantine way that the state funded education. He had to go over the points several times before it finally started to sink in, but - as always - he didn't get frustrated with my inability to suss out "foundation funding" any better than I could complete the "pick and roll."

At the end of the interview, he shook my hand and said:

"You really should finish up that accounting class. You don't want that incomplete on your transcript."

The last time I spoke to Carl Hobbs was about 15 years ago, shortly after I came back "home" once again.

We talked a bit about the school district and even reminisced about the old church league.

"You never did finish my class," he reminded me with a smile.

Yes I did, Mr. Hobbs. I did.


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2006

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