(Des Moines, IA) – I didn’t know it at the time, but it was victory 299. That’s a lot of wins in 17 seasons. And that’s what Solon (IA) Coach Brad Randall has garnered throughout his high school coaching career, including yesterday’s victory over undefeated IKM-Manning.
Tonight, he has his Spartans back in the Iowa Class 2A state basketball championship game a year after winning his first title.
What makes this opportunity special?
Well, last year’s title was won with a lot of contributors that have either graduated or been lost to injury, making this year’s advancement of relative varsity newcomers somewhat remarkable.
The reward? They get to face off again with private school Western Christian of Hull, a team Solon beat last year in a thrilling double overtime semifinal matchup after trailing by double figures late in the third quarter.
I won’t make tonight’s game, which is disappointing. But I was there yesterday, a round trip journey of about ten hours.
Every mile was worth it to see Brad coach in the state semifinals. It was the first time I had ever seen him coach in person.
I’m convinced that he could have a career as a stand up comedian if he wanted to (you only need to hear him tell a story to conclude this), but in “coach” mode yesterday he was much less animated than I expected.
There were some obvious fouls missed late in the game that adversely affected his club, yet he stayed composed and kept them on track. I can’t help but wonder if a younger Brad would have handled things so well. Regardless, he did what was needed and his team came away with the victory.
If there was one thing that surprised me, it was the size of the Solon crowd. I thought there would be more people in attendance. But in retrospect, I also wonder if the phenomenal success the athletic program has achieved of late made this day less unique to some. In fact, almost ordinary considering:
Solon has won three consecutive football championships.
Solon is the defending state basketball champions.
Solon’s baseball team lost a semifinal heartbreaker (which I attended) in last summer’s state baseball tournament, after qualifying for that same tournament the year before.
So although there were a number of local fans and student’s at the game, it didn’t match my expectations.
I haven’t lived in Solon for 30 years. Times obviously change, as have most of the names.
But one consistent is the name Randall.
My memories of Brad go back a lot farther than his coaching career.
I remember us both fleeing a local gas station where we hung out as high school kids every time we took the owner’s money in our “man or mouse” card games. In those days, if we lost a buck on the day it was painful. On days when we were the winners, the owner of the station would sometimes want to inflict a different kind of pain on us. We knew he liked us, but we also knew when to make our exit.
I remember serving as a pall bearer on many occasions with Brad, because this particular gas station was directly across the street from the local funeral home. We weren’t actually official pall bearers, but were asked on several occasions to help carry a casket from the hearse up the stairs to the cart waiting to transport the remains into the home for a visitation. I never knew who was in the casket, and I never went inside the home. It was just better that way.
Perhaps this is life (and death) in a small Iowa town.
I remember Brad being quicker on the draw and asking a girl to prom I had professed an interest in. That brought more than a little abuse from our friends at the gas station, thinking a long term tension might develop between us.
It never did, and in the end, neither of us ended up with that particular girl.
I recall his frustration his senior year when he had prepared an energizing speech for the football pep rally, yet none of the student body would stop cheering or clapping and allow him to address the crowd. We were determined to have the last laugh that day, and he never did get to recite the pep talk I have no doubt he had rehearsed many times.
I recall the entire bus serenading Brad with the song “Runaway Sue” on the return from a road basketball game. In his case, it was in reference to a girl (a cheerleader in fact) he had his eye on at that time, and being kids lacking an overabundance of maturity, we couldn’t help but tease him. He’s the only teammate I ever remember being sung to on one of those trips.
Some reflections are heartwarming, and it somewhat amazes me that these memories return to my consciousness like they happened yesterday, even though they occurred more than half my life ago.
The son of a coach, it’s not surprising Brad has been so successful.
I still tease him about the time he got tossed from our high school baseball game for mumbling an expletive about the umpire on the way back to the bench, immediately after taking a called third strike he obviously didn’t think was anywhere near the plate. Looking back, he’s the only teammate I ever had that got ejected from a high school game. I don’t mention this as an indictment of his character, but rather a tribute to his competitive nature. That event alone was a predictor of his drive towards success in the future.
I don’t see Brad much these days, although I do try to talk to him every couple of months, more frequently when possible. After going to college and moving away from town, there was a twenty year hiatus where I lost touch with many of my old friends, Brad among them. I’m happy that isn’t the case anymore, as I’ve been fortunate to reconnect with Brad and others, and hope to find more as time (and Facebook improvements) moves on.
I know being a high school coach is much more difficult than people realize. I feel qualified in making this judgment, as I’m married to one.
Some people like you. Many don’t.
Often your last win makes you the smartest person in town, and your last loss the dumbest.
Some parents have it all figured out, and know exactly what the coach did wrong in determining a certain outcome.
The name calling occurs, mostly out of earshot of the coach, and most of the time comes from those without the courage to “lace ‘em up” and try the role on first hand.
But there are always good times. Always rewards.
When I look at the photo above, I’m convinced Brad was thrilled with the victory yesterday. I didn’t hear any name calling, although I purposely sat away from the Solon crowd so my camera had a clear view of the court and bench area.
But if name calling were the order of the day, I have my own label for Coach Brad Randall.
I just call him my friend. And I couldn’t be happier for the success he’s experiencing.