It’s difficult listening to many pro and college coaches when they talk about the challenges and difficulties of their jobs. It’s difficult because these coaches earn a massive pile of cash, and this prosperity clouds everything they do and say.
High school coaches are different. Their pay is astoundingly low when you consider all the hours of labor and all the complications – whiny players, belligerent parents, demanding administrators – that invade their lives. So many demands. So little financial reward.
When a wealthy college or pro coach talks about her/his love for the game, I tune out. When a high school coach talks about her/his devotion for sport, I tune in.
During my years at The Gazette, I’ve become friends with high school basketball coach Ivan Chambers. We see each other at the grocery store. We see each other at high school games across the area.
Chambers lost his coaching job with the Air Academy girls basketball team midway through the 2010-2011 season. His departure remains hazy. He won’t talk about it, and neither will Air Academy officials.
One thing was easy to see through the haze:
Chambers yearned to coach again. I could sense this while we stood talking in the cereal aisle at Albertson’s. And I could sense this even more strongly when we talked at games.
I’m happy to report Chambers has been granted his wish. He was hired earlier this month to revive Liberty’s boys basketball program. Chambers directed Air Academy to five Metro League titles in six seasons, and he’s proud to say the Kadets became “the premier girls program in southern Colorado.”
He’s hoping for a repeat at Liberty. No, let’s correct that. He’s planning for a repeat.
“I want to turn Liberty into the elite basketball program in District 20, if not all of southern Colorado,” Chambers said this week as he relaxed in his backyard. “I was able to do that with the girls program at Air Academy. I want to do it again.”
Those are big words, but don’t bet against Chambers. His teams at Air Academy were wise and relentless. Chambers is devoted to using his bench, which means more Liberty students will see playing time. This means the Lancers on the court will be rested and hungry.
And the team has promise. The Lancers finished 12-11, but that’s after losing their last four games. Liberty returns a strong nucleus in AJ and Garet Bohuslavsky, Matt Love and Brandon Wilburn. The quartet combined to average nearly 48 points last season.
Chambers talks often about “playing the right way.” He’s a disciplinarian. His coaching hero is John Wooden, who might be the finest team coach ever. If a player cusses at a Chambers practice, everyone joins in payment.
“If anyone swears,” Chambers said, “everyone runs.”
I wanted to know why Chambers was so determined to returning as a head coach. He spent last winter as an assistant for Liberty’s girls team, and one of his primary tasks was directing the school’s C squad. He still was coaching but always remained committed to leading a program.
Chambers answered immediately.
“Because I know every day I go to work I can make a difference,” he said. “I had coaches who impacted my life. They were there for me, and I could see the sacrifices they made.”
For Chambers, and other high school coaches, these are not empty words about making a difference and making a sacrifice.
It’s the truth.