By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
When an Alexandria boys’ recreational basketball team was in need of a coach, four moms stepped up to the challenge.
Those four moms were all first-time boys’ basketball coaches, but they ended up leading their sons’ team, the Devils, to a 30-19 victory over Patrick Henry in the 10U Boys’ American division championship at Bishop Ireton High School on March 16.
The city’s youth rec basketball program had 115 teams this year, all led by parents and other volunteer coaches, according to Program Director Tamika Coleman. The Devils are composed of 9- and 10-year-olds who live in the George Mason district. The team was gearing up for the 2018-2019 season when the dads who had coached some of the players in past years decided to step down.
“Our husbands have coached the girls and boys for a couple of years and they decided, ‘We can’t do this again because it’s two teams, it’s too much, we’re not going to coach the boys this year,’” Holly Lass said. “My son heard my husband and I talking and was like, ‘You have to do it.’ He literally said, ‘Mommy, you and Mrs. Lutz can do it.’”
“I thought that maybe my mom should start coaching and see how we did,” Lass’ son, Cal Lass, said.
Holly Lass brought the proposition to three other moms on the team, Susan Lutz, Sara Ford Burstein and Suzanne Farrand, who decided to sign up as first-time coaches. Having very little basketball knowledge aside from Farrand’s background playing in high school, however, the team had a rough start.
“Our first two games, we lost,” Lutz, the head coach, said. “We weren’t there yet. We weren’t a team yet…The boys, if they were on the bench at the second half or the fourth quarter, they’re all like, ‘We’re gonna lose.’ Just negative talk, and as coaches we were all like, ‘We gotta cut that. That’s gotta stop.’”
The coaches attributed the slow start to a learning curve. Of the five teams in the competitive American division, the Devils were at a disadvantage due to experience, Farrand said.
“They were all pretty much new to us and they had never played together as a team,” Farrand said. “The teams they were playing against, a lot of them had been together for several years and they play in travel leagues together, so they were a little bit more cohesive, I would say, from the outset.”
Motivated by the losses, the team began to improve as the coaches settled into their roles and the players settled into their positions. The moms said they slowly earned the respect of other coaches and spectators.
“There was no discussion really among the kids that it was a team of moms, [but] we got some looks during the games from other people,” Burstein said.
“The boys didn’t care,” Farrand said. “They’re used totaking orders from us all the time.”
Lutz said developing plays was a turning point for the team.
“I was talking to a friend of mine, and I was like, ‘Do you have plays?’” Lutz said. “He showed me a couple plays, what you do and how you call them, and we just kind of ran with it.”
While the boys struggled at first to understand and execute the plays, they eventually hit their stride. They even helped name the plays, which included Oklahoma, California, thunder, lightning, rhino, navy and bullet.
“At the beginning we weren’t really good at plays and passing the ball and stuff but towards the end, we started taking better shots and doing more passes,” Graham Farrand said.
By the end of the season, Lutz said she barely had to call the plays for the team to know what to do.
“I think they shocked us in the playoffs and then in the championship,” Suzanne Farrand said. “We were looking at each other like, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re doing everything we’ve taught them. It’s all working.’”
As the boys improved, so did their moms’ credibility as coaches.
“The other teams’ coaches, at the end of the game they’d be like, ‘Your team is well coached,’” Lass said. “I mean, we really developed a team.”
Lutz attributed the boys’ success to the losses they faced throughout the season.
“I kind of feel like the losses we had – those first two losses and then we had two really hard losses, we lost by one and we lost in double overtime by two – but I feel like all those losses, it was perfectly orchestrated, because we learned from them each time,” Lutz said. “They learned from them, and they really got it. They got better and better.”
The coaches agreed the boys played their best in the championship game at Bishop Ireton.
“They played on the same court as the high school kids,” Lutz said. “I think they were nervous. Our pep talk to them was like, ‘Don’t worry, it’s the same court … as we practice on, pretty much, there’s just more people.’”
“Her pep talks before the games sealed the deal every game,” Lass said. “It was in- credible. … If I had to write a book about it, it would be called ‘The Plays and the Pep Talks.’”
The pep talks, plays, hard losses and hard work throughout the season paid off in the championship game, during which one Devils player, Cole Chadwick, sank four three-pointers.
“When we got there, I was really nervous to go out there and play,” Jack Lutz said. “And then when we won, I was just super happy. Like I couldn’t believe, our first game and our last game, how much better we played.”
“It was fun because there was an announcer, and we played Patrick Henry and we beat them by a lot. It was fun,” Teddy Burstein said.
The winning team included Judson Allen, Teddy Burstein, Cole Chadwick, Luca Condon, Graham Farrand, Roman Knysh, Cal Lass, Jack Lutz, Liam Shannon and Tyler Stone.
Already looking to next year, the moms said they plan to continue coaching and get a repeat championship.
“I can’t imagine not doing it,” Lass said. “It was awesome. It was just an awesome experience. I think we all equally just feel so rewarded by how we started and where we ended up.”