High school sports: When family can mean more than the usual
“We’re focused on our family and carry our family love through sports. That’s a way that brings us all together. That’s what we all enjoy.”
Jacey Handy, Maize freshman
The intertwining of sports and families often begins at a young age, whether it’s playing catch in the yard, shooting baskets in the driveway, or hitting golf balls at the driving range. The relationship often evolves over time as family members cheer for and support each other during games.
And then there are stories, like these involving high school athletes, in which family and sports are even more closely interwoven.
On the first pitch of his high school career, North freshman Eric Escamilla hit a home run.
It was a thrilling moment for him, and maybe just as exciting for his brothers, Everardo and Emilio, who also play for North.
“Not a lot of guys have the opportunity to see both of his younger brothers playing on the same team as you,” said Everardo, a senior. “Sometimes I get really sentimental. I think about it being my last year.… ”
Everardo paused and sniffed, his voice shaky.
“It’s my last year. It’s over,” he said. “I tell myself, ‘You were blessed of God that you played with your two brothers, seen them play, seen them share it, win games.’ It’s really emotional.”
As happy as the three are that they are playing together, they are a fiery trio.
If they feel one is not playing as well as he needs to, they’ll point it out. Strike out twice in a game? They’re going to mock him, although the other will respond with how his batting average is 100 points higher.
Emilio, a junior catcher, is hitting (junior catcher) hits .436 with 14 RBIs. Everardo, a shortstop, is hitting .464 with 16 RBIs. Eric, a center fielder, is hitting .269.
“We tell each other we’re here for a reason — work hard as a team, as the family that we are,” Emilio said.
The Handys are a close family. Jerrod and Dana have been married 21 years and teach near each other in the business department at Maize High.
For the past five years, Jerrod has coached the Maize boys track team. Dana coaches the girls team.
Their daughters, junior Daley and freshman Jacey, play basketball and do hurdles and throws on the track team.
“We use it as our family time,” Jerrod said. “Coaching our own kids is like, that’s what makes it so good. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened, to be able to enjoy that part of your child’s life and see them all through the day when a lot of parents don’t get that opportunity.”
But as is common, too much of a good thing, too much closeness can cause some issues. There are times Daley and Jacey would really rather not have their parents coaching them.
Jerrod, also the girls basketball coach, yells at them during basketball games and practices, and it can drive the girls crazy.
“We kind of tag-team them sometimes,” Jerrod said. “Dana will tell me, ‘You need to talk to Jacey or Daley when (you) get home from practice. As a dad.’ We’re getting better at it.”
Dana didn’t coach basketball this past season when Maize finished second in Class 6A primarily as a way to ease the family stress. She makes sure the family has dinner together after practice.
There’s advantages to being in a sports family. They all understand what the others are going through.
“It helps when I am having a rough time, like figuring out college basketball’s recruiting business, that I can talk to my parents about it or my sister. They know what my dream is,” said Daley, who said she has been offered a scholarship by Wyoming.
Then there’s the relationship between Jerrod and Dana. When they were coaching together from November until nearly June, plus teaching together all day and raising two teens, it took a toll.
“We learned that we have to have a date night,” Dana said. “We’re married people and not colleagues.”
Circle senior midfielder Kristen Todd has always known she could count on her older brother, Ryan, to be her protector.
“I had no problem with playing what he wanted to do,” said Kristen, who has signed to play soccer at McPherson College. “It’s how I started soccer — he wanted to kick the ball, so I chased it.
“I’ve always been the only girl, too, so he’s always been my protector.”
While Kristen and Ryan are still close, their relationship has changed. Ryan, 27, is Circle’s soccer coach. He also coached his brother, Austin, a freshman, in the fall.
“I didn’t talk to them about taking the job, but I talked to our dad about it,” said Ryan, whose dad, Chris, coached him at Circle. “ I wanted him to go up and talk to them, to make sure they didn’t take advantage of the situation.”
But Kristen has no reason to treat Ryan any differently.
“There’s times when I look at him like he’s my brother, but I respect his authority as a coach,” she said. “… I have to remember he knows a lot about soccer. We’ve both been playing since we could walk, but he’s got nine years on me. He knows what he’s talking about. Usually what he says (about soccer) is how I’m feeling.”
Kristen has been a starter all four years at Circle, while Austin worked his way up from junior varsity to varsity outside midfielder.
Ryan admits to being harder on his siblings than any other players to ensure no one can accuse him of favoritism. At the same time, he has enjoyed it.
“Spending more time with them is the best,” Ryan said. “We don’t get to see each other that often, so listening to them and all the other kids talk, they’re all interesting.”
While Kristen graduates later this month, Ryan will still have two siblings to deal with next year — their younger brother, Nathan, an eighth grader, will be coming out for the team.
Ann Burgett coached her daughter, Kaylee, in summer softball for about six seasons, but she wanted to make sure her daughter experienced different types of coaches.
So while Ann coaches North’s softball team, Kaylee is a senior at Northwest.
“She can learn a lot of things from other people, too,” Ann said. “But it’s hard to sit in the stands or be on the other field and not be able to watch her play.”
It’s been especially difficult this season because it is Kaylee’s last. She has signed to play volleyball at Friends.
“It’s kind of hard as a mom to watch and coach, too,” Ann said. “I think it’s exciting, too, that both of us are able to do that. She’s mature that way, and I can coach, and she’s OK with that.”
There was one moment, though, when Ann responded poorly while coaching against Kaylee.
Kaylee reached first base during a 2013 game. The next Northwest batter popped up, and Kaylee strayed off first.
“I was yelling at her to get back,” Ann said. “My players are saying, ‘What are you doing, Coach? You can’t yell for the other team!’ That’s been a joke when she came up to bat this year — who will you yell for?’ ”
Andale is well-known for the Eck family and all its offshoots, especially in the world of high school athletics. Many Ecks have competed in Andale sports over the years, and longtime assistant track coach Paul Schmidt remembers a nine-year span of Ecks playing quarterback.
“We’ve got certain bloodlines that run pretty thick here,” Andale boys and girls track coach Greg Smarsh said. “They typically produce a plethora of good athletes. We want them to keep coming.”
Schmidt, 82, has coached in some capacity at Andale since 1962.
“This this being a Catholic community, we had very large families,” Schmidt said. “Twelve kids was not uncommon.
“ … In the pole vault, we’ve got sort of a family affair with about three families represented in about the top dozen kids, including the Schmidts, the Meyers and the Horsches.”
Smarsh, who has coached the Indians since 1993, needed some time to count up all the current family members represented on his boys and girls track team — Horsch (seven), Winter (four), Meyer (three), and two each for Smarsh, Eck, Reichenberger, Seiler, Bergkamp, Schmidt and Camp.
“The Horsch family is big here. We used to put names on (team) shirts, and sometimes the first initial wasn’t enough,” Smarsh said. “ … I tell (the athletes), ‘I’m going to call you by your brother’s name, just get used to it.’ It happens quite a bit.”
Andale second-year softball coach Tony McKeown has some confusing moments when he’s filling out his lineup card before games.
He can’t rely only on last names; he’s got to fill in the first name, too.
There are five players in Andale’s program who are Bugners — Taylor and MaCray, who are sisters, along with Hannah Bugner and Bailey Bugner, and Kaylee Lies, all cousins.
Then there’s twins Kylie and Kalin Winsor. Sisters Mariah and Micalea Seiwert, who go to school at Garden Plain, are also in the program.
“They all look different, all have different personalities,” McKeown said. “Filling out the scorecard, it gets kind of confusing at times.”