By KEVIN THOMPSON
Glenn O'Neil's name has become synonymous with excellence, but the Scott City Beaver boys basketball coach will be the first to humbly admit he has been blessed to have players who want to be the best they can.
That formula has worked over and over again. How else could anyone explain 415 victories against 173 losses in the past 25 years (256-99 in 15 years with Scott City)?
Fresh off a state title win in Hutchinson at the 3A tournament (a 55-53 win over Minneapolis) for victory number 415, the soft-spoken O'Neil has no secret weapons or magical words.
His approach to coaching is neither Zen nor metaphysical. It's much simpler.
"Our kids play hard. They were prepared to play and prepared to play at a high level. Their poise was steady," O'Neil said of this year's version of title winners.
Having been at this level recently (champions in 2006, runners-up in 2007) this time was still a high for everyone, O'Neil said.
Were nerves an issue?
"You're nervous more for the kids," he said. "We hope we come out and play like we're capable of playing."
After 25 years of coaching and 10 trips to the state tournament, he said, he's past the stage of butterflies.
It also helps that this year's squad was just plain tough.
Scott City outscored opponents on average 70-44 this year, with its only loss coming, 62-58, to Class 6A Dodge City in the finals of the Tournament of Champions, the only blemish on a near-perfect season.
Some could say that loss took the pressure off trying to have a perfect season, but O'Neil sees it more like just another game.
"We never really talked about perfect seasons," he said. "We rarely talk about winning or losing; we're about preparing to give ourselves a chance to be successful."
That success is apparent as Scott City's athletic powerhouse reputation has continued to grow. O'Neil believes it's because his athletes are well grounded.
"First, God has had to bless them with talent, physically and intellectually," O'Neil said. "Second, they've bought into the system because the system has been good for other people."
Thirdly, he said, the parents are good at letting the coaches coach.
"We're the coaches and they're the parents," O'Neil said. "They don't have to agree with everything we do, but at the same time they support what we're doing. That speaks of the community."
O'Neil, who is also the head football coach, enjoys working with the players in both, but he sees some advantage of coaching one over the other.
"You love the game, the interaction of basketball compared to football," he said. "The numbers are lower. You lose three or four kids one year, but you have three or four others come up to take their place and you start it all over. The sophomore kids — my son is one of them — I've been helping to coach them since second grade. That keeps you young."
O'Neil noted that he is healthy enough to play with his team occasionally in practice and that keeps it fun.
"And they show me how old I am," he joked.
Being around kids keeps the youth in him, O'Neil said. It helps him keep his enthusiasm for the game. Being on a team that's successful and has good kids who are good students helps the year go by smoother.
This year's title team was different from the 2006 champions. That team was more of an upperclassmen team with seven or eight seniors and two or three juniors. This year's team had three seniors, one junior and the rest sophomores.
That 2006 team was probably expected to do well from the very start because they'd been to state the year before and had that experience, O'Neil said. This year's team was a team coming off back-to-back sub-state losses in the championship game.
"Expectations were probably different until after the showing at Dodge City, O'Neil said.
"People started saying, 'Well, you guys have a chance to go to state and you should do well,'" he said. "But you've got to take the compliments and not let your mind get ahead of your work habits to keep preparing to play every single game."