The Legend of Ken Van Loon
A couple of weeks ago my brother posted a blog entry about an elementary teacher who had made a big impact on him when he was a kid, after having recently meeting up with her.
Saturday was a fascinating day for me! I had a chance to work with my basketball coach, Ken Van Loon, from Grade 7 at Eastview Jr. High school in Red Deer! (This was a long time ago, let’s just say it was well over 25 years ago)
It was grade seven and I was finally getting a chance to play basketball! In my elementary schools, they never had basketball for us – we always had to wait for Jr. High, and I was wanting to play for many years!
It was one of my very first games, and coach Van Loon had walked us over to the nearby catholic school to play against another team. (I can’t remember if it was the catholic school’s team, or if a bunch of teams were having a mini-tournament.)
But what I do remember is I was playing defence, and I think I was doing an okay job. On one play, I had good defensive position, and the offensive player with the ball, pretty much ran right through me knocking me to the ground. The referee was a high school kid, and gave me a foul for a block!
Brief interruption here – there are two calls that are frequently messed up in basketball – the block/charge. Block is when a player illegally contacts an offensive player with the ball. A charge is when the player with the ball illegally contacts a defensive player. It’s a little more technical than that, but suffice to say, this is the Coles notes version.
At any rate I was a little annoyed – I got up, looked at coach Van Loon, and he said “don’t worry about it, let me worry about it.” So I continued to play the game. I don’t remember whether I did anything else in that game, I don’t even remember if we won or not. Frankly I don’t even remember who my team mates were.
However, after the game was over, my coach walked over to the referee (the high school kid), and gently explained to him the difference between a block and a charge. He did it in such a way that the kid wasn’t upset, nor did he make the kid feel small. He handled it exceedingly well.
I have told this story many times in my basketball career. I have been officiating and coaching for more than 17 years, and I have never forgotten Coach Van Loon’s method – which was way better than yelling at a poor high school kid trying to be helpful.
Fast forward to Saturday, and I was working with a great football officiating crew doing a Peewee and Bantam game at McMahon Stadium (yes, I do football too), and over walks Ken Van Loon. Still the same voice, still the same helpful attitude. Ken was there for the day to help us football referees become even better football referees. I told him the story I have just told you, and while he doesn’t remember the exact instance, I’m sure he remembers hundreds of similar occasions where the helpful encouraging word made the world, and the person, a better place.
Thanks Ken for the insight that forged respect for the game and for officials in a 12 year old kid, and thanks for spending a big portion of your life helping people get along better, and be better people!
Hope to get a chance to work with you again in the future!