Eagle-Vail: Fixing the mess at Battle Mountain
EAGLE-VAIL, Colorado ” What a mess.
You’d like to think “Only at Battle Mountain …,” but sadly, I suspect Philip Tronsrue’s resignation after seven years as the head coach of Battle Mountain boys basketball is all too common a tale in youth/high school sports.
I’ve seen this not only at Battle Mountain, but around the Western Slope in the 12 years I’ve covered high school sports.
It goes something like this: A team isn’t good. The parents understandably don’t like seeing their kids go through a bunch of losing. They get upset and they need a target at which to vent their anger. Hi, Coach.
Let’s keep the facts straight here. Tronsrue resigned. Was his response of resignation to parents meeting with Battle Mountain principal Brian Hester and athletic director Rich Houghton premature and/or a regrettable knee-jerk reaction? Yes.
Would it have been better if both sides ” Hester/Houghton and Tronsrue ” let some time pass, cool their heels and then discuss the situation? “Most definitely,” as Coach T, often said in postgame interviews.
If you were in Tronsrue’s situation, would you feel like throwing up your hands and saying. “Forget it?” Probably.
Were the parents right in being there talking to the Hester and Houghton about the future of the team? Yes.
Of course, Battle Mountain is a public school and the public has a right to see after their kids. In the greater picture of things ” which includes high-school sports being a critical part of the educational experience ” parents should be involved in the process. It’s better that way.
But is Tronsrue a bad coach? Was Tronsrue making basketball a negative experience for the student-athletes? Did the parents of the team have a legitimate beef?
No, no and no.
The case for Dr. Phil
Tronsrue is an experienced coach who came to Battle Mountain in 2002 with accomplished stints in Missouri and on the Front Range. Once here, he proved he could coach, delivering the school’s only boys basketball title (2006) in school history, a feat all the more impressive given that basketball is a distant third in Battle Mountain’s hierarchy of winter sports with skiing and hockey so established in the culture.
The simple fact here is that the teams of the last three years which piled up 7-59 record do not have the talent that the 2006 title team had. One can quibble with a decision here in one game or another during the 2008-09 season, but the fact is that whoever coached last year’s squad wasn’t going to do much better than its 3-18 record.
Make no mistake, I like these kids. I think they’re good people. I root for them when I’m at the games ” Gypsum, please note that I was not at nor covered both games against Eagle Valley.
If you look at things objectively, can you honestly go through the roster of the 2006 and 2009 teams and say you’d rather have a member of the latter rather than the former at each starting position or from the bench?
The difficulty of the winter
Now there is a lot to be said for making your sport attractive to student-athletes and developing talent. Rob Parish’s tenure a cross country coach at Battle Mountain comes to mind. This was a program that was nearly nonexistent when he started and he breathed live into it to the tune of three state championships.
I think the world of Parish, as I do Tronsrue, but it’s an unfair and incorrect comparison to the basketball coach. Parish was the Pied Piper of running, scouring the land for runners, and as a result, he got people like Erika Ghent, Jen Bowles, Jessica Linder, Jonny Stevens, Tony Crisofulli and John O’Neill just to name a few of his legions. These are tremendous athletes.
Tronsrue would have killed to have base athletic talent like this. The reason Parish could recruit athletes was not only his effervescent spirit, but that he coached in the fall and spring seasons and was not competing against skiing or hockey. Stevens wouldn’t have been available to Parish once winter came. He was the hockey team’s best blueliner and captain his senior year. Ghent (who went on to try for a spot with the U.S. Ski Team) and Linder (now a two-time state Nordic champ) and and tons of other runners skied during the winter.
Taking nothing away from Parish’s coaching, but the nature of running also makes coaching decisions easier. Choosing Player A over Player B to start at center can be a subjective one in basketball. In cross country, you run the course in 16 minutes and 42 seconds or you don’t. Whoever “starts” in cross country and track is based on objective judgment, pure cold numbers.
And a cross country coach also doesn’t have to cut anyone. Parish could work with elite athletes and still have room for anyone who wanted to run in a JV race. Essentially, a basketball team has 12 varsity spots and a program 36 uniforms, and that’s it.
Building a champion
Tronsrue simply did not have this talent pool from which to draw nor the circumstances of his sport on a consistent basis during his tenure. That said, when a 6-foot-6 freshman named Connor Drumm and the gangly Trent Beckley showed up on his doorstep, Tronsrue worked like a mad scientist with what was the beginning of the 2006 title team.
Tronsrue instilled discipline in Drumm, who oozed natural basketball ability. He turned Beckley from merely a tall kid to an actual basketball player, and there is a difference. Both are playing college ball thanks to Tronsrue, which addresses any concern that the coach can’t develop players for the next level.
What’s more significant is that Tronsrue, unlike his predecessor Kyle Haganess, was able to build around his base talent. Haganess had a superb post player in Josh Henry, but did not incorporate the players around him like Austin Wignall, Andy Linke, Jerome Medina and Isaac Martinez, all with good talent, and the 2002 team which went 14-7 never developed to its full potential.
On the other hand, Tronsrue brought along guys like Derek Rush and T.J. Montoya. He got Josh Ruark, better known as a soccer goalie, to come out for the team during his senior year, and the netminder became the point guard for the league champs.
He also developed a bench where players like Clark Simmons, D.J. Van Curan, Kenny Brodin, Kyle Leffler and Joe Ortega and so on all had roles and felt a part of the team.
The net result, pardon the expression, was a thing of beauty. The 2006 team played with balance and poise, thanks to its coach. I distinctly remember a game against Summit when the Tigers just sat on Drumm and Beckley. The supposedly paint-oriented Huskies, led by Ruark, Montoya and Rush just knocked down 3 after 3. Game over and nice try.
And don’t forget that 2006 wasn’t all peaches and cream. The Huskies lost the league opener at Glenwood Springs and then came the Steamboat Springs game. Drumm and Beckley were at each other’s throats at the half. (Good bye, office window ” I’ve known about that for ages, but never written about it.) Tronsrue restored order in the locker room, and the Huskies were on their way.
Get together, people
Tronsrue’s coaching ability is beyond question, and that makes the variable in this equation the players he has. The parents involved in the current situation simply have an unrealistic assessment of their kids’ ability and are taking it out on Tronsrue.
Tronsrue is a negative influence, ever-critical of his players? It doesn’t pass muster. Tronsrue held open practices and Houghton and many other coaches who have been in the gym or nearby in recent years have seen nothing untoward.
The parents also contradicted themselves in their meeting with Hester and Hougton.
One of the parents was telling me it isn’t about wins and losses but, “There’s no reason that (Battle Mountain) can’t be more like Steamboat, which has won something like 12 of the last 14 league championships. We want to win 12 league championships. Yes, I really believe that’s realistic, even with this year’s juniors. With a good program going in the summer, I believe we can win state. That’s probably a bold statement. One of the things we talked about is taking the boys down to the (state-championship) game this year, and saying ‘This is where you’re going to be next year. Get used to it.'”
The parent representatives said that they met with Hester and Houghton with no intention of having Tronsrue fired, except that one of the three said, “The parents requested a change of head coach. We didn’t feel like this coach could change.”
It’s time for Hester, Houghton, Tronsrue and the parents of the current team all to swallow their pride and find some middle ground. Coach T, withdraw your resignation and be willing to take some feedback. Hester and Houghton, accept the withdrawal of resignation and support your coach. He deserves it. Parents, as much as you love your kids, please be realistic.
Everyone should just sit down and fix this mess.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.