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April 21, 1989     The Message
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10 Sports The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana Ap ,rii 21, 1989 Rutter on Sports By DAVE RUTFER Liverpudlians' sense of humor may see them through tragedy Nell Saunders was the first person I'd ever known who looked like Ringo Starr and sounded like him, too. Back in the days when I covered University of Evansville athletics for a living, the Aces didn't have much experience with soccer players from Liverpool, England. The football team was similar- ly ignorant of such things. So when he showed up to kick field goals for the football team in 1976, the campus was con- siderably amazed. He even amazed himself. He'd never kicked a football. He had grown up as a Liverpool "footballer," but that's the Euro- pean term for soccer. He didn't knw how to put on a football uniform. He didn't know the rules of the game. He did allow as how it seemed to attract lads of considerable girth. He had never seen so many large fellows in one place at one time. Though he hung around for two more years for both sports, that first fall with the football team was special. He kicked eight field goals to set the school record and eventually wound up with 11, also a record. All his records have been wiped away, mostly by his eventual heir, Craig Helfert. Saunders is 37 now, the father of three strapp- ing lads and he's also the principal of Evansville Day School. He came to mind last weekend when tragedy struck Liverpool and its soccer fans. Ninety-four perished when police opened a gate and allowed late arrivers to push into a standing-room-only ter- race where the most ardent English fans stand together. The Liverpool Reds, the Bronx Bombers of English soccer, are a powerful talisman. Saunders was a junior soccer star who longed to one day be a Red. As American kids long to be the next Don Mattingly, Liverpool working lads yearn to wear the red and white. Thus, it was with profound sadness that Saunders stood a continent away as his beloved team and their fans suffered the nation's worst sports tragedy. "But I guarantee you the town will rebound from this. That's one thing about Liverpool," says Saunders. "Whenever they pick up that game, the fans will be there and they will all remember the lads who died at Sheffield." Some sports both transcend and define the cultures that surround them. Just as Europeans don't understand Americans' passion for baseball, we have a similar problem understanding soccer addiction. "It's difficult to describe the feeling about it," says Saunders, "The working class people of that town identify with the club. The spirit surroun- ding it is tremendous. Americans don't know what it's like to be in a crowd of 50,000 people who all feel the same things at the same time. The people who stand behind the goals -- those are the real fanatics. I don't know the age of all the victims but I'd bet they were mostly all between 15 and 23. If you're a young lad in Liverpool, following the Reds wherever they play is the big thing." ,Soccer in England, says Saunders, combines cultural and athletic subtexts. As one of eight children in the household, Saunders said the ques- tion of devotion to the Reds was never discussed. It never had to be. Americans don't understand bull fighting, either," he says. "Backing the team for working class folks in Liverpool, well, that's.just the way it is. It wasn't something you gave much thought to." Liverpudlians often poke fun at themselves about their soccer passion. When Saunders and his wife visited the industrial port recently, that quali- ty was apparent. To understand this story, you have to know that the star player at the time was Roger Hunt, the team's center-forward. As the Saunderses walked to the downtown stadium, they passed a cathedral. An outside marquee noted the topic of the next homily -- "What would you do if Christ came to earth today?" Said Saunders: "Right under the marquee, someone had written 'We'd move Roger Hunt to wing and let Him play center-forward.' But the talk in the pubs that night was whether He actually was good enough to play for Liverpool. Sure, He could walk on water, but does that make Him a good football player?" That's the Liverpudlian sense of humor, says Saunders. In tragedy, the ability to laugh can mean a lot. i i iiii i i { Faith part of life on, off court t!(}r Cavaliers' coach CLEVELAND {NC) -- Family, faith and basketball are impor- tant -- but not competing -- parts of life for Lenny Wilkens, head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team. Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., Wilkens didn't have his eyes on an athletic career. "I wanted to get a good education and do something a little bit better than the environ- ment that I grew up in," the coach told the Catholic Universe Bulletin, newspaper of the Diocese of Cleveland. Wilkens, a parishioner at St. Mary's Church in Hudson, Ohio, was selected to join the NBA's Naismit Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in mid- February. At the time, he was listed as seventh winningest coach in NBA history. On the list of active coaches, he was ranked first. "I think my Catholic values are always there because they're in me," Wilkens said. "I tlfink that the way I carry myself on and off the court is a reflection of that and people see that. "The young players see that. You can't say one thing and live another thing. So I try to be con- sistent in what I do and they see it. They know what my beliefs are and how I feel. They know how I value my family and my faith. That's there; it's not something I have to push at them." Wilkens attended Holy Rosary School in Brooklyn, but his family could not afford the tuition at a Catholic high school, In college he played basketball for the Friars of Dominican-run Providence Col- lege in Rhode-Island. At Providence he was an economics major. He planned to attend graduate school at Boston College and return to Providence as a professor. But in 1960, he was the St. Louis Hawks' first-round draft pick. Wilkens has been part of the NBA ever since. He played with the Hawks until 1968 when he was traded to the Seattle Super- Sonics. Beginning with the '69-'70 season, he played and coached. In 1972, he became a II I I .! Your Full Service Funeral Home Miller & Miller 424-9274. i i i ij i i member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. In 1974, he played for and coached the Portland Trailblazers, moving to a full- time coaching position there in 1975. He became head coach of the SuperSonics in the middle of the 1977-78, and led the team to the NBA championship in 1979. Wilkens served one season as the Sonics' general manager before moving to Cleveland in 1986. Living on the road has i _.=: .., .I Spring Time Is Fix-Up Time at Hau bstadt Carpet Carpet at "Spring Sale" prices = Vinyl floor covering Custom-made wood cabinets 30o/0 off wallpaper sale Benjamin Moore Paints and Sundries Hwy 68 -- Haubstadt, Indiana 768-6983 i i ii i i ml, i i ii i iii "Where customers send their friends!" Open nighffy ffl 9 p.m. I00beihor & Son OLD US 231 SOUTH - JASPER, IN - 482-2222 become a way of life for the Wilkens family. In the off- season, the coach and his fami- ly live in Bellevue, Wash., and are members of Sacred Heart Parish there. "I think what you have to work at is the quality of time," the coach said. "We've always tried to work at that. I feel we've always had quality time with the kids and my wife. "She has done an outstan- ding job of raising the kids because she's done the bulk of it herself," he said. 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