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Full-Court Press

By Paul Arnett

Friday, September 15, 2000

Knight instilled discipline

THERE isn't much about junior high I remember other than Kay Herrington, air-conditioned classrooms and an afternoon with Coach Dudley Wrench.

Coach Wrench was a name I hadn't pulled from the memory hat in a long, long time. But after hearing Indiana head basketball coach Bobby Knight was fired for not exercising any institutional control upon himself, my junior high football coach came to mind.

It was a Monday afternoon in late September. We had lost an important game to our crosstown rivals on Friday afternoon. It was a defeat Coach Wrench took personally. During class that day we knew some kind of death march was coming, we just didn't know what form it would take.

That afternoon, one of the assistants told us to suit up, in full uniform, complete with helmet, and meet Coach Wrench in the gym. Now, the best way to get to Southeast Texas is to go through hell and turn left. Not only was the gym hot -- Coach Wrench turned off the air --but the humidity matched the temperature.

"OK men," Coach Wrench said through clenched teeth. "By my count, you owe me 100 push-ups for that disgraceful performance on Friday. If any one of your uniforms touches the floor, we add one. Line up, stretch out and listen to me as I call them out. Up ... Down ... Up ... Down."

To say the 50 of us did only 100 push-ups over a period of time I still can't determine, would be a lie. Our linemen weren't of the 300-pound variety, heck, we were only 12 years old, but we had some wide bodies in there, who were destined to hit the floor long before Coach Wrench hit 100.

"Up ... Down ...Up ... Down ..."

As I finished telling the story, University of Hawaii head men's basketball coach Riley Wallace nodded his head approvingly. Back in the late 1960s, junior high instructors in Texas were part drill sergeant, part uncle. They viewed practice as something that was for your own good.

And perhaps they were correct. Oh sure, their job was to weed out the weak, while preparing the strong for high school football and beyond. As a seventh-grader, you either played football or you got out and joined the band weenies. Your choices were limited.

OF course, times have changed. What Coach Wrench did to us on that afternoon in 1967 -- and believe me, the push-ups were a day off compared with some of the tackling drills he dreamed up in his office -- would be construed today as cruel and unusual punishment.

But I wasn't sure that was true. And I told Wallace as much as we discussed the firing of Knight. To me, discipline builds character. Granted, grabbing a player around the throat is a bit extreme. And berating people who don't agree with you is also over the line. It's why Knight's career ended the way it did.

Still, Indiana was never on probation. Knight didn't have players running amok. He lived by a standard that was above reproach and expected those in his company to act accordingly.

"You visit the parents today, and they all say they want their kids to have discipline and to do the right thing," Wallace said. "Bobby Knight's teams were always that way. Most of his players love and respect him."

Including the ones on his current team. Had the school not hired Knight's assistant the players would have walked. They believe they will be better persons for knowing Knight.

For me, it was Coach Wrench. Sure, the push-ups were a bit much. But other than Kay, that memory burns brightest.

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.

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