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Featured Series: The ‘Miracle’ Behind Herb Brooks’s Miracle On IceMonday, October 27th, 2014

by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com

I have always encouraged college coaches to not only get the movie Miracle on DVD but to make sure it has the extras on it. On the second disc is a war-room type conversation the producers of the movie and actor Kurt Russell had with coach Herb Brooks in 2002. It was less than a year before Brooks would be killed in a car accident.

They asked Herb to share behind the scenes information on how he built the 1980 US Olympic hockey team and led it to the greatest sports moment of the 20th century – the stunning 4-3 upset of the Soviets and the gold medal two days later in Lake Placid, NY.

Here is what Herb had to say on a variety of topics.

On his approach: “A lot of the players have said they have never been pushed as hard. I wasn’t trying to put greatness into them. I was trying to pull it out. I have never agreed with coaches that are trying to put greatness into players because the coaches think they have all the right answers. I believed in setting very high standards for them and pulling it out. I think my favorite coach John Wooden would concur with that approach.”

On how badly he wanted to coach the 1980 US Olympic hockey team: “How bad? Really bad. The main reason I coached seven seasons at the University of Minnesota was to hopefully coach in the Olympics. That was my passion.”

On how they were successful: “I had to steal from the style of play the Soviets, Czechs and Swedes were doing. Their style of hockey was better than ours. Out of the top ten NHL players today (this interview was done in 2002) nine are European. We also had to focus on conditioning. In the past US teams could play with them for two periods and then hit the wall. We were not going to hit the wall.”

On his mind games and keeping 26 players almost to the end knowing 20 would go to Lake Placid: “I kept them on the bubble up until the end. I played mind games with (goalie) Jim Craig up until the Olympics. We played the Soviets in an exhibition three days before the Games. I said, ‘Jimmy I have played you too long over the last few months. Your curve ball is hanging. Gotta play Janny (the backup). I see flaws with you. It’s not your fault. It’s mine. I played you too long.’ Well, Jim got right up next to me and said ‘I’ll show you.’ Halfway through the Soviet exhibition game I yanked him in front of 18,000 (at Madison Square Garden). He was livid. I didn’t sit him in the Olympics. I played him right through, the whole time. After we won gold he put his finger in my chest and said ‘I showed you.’ I told him that yes he did.”

On keeping defenseman Jack O’Callahan on the 20 man roster even though he hurt his knee three days before the Olympics and was questionable to play: “I kept him because he was very important to the chemistry of the team. His passion, even his spirit during the playing of the National Anthem. I even went to him during our training season and said ‘if I say OC (his nickname) when I yell at you during practice I am yelling at you because I want the team to get the point. If I call you Jack while yelling it is about you.’ He was just so good.” (Mike Eruzione has said since that Herb keeping O’Callahan on the roster rather than replacing him was huge)

On the exhibition game vs Norway in September where he put them through Herbies for an hour after an exhibition game: “They were individuals at that time (September of 1979). They were listening to their agents about turning pro. I had to draw the line. They didn’t take the Norway team serious and didn’t respect the opposition. I told them we would get our work done in the game or after the game. Would I do it again? Probably not, but I think it was the moment when they realized they had to come to work every day and there would be no nights off.” (goalie Jim Craig has said the team had flown to Europe that day and already had a two hour practice before playing the game and then an hour of Herbies)

At the Univ of Minnesota Herb had a strict no facial hair policy. During Olympic training he really wanted Ken Morrow out of Bowling Green (who would later play on four straight Stanley Cup winning NY Islander teams). Well, Morrow had a full beard: “Other guys started growing a beard because he had one. I posted a rule that said if you had a beard when you showed up, you could keep it. Otherwise, no! I never had curfews. You know why? Because the best player always gets caught!”

On what the gold medal meant to him: “That it was a TEAM accomplishment. That was voted the top sports accomplishment of the century and won all the sports awards. That was what I was trying to build the whole time, that a team could accomplish such a big thing. What was most gratifying was that the top sports moment of the century was a group, not an individual like Michael Jordan.”

Featured Series: The ‘Miracle’ Behind Herb Brooks’s Miracle On IceMonday, October 13th, 2014

by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com

There will be times when your programs will be young with many freshmen. The natural tendency is to downplay expectations when you are a young team, but Herb Brooks sure didn’t take that approach. As head coach of the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey team, he specifically recruited very young players to try out and to make up his 20 man roster. These kids would stun the Soviets 4-3 in Lake Placid, New York, and then win the gold.

The average age was 21 and it was the youngest team in U.S. Olympic hockey history. He had only one player from the 1976 team and that was Buzz Schneider. Buzz and Mike Eruzione were 25 and everyone else was around 20. Herb wanted young players with a bucketful of working class gumption and flying skates.

He told them to ‘use their youth’. His strategy was to build through blistering speed. During their rigorous seven month training he constantly said ‘legs feed the wolf, boys. Legs feed the wolf!’ He told them that being the youngest team of the 12 in the Olympics was not a negative but a positive.

Sure enough, when they met the dynasty Soviet team on Feb. 22, 1980, their youthfulness was the reason they won the game. While the Soviets had three of the six greatest players of all time on that roster, several of their players were into their 30s. In the final minutes of the third period with Team USA up 4-3 the Soviet coach panicked and kept his veterans on the ice thinking they would surely do something! Herb had his team doctor time shifts the whole night, keeping his boys to forty seconds on ice and  then off. The Soviets were known for wearing down teams with their incredible conditioning drills, but in the third period it was them that wore down. One Soviet player looked over at Doc Nagobads and asked how the U.S. players could keep going and going. Doc, who knew Russian, simply said it was “the fountain of youth.”

If you find yourself in a recruiting cycle where you have to bring in a lot of freshmen, use it as a positive like Herb Brooks did in 1980. He also changed the Team USA style of play from a conservative approach to a more high flying and more creative style of play on the ice. The youngsters ate that up, and played with great spirit on the ice. One Soviet player said the US players had a spirit that you could almost touch.

When they had upset the Soviets the players sat in stunned silence in the locker room before breaking into God Bless America over and over. It took them awhile to realize the magnitude of what they had accomplished (Sports Illustrated would name it the greatest U.S. sports moment of the century). One of the positives about having really young kids on your roster is sometimes they don’t realize they shouldn’t be able to beat a team like the Soviets. Older players sometimes over analyze and ask why. Young kids sometimes say ‘why not?’

Herb Brooks was a genius in how he formed that team and led them through their journey to sports history. In my teambuilding sessions I share what he did and how you can apply it to your program.

Featured Article: The ‘Miracle’ Behind Herb Brooks’s Miracle On IceMonday, October 6th, 2014

by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com

Mike Eruzione made the biggest shot, goal, touchdown, or basket in American sports history. His goal with ten minutes to go in the 1980 Olympics put Team USA up 4-3 over the Soviety dynasty team. That would be the final score. The goal and the win literally brought America together again when the country was at an all time low in self esteem. More American flags flew after what they did than at any time since the end of World War II.

Mike Eruzione had only one division one offer six years earlier when he was a high school senior in Winthrop, Massachusetts.

It is that age old issue in recruiting of college coaches often missing the mark when getting so caught up in factors like speed, quickness, 40 times, combine times, and so forth. In the book ‘Going for the Gold’ by Tim Wendel the author writes that Boston College thought he was too poor a skater and New Hampshire said he was too small. What they missed is that he had scored three goals in a minute in the high school state championship game, was an incredible leader, and has a last name (Eruzione) that means volcano in Italian. He also had a knack for scoring when goals were needed most. In his book ‘The Boys of Winter,’ author Wayne Coffey writes that “he knew when to erupt. His breakaway goal helped launch the 7-3 rout of the Czechs in the second game of the Olympics and two days later he knocked in an unassisted goal to awaken the team from its lethargic start against Norway.”

Eruzione did not get a division one offer until after his senior year. Jack Parker had taken over as the new head coach at Boston University. He had seen Eruzione a few years earlier and wasn’t impressed with his physical size, but when reffing a summer league game after Eruzione’s senior year, noticed he was four inches taller and forty pounds stronger. When he asked him where he was going, Eruzione said Merrimack, a D2. Parker offered him a partial scholarship to go to Boston University.

Eruzione would become the school’s all time leading scorer with 203 points and be named the Defensive Player of the Year a whopping FOUR times.

His leadership skills were so strong that without him as captain of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team, it’s doubtful they beat the Soviets and win gold. The twenty players on that team were all stars and almost all had been captains before, but they respected Eurozione a great deal. Even the little things like going to him to ask what they should get their girl friends for Christmas.

Three days before the 1980 Games, the Soviets routed Team USA 10-3 in an exhibition in Madison Square Garden. It was Eruzione that built them back up during the trip upstate to Lake Placid. Rather than dwelling on the 7-0 early Soviet lead, he focused on how they had played even with them for thirty minutes.

Coaches missed all of his positives in recruiting because they were so caught up in his size and the fact that there were better skaters out there in the recruiting pool. They missed that he had been a fiery three sport athlete who would practice skating on frozen tennis courts and on ice in golf sand traps for hours during the winter, and come into the house where his grandmother would open the oven to help thaw his feet.

They missed his heart and how much he cared. Although he had multiple offers to play in the NHL after the Olympic gold in Lake Placid, he turned them all down. He felt there was no way he could match the incredible effort he gave against the Soviets and in the Olympics, and do that over 80 NHL games a year. Plus, he wanted that to be his final hockey memory.

I was a sports anchor for a quarter of a century before going into peak performance speaking and training. If I had a nickel for how many times I saw college coaches miss out on kids like Eruzione because they were all into size and speed (and those are important!) I would have enough nickels to reach the clouds.

Mike Eruzione’s win championships. They stay loyal to programs. Now pushing 60 he still has an office at Boston University where to this day he still gets mail regularly about the Olympics thirty four years ago.

Yes, you have to have “the horses” to win, but don’t miss out on the Eruzione’s in your sport. They are the ones that not only help you win championships, but transcend your sport and make your program huge within your community, state, region and school.

Featured Series: The ‘Miracle’ Behind Herb Brooks’s Miracle On IceMonday, September 29th, 2014

by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com

It is often said that you cannot win without outstanding athletes, but never underestimate the importance of coaching and recruiting.

After Herb Brooks led the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey team past the Soviets 4-3 and to the gold, the legendary Anatoli Tarasov – one of the founders of the Soviet hockey dynasty – said this: “The line up of the 1980 Olympic champions – not so impressive. A couple of classy defensemen, about five individually strong forwards – and that is all. But the trump card for the U.S. team this time was its coach Herb Brooks.”

In sports history, Tarasov is like John Wooden. When he would speak, all would listen.

Historians have said none of the 20 U.S. players would have made the Soviet roster, yet Herb won with them. In my teambuilding sessions for
college programs, I share in depth how he did it, and one of the things he did was go to the head of the Psychology Dept at the University of Minnesota and have him prepare a 300 question questionaire for the prospective players. None of the questions had anything to do with sports, but more about how they could handle stress and change. Herb wanted players who could deal with pressure and embrace the total shift in playing style he would teach them over seven months. He also wanted young men who could take advantage of opportunities.

In the seven games at Lake Placid, the team was brilliant when it came to seizing opportunities. In game one vs Sweden, they trailed by a goal with a minute to go. A loss and medal hopes were slim and none. Herb pulled goalie Jim Craig with less than a minute to go to get another skater on the ice. With half a minute to go Bill Baker, now an oral surgeon, scored.

In the historic game vs the Soviets, Team USA was out shot 39-16 but took advantage of opportunities. With :05 to go in the first period Mark Johnson saw the Soviet defenders and goalie Vladisav Tretiak relax a bit anticipating the end of the period. Johnson soared at the puck like a bullet. Why? Because in the pre game speech Herb had told them they were born to be hockey players and meant to be there that night. Mark believed that it had been written in a book centuries ago that he was meant to be there, so the fired at the puck and scored with :01 to go. The goal so rattled the Soviet coach that he pulled Tretiak – one of, if not the greatest goalies ever – for the rest of the game.

Herb recruited and molded not the best college and amateur players in the nation, but the right players. The nation’s leading college scorer was not on his team. Herb wanted a team of players with a bucketfull of working class gumption and flying skates. Like many of you today, he knew the value of speed.

While it is important to give great respect to players and you can’t win without great and special ones, Tarasov makes it clear that the coaching, mind games, and drive of Herb Brooks was the main reason they won that year.

One resource I suggest for you is the book America’s Coch by Ross Bernstein. It is filled with insights on how Herb did it, and also includes transcripts from many of his motivational talks. There is more info at bernsteinbooks.com

In my on site college team building seminars, I share step by step how that team made history and earned the honor of the greatest U.S. sports accomplishment of the 20th century.

hockey herb book

 Charlie can be reached at charlie@stokethefirewithin.com(574) 807 2279 or at his site stokethefirewithin.com



Featured Series: The ‘Miracle’ Behind Herb Brooks’s Mircale On IceMonday, September 22nd, 2014

by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com

We lost the first of the 20 heroes that were on the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey team.

Bob Suter died earlier this month of a heart attack at age 57. He was doing what he loved best as he was coaching youth hockey at the facility he owned in his native Madison, Wisconsin.

In putting together that 1980 team that would stun the Soviets 4-3 in Lake Placid, Herb was looking for tough guys like Suter. Mike Eruzion nicknamed him Bam Bam, from the character from the Flintstones. He said Suter was always ‘bamming’ into someone. Other teammates called him Woody because he was like a wood duck, always bouncing back up.

As you recruit players, people like Bob Suter are who you want to win championships. Three months before the Games in Lake Placid, Suter broke his ankle. While he wasn’t at full speed, Herb kept him on his team because of his fire within and his toughness. When a Czech player cheap shotted Team USA’s top offensive player Mark Johnson in the second game of the Olympics, Brooks sent Bam Bam out to “deal with” the Czech player. As Brooks built teams, everyone had a role, and part of Suter’s role was to take care of such matters. It was the same with Mark Wells, who was the 20th and last man to make that roster. With the score tied with the Soviets 3-3 with ten minutes left on that fateful night of February 22nd, 1980, Brooks sent Wells out to agitage Soviet star Valeri Kharmalouv.

In recruiting, you are obviously focused on building a team and program that wins games and championships. However we can never lose sight of what’s really important is to recruit and develop young men and women that turn into people like Bob Suter. He was a standout at the University of Wisconsin, leading them to a National Championship. He was on the 1980 Olympic gold medal team, but what many will remember him most for is the impact on youth hockey in Wisconsin. Eurozione told the media recently that with respect to all his gold medal teammates, no one did more for youth hockey than Suter. His hockey programs at his facility impacted thousands, and sent several to the NHL.

They could not find a Lutheran Church big enough to hold his funeral. The waiting time to pay respects the day before was over four hours.

Suter never played NHL although he could have gone to that level. He wanted to get on to other things in his life like his sporting goods story and his hockey building. His son Ryan, a star for the Minnesota Wild, has never seen the 1980 game because decades ago his Dad lent it to someone and it never returned. Suter didn’t mind, as he had moved forward.

I will continue to write about the greatest sports moment and team of the 20th century, and I hope these insights help you not only in recruiting but in coaching. Herb Brooks was a genius. His players were very special. What they did should never be forgotten, and that is the purpose of my team building seminar I deliver on site to college athletics programs.

Charlie can be reached at charlie@stokethefirewithin.com(574) 807 2279 or at his site stokethefirewithin.com

Featured Series: The ‘Miracle’ Behind Herb Brooks’s Miracle On IceMonday, September 15th, 2014

Charlie1015by Charlie Adam, StokeTheFireWithin.com

College coaches at every level face obstacles in recruiting and in building and sustaining programs.

Herb Brooks faced remarkable challenges in building the 20 man roster that would win Olympic Gold in February of 1980.

First of all, some elite college players didn’t even try out because why would they want a shot at bronze at best and endure getting annihilated by the Soviet team that was the best team in hockey history. The Soviet team had beat the NHL All Stars 6-0 the year before and used their back up
goalie the whole game.

Just like you have some recruits that won’t give you the time of day, Herb focused on the ones he could get. Chances are those others wouldn’t have had the mental toughness he was looking for anyways. Remember, all along Herb wasn’t looking for the best players. He was looking for the right players. Jim Craig, the goalie who played every second, was rated by some pro prospects as maybe the 5th best goalie in college yet it would be Craig that would stop 36 of 39 Soviet shots that historic night of Feb. 22nd, 1980.

In September of 1979 Herb faced the challenge of NHL player agents trying to talk some of his 26 players (he would whittle it to 20) into giving up that Olympic pipe dream and sign pro. To counter it, Herb scheduled a month of exhibition games in Europe in September. He knew NHL Camps would be starting then. His European tour served several purposes. It kept the players away from the agents and also allowed them to play on international sized ice rinks.

While he was okay with some college stars not trying out Herb knew there were certain players he had to have or it didn’t matter how well he coached. It’s just like there are certain recruits you really need to build a program. One of the players was 6’4″ defenseman Ken Morrow of Bowling Green University. Herb REALLY wanted him. The challenge was Herb had a strict no facial hair while coaching at the University of Minnesota and with the Olympics. Morrow had a big ol’ beard. Herb was worried that if he asked Morrow to shave it, Morrow might go pro). Herb adjusted. He adjusted his policy to ‘existing facial hair is fine – no new facial hair.’

As Herb was molding the team over the 7 month training process leading to Lake Placid, he would have the team play a whopping 61 exhibition games. You have budget challenges. So did Herb. One of the reasons he played all those games was to finance this whole thing. They never had fancy facilities or transportation along the way, but sometimes you develop better as a team with salt of the earth equipment. They were playing exhibition games in northern Minnesota in snow storm season. They were in this small plane leaving one city when the plane lifted up, clipped a tree, and had to land. The plane could not go backwards, so the whole team got out and pushed it all the way back to the start of the runway. They were saying, “Can you believe this?” as they laughed. Things like that helped blur the borders of the Minnesota vs Boston area player rivalry that had been going on.

In my team building workshop for college coaches and players, I share many more of the challenges and solutions that Herb faced and solved over that historic run in 1979 and 1980. Many feel it was the greatest coaching job in American sports history. Herb faced challenges, just like you. He still was able to recruit and build the team that would achieve the greatest sports moment of the century.

He always said, “Don’t be common. The common person goes nowhere. Be uncommon.” Don’t be common with your recruiting. Be uncommon. Utilize the powerful methods Dan Tudor and his team have developed, and you could very well build a team that goes down in history like the 1980 US Olympic hockey team.

I want to close this week by dedicating this article to the memory of Bob Suter. We lost our first member of the 20 man team this week. Bob, a defenseman on that team, died this past week of a heart attack at age 57. He was working at the rink he owned in Wisconsin. Bob had helped so many kids grow as hockey players and as people over the years. He taught at the rink, coached, cleaned the bathrooms, ran the front desk, and on and on. He had a life motto of “It’s all about the kids.” Rest in peace, Bob.

Charlie can be reached at charlie@stokethefirewithin.com(574) 807 2279 or at his site stokethefirewithin.com


Featured Series: The ‘Miracle’ Behind Herb Brooks’s Miracle On IceMonday, September 8th, 2014

by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com

Before becoming the 1980 US Olympic hockey coach, Herb Brooks was head hockey coach at the University of Minnesota from 1972-79. They were last place in the Conference when he took over and winners of 3 NCAA championships in the seven years.

Brooks was passionate about recruiting. He and his staff worked hard on it and it paid off. Herb identified Neal Broten as a primary recruit as Neal was going into high school. Herb would later say Neal was the best 9th grade hockey player he had ever seen. For three years Herb had his assistant go to northern Minnesota every week to watch Neal play. Three straight years.

It paid off as Neal signed a scholarship with Minnesota. In his freshman year he broke the Gophers’ assist record and scored the winning goal in the 1979 NCAA championship. Herb would later say that Neal was the best player he ever coached at Minnesota.

Neal would later win the inaugural Hobey Baker Award as the best player in the country. After winning he said that it should’ve gone to his brother Aaron, who had a better season. Aaron was also a remarkable player for the Gophers.

Herb created a dynasty at Minnesota and then made the run to the Gold at the 1980 Games by recruiting top talent and recruiting for values. Values like the humility Neal Broten had when he honestly said his brother should have won the player of the year award. Neal was incredibly talented but so well liked by his teammates because he was always looking to set them up for scores and never got the big head.

Neal is the only hockey player ever to win a NCAA title, Olympic gold medal, Hobey Baker Award, and Stanley Cup. Players of talent and character like that are the ones you identify early and recruit hard, because they are the program changers. The Minnesota staff stayed on him hard for three years as Herb was ahead of his time. Even back in the ’70’s he would identify talent early and take dead aim on it.

Charlie can be reached at charlie@stokethefirewithin.com(574) 807 2279 or at his site stokethefirewithin.com

Featured Series: The ‘Miracle’ Behind Herb Brooks’s Miracle On IceMonday, August 25th, 2014

by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com

The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team and their upset of the mighty Soviets on their way to Gold was named the greatest sports moment of the century. I will be writing regularly here on how coach Herb Brooks put together that team, his recruiting as a college coach, and lessons we can learn from him and the miracle on ice.

When Herb Brooks took over as head coach of the University of Minnesota hockey program in 1972, they were last place in their conference. They had gone 8-24 the year before he came aboard. He coached them to a 15-16-3 record in his first year and, get this, guided them to 3 NCAA D1 national championships in the next 7 years!

Although many college hockey powers got their players from Canada back in the 1970’s, Herb made the decision to recruit only Minnesota players. While they may not have had the skill, he recruited for toughness and loyalty. He also knew kids from Minnesota would care more about representing their state University.

In Ross Bernstein’s book, America’s Coach, Don Micheletti shares the story of when Herb was recruiting him. Herb first offered him a half scholarship. Don told Herb that Colorado College had offered him a full, but that playing for Minnesota meant so much he would take the half. Herb smiled and said he had a full scholarship for him the whole time but he wanted to see how badly Don wanted to be a Gopher. 

Herb was big on home visits. He watched carefully to see how players acted around their parents. Values. He wanted kids with values. He was big on kids that had been captains in high school. He was big on muscle as he liked his teams to have an intimidating feel to them.

Herb knew it would take a couple of recruiting classes to take the program to new levels, but from day one he told his current players they could learn to get tougher immediately.

In future articles here, I will share how he recruited and put together the 1980 Miracle on Ice team. For now, I will end with this story of one of the kids he recruited at Minnesota. The team had a stretch where Herb told the players there would be no going out and certainly no beer. A player named Jim Boo had a Dad who came to town. They decided to go out to a pub near the hotel for some brews. The waitress came over with a beer and said it was for Jim and paid for by a customer. Jim thought it had to be a pretty lady, as he was a good looking hockey player. Well, he looked across to the bar and there was Herb Brooks staring at him. Herb had a look that would go through you forever.

Jim gulped. Herb walked over and said he would see him at the rink at 6 am the next morning. For two hours, Herb skated Jim to the brink of annihilation. There was throw up all over the place. Finally, Herb skated over to the slumping player and said, “How’s that beer tasting now?”

Motivational Speaker Charlie Adams delivers his More Than a Miracle program to college coaches and athletes. He explains how the 1980 Miracle on Ice was not so much a miracle as it was work ethic, remarkable vision and leadership, commitment to change, commitment to team, and perseverance.
Charlie can be reached at StokeTheFireWithin.com and at charlie@stokethefirewithin.com

The Ups and Downs Of Being RecruitedFriday, April 11th, 2014

by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com

I sat down for an extremely insightful conversation with the parents of a young lady who has signed with Division 1 University of San Diego to play college basketball. Over lunch and beyond, Jeff and Patty Buhr took me behind the scenes on how their daughter Caroline ended up connecting with an athletic scholarship at an outstanding school located in paradise, and what college coaches to stand out from others in the recruiting.

“Relief,” was the first word Patty said when we sat down at The Vine restaurant in South Bend to go over their recruiting process. They had put maximum effort into recruiting, and along the way had seen plenty of highs and lows!

Their 12th grade daughter Caroline recently was named to the prestigious Indiana All Star team. She was a 4 year prime performer for PennHigh School, leading them to the 4A state title game this past March. As a sophomore she set a school record by making 64% of her shots. At 6’1″ and athletic and skilled from an early age, she learned that Mid-majors like BallState were interested in her as early as 8th grade. It was after a summer showcase event before 9th grade that the interest increased with Big Ten schools like Penn State and Michigan showing a lot of interest.

Caroline really liked Michigan and their coach Kevin Borseth, but he went back to be coach at Green Bay. Along the way, the Buhr’s would experience multiple occasions of developing relationships with coaching staffs only to see them get let go or take a new position at another school, which was frustrating. They also found it hard at times to know if coaches were up front with them about where Caroline stood on their recruiting lists.

“Iowa was very good at being up front,” said Jeff. “They said, regarding visiting, that they were pretty sure they would offer but they weren’t there yet and they didn’t want us to make the effort to visit and expect an offer when they were not ready to so.”

As the high school years went along, they sometimes found that Caroline would be a back up offer in case a more highly rated player picked another school. Other times she would be the number one target of a school where they really wanted her. They also learned that despite the enthusiasm of what assistant coaches were telling them about probable upcoming scholarship offers, the head coach made the recruiting decisions and sometimes didn’t agree with the assistant’s view of Caroline.

From an early age, Caroline has had an adventurous spirit and dreamed of signing with a California school like PepperdineUniversity (being located right off MalibuBeach was attractive!). She dreamed of becoming an orthodontist, and living on a ranch with her own vineyard. Then the summer before her junior year, a local connection with a Stanford coach put Caroline on Stanford’s radar screen and she was invited to come to their Elite camp. It was a great opportunity and an even greater experience.

“She went in the summer for a long and rather intensive camp”, said Jeff. “I spent some time with the head coach and lead assistant coach and she flat out told me that no doubt Caroline could play at Stanford but they had a number of players in their recruiting hopper. Every school has their needs. They told us they needed two ‘bigs’. If they could get them, they could focus on Caroline. Another thing regarding top academic schools like Stanford is it takes time for the school to sort out which recruits can actually meet their higher academic standards. And if you are lower on their list, you are stuck waiting to see what other recruits fall off the list for whatever reasons, academic, choice, etc.”

“If you are trying to get a scholarship with a top academic school,” said Patty, “you need to do as best you can on the SAT or ACT as early as you can. Some kids test better than others. Caroline is smart, but she doesn’t test that great. She just needed coaching on how to better take these tests. With Caroline we did Sylvan Test Prep for the ACT. We focused on the ACT as we had heard that the ACT is a better test for math/science oriented students, compared to the SAT.  Sylvan had her do a practice test to identify areas of weakness, and this really helped her to know what to study to be prepared for the test. She went two to three times a week for a month, and the results were good enough for schools she was considering.”

Being strong in the classroom and on the basketball court helped Caroline attract interest. She also was a very good soccer player. “I think soccer success and being a good athlete in general was her biggest asset,” said Jeff. “Her grades were also a big plus for her in the process, especially for the schools she was interested in.” Once she got her standardized test score up, she could get in just about any school she wanted.

After a strong 10th grade year of high school ball, Caroline was playing in a summer showcase just before her junior year with coaches from Oklahoma State, Michigan, Indiana, Stanford and mid-majors watching her specifically. “They were right there courtside and she was playing SO well,” said Patty. Unfortunately, she tore her ACL on that last Exposure day.  It was an injury that cost her almost all of her junior season. She was able to return to play in the final four games of the season, but her minutes were limited as she was not 100% ready to go.

Many schools did not know of her injury so on September 1st of her junior year, the first day college programs could personally write her, she got over 50 letters.  “There were many big programs in the bunch,” said Jeff, ” including a hand written letter from the head coach at Stanford, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Penn State, Northwestern, Iowa State, Cal, Wake Forest, Oklahoma State, and more. I have a picture of the 50 letters all laid out so you can see them together. It was overwhelming and she continued to get 15 to 20 letters a day for a year. ”

However, as programs learned of her injury she received encouraging letters about their continued interest in her, but a lot of their recruiting fell by the wayside.  While some major D1s stayed interested, she shifted to more of a mid-major recruit at the D1 level. “At the end of the day,” said Jeff, “it was back to the mid-majors.”

Jeff and Patty said the one positive thing about being injured  was that it allowed time for college visits that fall, winter and early spring of her junior year. They sat down with her and made a list of the top 20 schools she was interested in and then the top ten. They visited every one of the top ten. Caroline was pretty picky in what she was looking for at the next level. She wanted to get away from home; her older sisters had gone to college in state. She wanted a strong academic school. Miami of Ohio became a leading contender as their coaches were there for her from the start, even after the injury, and she liked the school. However, in the spring of her junior year, the coaching staff was let go and new relationships had to be developed with the new coaches. The new head coach told them he wanted to see her at a camp and after watching her there he would either offer her, not offer her, or tell her that they just need to “watch her more” that summer.

“No pressure!” said Patty, with a smile.

But she did what they wanted and got a scholarship offer from the new coach. The other thing the head coach said that resonated with them was that he wanted the players he signed to have a passion for playing there and to bleed Miami. That is a good thing because the happiest recruits are the ones that really, really want to play for a school and have many reasons why.

“We really listened to that because while Caroline really liked Miami,” said Jeff, “she had always wanted to go somewhere totally ‘out of the box’ and out of the Midwest. As time went on she wondered if she had that burning passion for being at Miami of Ohio like the coach wanted his recruits to have.”

They had a very good visit to Dayton and appreciated how their coach was very honest in saying there was a local recruit they liked more but that Caroline was next to her on their list. They had only one opening for their Class of 2014 recruits and Patty was concerned it would be difficult being the only player in a grade. Caroline didn’t mind that much, but in the end Dayton wasn’t a fit.

At this point, Miami of Ohio was the leader. Then, the University of Toledo came into play. Their coaches wanted her in the worst way and had kept in close contact since the injury. The Buhr’s took a visit and really liked the atmosphere at the game and the coaching staff. Toledo draws very well and they have many supportive fans. Then the coaches did something that really sold them on Toledo. They encouraged Jeff, Patty and Caroline to go into the post game locker room and ask the players anything about the program, the coaches, the school. Anything.

“So we are in there around these sweaty players in a roundtable discussion where nothing was sacred not to ask,” said Patty. “I left there so impressed the coaches had faith to do that, and the players had all kinds of good things to say about what it was like to play for Toledo and that coaching staff. You could tell they were having fun and were part of a tight program.”

Jeff compared that to visiting a Pac 12 program where the players were very up front that playing at that level was a job and not a whole lot of fun.

“That’s why you take visits,” said Patty.  “Being on campus, meeting the staff and the players, and learning about the academics, you can gain so much to help in your decision. The intangibles, little things that you would never think about might come to light on a visit.” Patty emphasized the importance to taking a lot of visits and starting them early in the process.

Toledo, based a lot on how open they were in allowing the Buhr’s to have that locker room candid talk with the players, moved up the list to the top with Miami of Ohio. They kept visiting Northwestern, but they wouldn’t commit to an offer. Green Bay was the very first offer she received as a sophomore. Despite a coaching change, the offer was kept, and although she loved the new coach, the school was not the right fit for what she was looking for.

“Caroline was picky,” said Jeff. “While it was frustrating for us that we couldn’t get some of the programs to be up front with us on where she stood, I’m sure it was frustrating for some of those that really wanted her that she was taking her time and looking to find all the things she wanted in a school and program.”

Caroline developed a strong attraction to an ACC school. One of their assistants really liked her, but the head coach was more hesitant. “They didn’t think she could defend the quick guards they would face in the ACC,” said Jeff. “They wanted her to come to camp and play one on one with one of their top recruits. She did and basically they both scored against each other quite often (Caroline still in knee brace of course). I don’t think she met their test.”

“After the camp,” added Patty, “both the assistant and head coach sent a hand written letter telling her she did great, and the assistant coach said she did ‘what she needed to do’ at the camp. In the end, they had a higher ranked recruit that ended up committing so there was not the need. Also, we figured out that the assistant coach was more excited about her than the head coach who, in the end, makes the decisions.”

The summer before her senior year was Caroline’s final participation at various AAU Exposure Events. After the camp at Miami of Ohio, Miami was the clear leader on her list of schools. Toledo had moved up, based on their visit that spring. After several of the AAU events she had quite a few calls from schools that were interested in offering.  “Many Mid-major D-1s let us know that if we would come visit, they would offer,” said Patty. “We were running out of patience, time, and it is expensive to travel far away. We didn’t want to go visit just to rack up another offer, so we told Caroline that unless she had a really strong desire to visit another school, that we just needed to be done and she needed to decide. She had several good options to choose from.  The University of Denver was very interested. Jeff and I really liked that school. Their assistant Abby (Waner) Bartolotta had been a superstar player for Duke and she was so personable. It’s a great private school, but Caroline was not drawn enough to it to feel like she had to go visit.  Our list of Top 10 and Top 20 schools kept getting revised and whittled down.”

Then, San Diego came into the picture in a way that would eventually look like it was meant to happen.

Caroline’s travel team was playing in a July Showcase. Caroline’s teammate, Jess Alexander, was being heavily recruiting by D2 Saginaw Valley State. Their coach Jamie Pewinski was recruiting Jess hard. She happened to be a friend of Cindy Fisher, the head coach of the University of San Diego.

“They were sitting together because they were friends,” said Jeff. “Coach Fisher said she had some time to kill and was there anyone there she should watch. The coach said, “Yeah, Jess has a teammate named Caroline you should see because she is your style of player.’ On that recommendation she stayed and watched her. She liked what she saw and later called Caroline.”

Miami and Toledo wanted Caroline to commit before the July showcases. The Buhr’s said they wanted to get through the Exposure events and that Caroline would make her decision in early August. “We told them we know you have to make other offers,” said Jeff. “They weren’t happy, but they were willing to be patient and allow us to sort everything out, to ensure that Caroline made the right decision.  I tried to be upfront about everything, but with San Diego’s sudden real interest things had changed.”

The Buhr’s sat down and talked about San Diego with Caroline. It was a top 100 academic school. It was in California. It was fairly small, private, has a strong pre-health program, and touts a Top-10 ranking as a “most beautiful campus.” Then Caroline remembered that it was during a class the fall of her junior year, when they were practicing completing college applications, that one of her friends had told her that she should look into the University of San Diego, as his brother was going to school there and he loved it. She realized this was the same school that was recruiting her—the one that her friend had encouraged her to explore nine months earlier. She later learned that yet another friend also had a sibling that was at USD, and they had nothing but good things to say about the school.

Caroline became very interested in San Diego. Everything was coming together. It fit everything, and the coach appeared very interested.

“I called Coach Fisher because I wanted to see just how interested they really were because Caroline was extremely interested,” said Jeff. “Coach was happy to hear from me and said, yes, she was very interested. She was ready to make an offer but needed her to come out for a visit. So now we’re sitting there thinking of ordering plane tickets but not totally sure an offer would be made. The coach did say they had a couple of others they were bringing in but they were more courtesy visits and they would rather have Caroline. It was a visit we needed to take.  Caroline was pretty adamant that out of all the schools interested in her that this was the one she really wanted to visit.”

The Buhr’s visited and everything went great. An offer wasn’t made then, but when they were flying back to Indiana Coach Fisher called to make an offer. There were some communication mix ups where they didn’t connect and for awhile the Buhr’s thought San Diego wasn’t  interested and Coach Fisher thought Caroline wasn’t interested, but they connected, made the offer and Caroline accepted.

She would be playing at a very good academic University on a full athletic scholarship of $57,000 a year.

During the August visit to San Diego, Coach Fisher told Patty that she had “found Caroline.” Typically it is an assistant that identifies a potential recruit, follows them, and then brings them to the attention of the head coach.  “Coach Fisher told me that that she believed that ‘things happen for a reason,’” said Patty.  “After all that we had been through, with the injury, the recruiting ups and downs, and then at the end, for USD to come into play at the very end with all that Caroline was looking for in a basketball program and academic school—we shared that same sentiment. It was meant to be. The style of play that USD has was a great match to how Caroline plays and that was why they wanted her. This was important to Caroline in her decision—that they played her type of game. When she accepted to Coach Fisher on the phone, Caroline said Coach Fisher screamed she was so excited. Caroline knew she was really wanted, and this was so huge to all of us.”

“I truly do believe that God had His hand in this process,” said Patty. “From the injury that rocked her from probably a higher D1 school to landing there at USD. This is where she is supposed to be. Caroline is excited about USD and we are too!”

A lot of hard work and effort had gone into Caroline earning this remarkable opportunity. Coaches along the way said what they really liked about her playing for MBA Select AAU program was players from there are known for the high skills set and their work ethic. Caroline had also gained a great deal from playing for a Penn High program that had reached the 4A state title game twice in her high school career. Penn coach Kristi Kaniewski Ulrich runs a first class program known for teaching defensive fundamentals.

Although it took a lot of work and a there was a lot of stress, in the end Caroline found that the right playing level for her was high mid-major, like San Diego. She loves basketball. When she missed most of her junior year season with the knee injury, she realized then how much she missed not only playing in games but she missed the hard practices and running “down and backs.” Playing is something that she will never take for granted again.  She will love it at San Diego, but it won’t consume her.

“Caroline has a lot of balance in her life,” said Patty. “She loves playing basketball, but she also wants to be a student and look to the future after she graduates. Some of these college programs were telling us how many players they had put into the WNBA. That’s not even on her radar. She wants to play hard for a solid and reputable women’s basketball program, and in the end graduate with a degree from a school with some prestige.”

When she signed her national letter of intent, Caroline said this: “I liked the school, the people, the coaching staff and players, and on top of that USD represented the type of school I was looking for academically. And I can’t complain about the weather!”

It hasn’t snowed in San Diego since 1967.

Her versatility as a player was a strong positive for the USD coaches. “Caroline’s ability to play inside and outside for us is going to make her a hard matchup for our opponents,” said Coach Fisher. “Caroline’s game is very smooth and she plays at an extremely high level. I am excited to see her on the floor and watch her game develop.”

San Diego is a long way from home, but Jeff put it this way:  “Had she picked Miami of Ohio it would have been a 4 1/2 hour drive.  San Diego is a 4 hour direct flight from MidwayAirport in Chicago.”

“We can watch all her games on the internet,” said Patty. “Plus we have an excuse to go somewhere warm in the dead of winter!”

I asked them about the growing trend of athletes specializing in one sport, compared to the old days when so many played three or even four. “I don’t think anyone should be pressured to focus on one sport,” said Jeff. “I think multiple sports are better to a point. At some point it can be just too much for everyone, between time and money. I think kids kind of figure this out on their own. It was our girls’ decision to quit soccer, not ours. We told them we would respect their decision and support them no matter what.”

Jeff said that having Caroline in the NCSA Athletic Recruiting Network had been very helpful in educating them on many things involving recruiting, and having a recruiting coach to talk to through the process was valuable.

As our lunchtime visit wound down, they smiled at some of the recruiting memories.

“Green Bay would send her these recruiting letters in the mail,” said Patty, “and they would take various pictures of Caroline off the internet of her playing basketball for Penn, and then they would Photoshop a Green Bay uniform on her instead. This was fun to see, and always caught our attention. At Wake Forest because of her interest in the medical field they had the head of the Biology Department take her to the cadaver classroom and had her put on gloves and handle a human knee, showing her what the ACL ligament was. That was pretty memorable for all of us.”

I asked Patty to sum it all up. “It is not easy by any means to get a scholarship,” said Patty, “especially if you have particular criteria you are looking for. But we met so many interesting people, got to see a lot of schools, and when it all came together it was an amazing journey!”

Charlie Adams is a motivational speaker who works with college coaches and athletes to help develop a set of positive, solution centered and team oriented attitudes. His son Jack was a college cross country runner. His daughter Abby will be a college swimmer starting this Fall, and his youngest daughter Grace plays for Skylar Diggins’ Elite Travel team. Charlie can be reached at charlie@stokethefirewithin.com

Building Traditions: What Is Your Selling Point?Monday, January 7th, 2013

by Ellen Sawin, NCSA College Relations

College sports are home to some of the nation’s most famous traditions: Wisconsin football fans “Jumping Around” before the 4th quarter, Florida fans “Gator Chomping” at their opponents, the Fighting Irish slapping their “Play Like A Champion” sign as they take to the field, and so on. High school athletes dream of playing for a team with a tradition and fan base like these. But less than 1% will realize that dream. One school is changing that…

Picture this:

A gym packed to capacity with college kids and community members lining the court. Everyone is dressed in eccentric and hilarious outfits.  And the crowd is perfectly still and dead silent. Two teams take to the court and nothing changes. Play begins and the crowd remains silent. Both teams put points on the board, and the crowd doesn’t make a sound. Then, the home team scores their 10th point… and suddenly the gym erupts in absolute madness.

Sounds like a top tier Division I athletic event, but this occurs at Taylor University, a small NAIA school in Upland, Indiana. It’s their annual Silent Night Game (see a video version here). The tradition originated in the early 1990s and goes well beyond silence and then cheering at the 10th point. The entire crowd also comes together throughout the game for other crazy events, including this year’s half-time dance to “Gangnam Style,” where fans danced right onto the court. And the game concludes with the crowd singing the famous Christmas carol, Silent Night.

Even though Taylor University isn’t the nation’s largest or most well-known University, news and video of this event is spreading like wild fire, garnering them national notoriety. They’re changing the stakes in the recruiting game. They’ve proven that a team from any level can make headlines and develop a tradition of value to their university, athletes, fans and community.

Taylor’s tradition gives a handful of the more than 99% of high school athletes who won’t play at the Division I level, the opportunity to realize their dream of playing in front of a sellout, loyal, and involved crowd. This is a valuable selling point when recruiting high school athletes.