Archive for Thursday, April 22, 2004

Woodling: College kingpins

Fine long has had countenance to coach

April 22, 2004


At one time, I suspected Mike Fine became a bowling coach because of The Flirts, but long ago I realized I was wrong.

You may have read over the weekend how Fine guided the Kansas University men's bowling team to the national club championship -- quite a feat when you consider no KU men's team had reached the top since 1963.

Not that we really needed any proof Fine possessed the necessities to be a coach, because two years ago, even when the KU team failed to win the national title, Fine was voted the Intercollegiate Bowling Assn. coach of the year.

Still, there is more than a fine line between coaching college-age bowlers and pre-teen girls softball players.

I first met Mike Fine about 20 years ago when he was head coach of the fifth/sixth-grade city-sponsored softball team that included my younger daughter. Somehow I wound up as one of the assistant coaches on that team.

It didn't take me long to realize Fine is one of those people whose countenance remains the same regardless of the situation. If he won the lottery, Fine would smile. If his boat was sinking and the bilge pump was busted, Fine would smile. If his team won the national bowling title, he would smile. If they lost, he would ... well, you get the picture.

I know this because I watched Fine smile all the way through his stint with The Flirts, perhaps the worst team in the history of girls city summer softball. Records aren't kept, thank goodness, but I'm certain The Flirts -- a name, incidentally, they chose themselves -- didn't win a single game. If they did, it would have had to have been a forfeit.

Oh, we had a couple of talented players on that team -- notably Kenna Harrell and Tonya Henderson -- but the dropoff was precipitous. My daughter Gena, bless her heart, was a gutty, undersized catcher who, like most of her teammates, couldn't hit the ball past the pitcher.

As bad as The Flirts were, though, they always showed up, and they never elicited a frown from their head coach.

When I heard how the KU men had won the national bowling championship Saturday in Tulsa, Okla., I was pretty sure Fine's optimistic approach to life and sports had been a factor. Time after time, the KU men were down in the do-or-die matches, only to come back and win.

Fine characteristically gave credit to his bowlers -- Ryan (Rhino) Page, in particular. Page, a sophomore from San Diego, was named the national tournament's most outstanding performer. You don't earn that award strictly with numbers. You win it by dazzling your peers.

"Four times on Friday he needed to make two strikes in the final frame to win it," Fine said, "and four times that's exactly what he did. It was a hell of a performance. But everyone else had to make shots to put Rhino in that position."

So let's give credit, too, to Marc D'Errico, Trent Overbey, Alan Emmons, Jason Reese and Chris Dilley, the other members of KU's national championship team.

"We were just like UConn," Fine said. "We got on a roll, and it lasted three days."

Fine -- a Lawrence native, by the way -- has been coaching softball players and bowlers long enough to realize all the king's horses and all the king's men can't help you if your players don't produce at the right place and at the right time.

"We were the No. 4 seed this year, and we won it, so maybe being No. 4 took some of the pressure off," Fine said. "Last year we were the No. 1 seed, and that made us a big target. We won our first game, then we lost two in a row."

Sounds like what happened to the Kansas University men's basketball team a couple of times under Roy Williams, doesn't it? Then again, Williams never had to coach The Flirts. Fine and I did.

Still, it's interesting to note that Fine became KU's bowling coach not long after he coached The Flirts. Some people are born to coach, and nobody fits that category more than Fine.

Anyway, I'm genuinely happy Fine went on to bigger and better things and that he isn't the type of person to have let his experience with The Flirts send him onto a different path.

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