Coach and Me is a series of stories during the 2021-22 school year that reflect on the relationships between coaches and their children. It will also be a reflection of memories for Tony Chapman and his dad, who passed away July 6, 2021. Today would have been coaches 72nd birthday.
A LONG WAY FROM BRUNING — The hallway underneath the seats at Pinnacle Bank Arena can make for a long walk or a short one, depending on who you are with and the subject.
My journey with Elkhorn North girls basketball coach Ann Prince on Saturday went so fast it seemed like a sprint. It ended up being 5 minutes, 2 seconds of knowledge and empowerment that “coach” would have certainly loved.
There were many conversations like that last week at Pinnacle Bank Arena. In a sense maybe he was guiding all of them. It sure seemed like it most days.
But, Coach Prince — now, on this Saturday a two-time championship coach — hit on so many things that we need today in women’s and girls sports that it shouldn’t matter who your daughter is — a five-star recruit or a dreamer.
They are the lessons from a coach.
Most people don’t know that Ann Prince’s story begins in northern Thayer County. Bruning, population 270.
The man who helped her dream was Wayne Koehler. Who, at the time, was a head coach in the most dominant small town girls basketball league in Nebraska — the Nebraska South Central Conference.
In 1986, Davenport won the state title. In 1987, it was Lawrence. All from the same district. That was Ann (Albrecht) Prince’s senior year. Coach Prince was an all-state Class D-2 player at 23 points and seven rebounds per game that season. But, they missed the state tournament.
The next year? Bruning hits a half court three to tie defending champion Lawrence at the buzzer. Then another three in overtime to advance to Lincoln. They, too, win the state championship.
In 1989, Lawrence won again, beating “coach” and his Hampton girls in the district semifinal. The next year, Lawrence’s 30-game win streak ended in the 1990 Class D-2 state championship and coach had finally broken through.
“Wayne Koehler, my high school coach, he was here for our first game,” she tells me, the state tournament is, indeed, a full circle. “He really got girls basketball going in Bruning.
“He started youth skills camps and I started falling in love with basketball. He’s the one that got me going.”
Ann moved on to Midland – then College, now University – and was a four-year starter for hall-of-fame coach Joanne Bracker. Her senior year, the Warriors advanced to the NAIA “Sweet 16” as representatives of the ultra competitive Nebraska-Iowa Athletic Conference.
She never left Fremont, stayed and taught physical education for Fremont Public Schools. Got married to Mark Prince, had a son, Mack and then Britt came along. She was an assistant for Bracker.
“Then I got out of it for four or five years after I had (Britt),” she said. “I was just like, I can’t do this with two young kids for a $1,500 salary.”
She got back in during the 2012-2013 season. Matt Fritsche took over for Bracker. Mack and Britt were getting old enough to make it workable again. Mack became a standout swimmer for Fremont High School, he’s now in school at Kansas in pre-medicine. Britt tagged along with mom.
“When she was at Midland, I’d always go to her practices,” Britt remembers. “I’d be shooting while they practiced. I’d shag for them or if they came running down to my end I’d have to sprint out of the way.”
And, because people believed in Ann Prince for so long, she had a daughter that loved the game, too. People like Wayne Koehler and Joanne Bracker and Matt Fritsche.
“She’d come up and dribble and shoot on the side and just loved having a ball in her hand,” coach remembers. “She was just around it. She loved the game from the get go. It was never ever a forced thing.
“She just loved to play.”
When Elkhorn North was set to open in the fall of 2020, they needed a basketball coach. And, they believed in Ann Prince, too. She jumped at the chance to lead a program. The results haven’t been too bad, huh?
Two seasons. Two state championships. One hunting. The other hunted.
“It’s been everything I have always dreamed of,” Prince said, as we moved down the hallway, past the media room. “To be able to do it with a brand new school and to start our own culture has been so special. Not very many people get to do that.
“And to add on getting to do it with my daughter, we just both love the game. To share the daily stuff with her is just incredible. But, on top of her, the girls on this team are just great people. They are good basketball players, but they are even better human beings.”
Her daughter – with 23 Division I scholarship offers before she turned 16 – speaks about the game and its lessons her mom teaches as if she might pass them on someday.
“She teaches us to be great people, to respect our opponents and be humble,” the point guard says. “You can be happy and excited, but be humble while you are doing it.”
As the coach and I keep traveling down that hall, you can tell we are getting closer to the Wolves parents and fans. The chatter away from us gets louder. Our voices crescendo and Coach Prince is about to offer even more wisdom, it’s where I can hear dad’s words in her answers.
“What do you hope they learn that is not basketball,” I ask.
She doesn’t hesitate.
“I want to empower them as females that you can do anything you want,” she says and, as a dad of daughters and coach of some girls of my own, my eyes light up. “Don’t let anyone put a glass ceiling on you, because people put a glass ceiling on me. People did not believe in me.
“Somebody’s got to believe in you first. As a female you can do anything that anyone else can do. We need more females coaching basketball and showing our young females you can do anything you want to.”
As she finishes we hit the corner, the fans in the Pinnacle Bank Arena lobby see her. A roar goes up. And, while I know they are cheering for the championship coach Prince, I wish those people knew what she just said. Some things that coach tried to pass down to his granddaughters – all six of them – and his two boys.
That you can be whatever you want to be. You can do whatever you want and that you shouldn’t let anyone stop you. Whether that be basketball or softball or cheering or singing and dancing, just go be you.
Most importantly, no glass ceilings. For you, or anyone else.
I guess now those fans do know what Coach Prince said in that back hallway that produces so many champions in early March. And, that’s more important than any championship you might win.
Those are the lessons you can learn in Bruning or Hampton or Elkhorn. And, maybe take them to a big Division I basketball program, or just in being a mom later in life. Lessons about believing in something bigger than yourself and chasing your dreams. And, not letting anyone stand in your way.
Lessons I learned from Coach. Lessons that Ann Prince is teaching her players. The invaluable lessons – Coach and Me.
Family is as important to us as it is to our friends at Bruce Furniture. Their partnership with us allows us to create unique content like Coach and Me.