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.
1842 FURNAS STREET — Ashland is one of those towns that greets you as timeless.
A trip over the bridge to see that one stoplight. At the intersection, the 14th and Silver Street street sign — not green like everyone else, but white with blue letters and a bluejay — you could think you are not in 2022, but Hickory, 1954.
Both are good places.
Go a few blocks north on State Highway 66, hang a left and you’ll see a school that remembers its past and knows that it must be ready and prepared for the future. Ashland surely isn’t getting smaller.
Principal Brad Jacobsen gives me a tour on the Saturday before the state basketball tournament. They’ve embraced the new in Ashland by wrapping it around the history — the old building — at the school.
A new middle school, performing arts auditorium and gym is planned. It looks to the future.
“When we fill the new building with students, we will flip the middle school and the high school,” he said.
The Brad Jacobsen I remember, he was always two steps ahead. Always thinking about how to do things just a little better — different — than the other guy.
His team at A-G, he’d never take credit for anything, has built a strong culture of community. It’s on the walls.
Words impact relationships. Relationships impact culture. Culture impacts results.
And, when he played for “coach” all those years ago, and a junior high kid needed a hero, well, there was Jake.
To say junior high for me and my buddies was lucky is probably an understatement. Jake was a junior and senior in those years. All we wanted was to be them.
In football and basketball they lost seven games total and played for two state basketball championships. They went to the playoffs in football as juniors and the team that didn’t go finished 7-1 and 5th in the state’s final rankings. Without much doubt, it was dad’s best fall.
Brad Jacobsen was an undersized post in basketball. Yet he had a nearly unstoppable up and under move and an elbow jumper you had to respect. He earned all-state accolades in 1990. I type this only because his boys don’t know it.
As for me? Generally I sat on the bench in awe, wrote 32 on the shot chart and then circled it.
In football, Coach Chapman had a guy he could trust who knew where the ball would be, and a guy he didn’t want to get blocked. So, he put in a “monster” defense to keep everyone away from No. 85. He played in the offensive line, too. Undersized. Trying to figure out a way to beat the other guy.
“I was the guy in high school who was always trying to devise these different blocking schemes so the other guy wouldn’t know it was coming.” we chuckle.
“And your dad would say, ‘Just get the job done.’
All these years later, Jake still does a pretty good “coach.”
By all counts, senior Cale and sophomore Dane Jacobsen have had a pretty good school year, it seems.
Their Bluejays take a 24-1 record to Lincoln this week. They hope to wear out a path on Highway 6 as this week-long trek begins for them on Tuesday.
They have waited for this. Patience would be about the only word to use.
The Jays qualified for state in 2020 — Cale scored 30 in a district final win over Chase County — and took eventual champ Auburn to the wire before losing 54-48. Dane, an 8th grader in need of some heroes.
They had hoped for a repeat in 2021, but Cale tore his ACL early in the season and A-G lost to Adams Central in the district finals.
“We knew this year we could have a special group, a really skilled group,” Cale says. “We knew we just had to lock in everyday. We think we can play with anybody.”
This year’s lone loss is to Class B qualifier Omaha Roncalli. The Jays have been in many battles. They have put in the work.
“Growing up, I could come in and use the gym whenever I wanted to do it,” Cale says. “Now, we can still do that but now you’ll get here and you have to wait to use the shooting machine.”
Cale leads the way for A-G at 16.8 points per game. But, he’s not a one man show. Senior Max Parker gives 11 points and 5.5 rebounds a game. Juniors Brooks Kissinger and Cougar Konzem add nearly 12 and nine points, respectively.
Because of Cale’s injury and another this fall, Dane was thrown to the fire playing quarterback for the A-G football team. His leadership led them to a 10-1 record before they lost to Pierce in the quarterfinals.
“It’s really all we have ever wanted to do,” Dane admitted. “So since we didn’t get football, this has been really special for us.
“It’s just fun. We have a little chemistry, I guess.”
You’d think big brother might roll his eyes at sharing the floor with Dane, who averages five points and two rebounds per game. But, you sense a true friendship.
“There is usually one play, two plays a game where I look at him and just go, nice play. We just give each other the nod. It’s pretty cool to know that he’s out there.”
No senior boy has ever been to state twice in the history of Ashland-Greenwood so this week takes on even more importance. They have won just a single game in Lincoln, in 2007. Jake was the coach.
The girls program won titles in 1980 and 1983, and was in the 2006 final. In 1995, they lost to eventual champion Adams Central in the semifinal, 46-44. Staci Jacobsen was on that team.
After he played basketball for three years at Midland, Brad Jacobsen was forced to the sideline with a back injury. He didn’t mind. He got to coach.
“I probably had the bug long before that,” he said. “I think I’ve wanted to be in education since I was in elementary school. All I knew was going to school and going to practice with dad.”
I understand where he’s coming from.
So Jake graduated from Midland and didn’t get a job until July. St. Edward, Nebraska.
“It was very competitive,” he remembered. “Very hard to get a job. I was assistant football and basketball my first year and then head coach after that.”
In the summer of 1996 a college friend told him about a job in Ashland.
“I don’t even know if I knew exactly where Ashland was,” he said. “For me it was one stop I’d be at on the way to being the head coach at Duke.”
Instead he built a program. He met Staci, who had a son, Tyler Craven, and built a life. Cale and Dane came when he was coaching. A few years later came Tate, now in second grade.
They are all in the gym bouncing a ball the week of the state tournament. Tyler, the first 1,000 point scorer in school history, is now a special education teacher at his alma mater and assistant coach for the boys team.
All they know are the life lessons of the gym.
Cale, specifically, remembers when dad made a choice. When he gave up coaching for a bigger cause, to be the principal at A-G, his last season in 2010.
“He told us at breakfast one morning,” Cale says. “I cried hard. The water works were on. I didn’t know how I’d ever get back in the gym.”
Thankfully the new principal had a key.
The A-G community has been all-in supporting their team this year. They’ll do it again this week.
Cale Jacobsen came in the back door an hour and a half before their district final with Milford — a final rout in front of the home crowd.
“There was already a parking lot full of cars,” he said. “That was pretty special.”
Their assistant tries to think beyond a final result. He’s having fun, too, coaching with his best friends. Current A-G coach Jacob Mohs was his high school coach.
Everyone knows what the goal is. But when we coach it is usually about more than that. Your coaches teach you. Your town does. Jake and I learned that from many important people, so long ago.
“I hope they can take a step back and soak it all in,” coach Craven tells me. “But I hope they also know how much this community supports them and loves them.
“We have so many people here that love us and support us. I hope that whenever we play our players can take that in. Just look up in the crowd and soak it all in.”
This week, everyone will have memories they create at the 2022 state basketball tournament. Parents and their sons or daughters. Coaches and their teams. And, heck, coaches and their family.
Dane Jacobsen keeps one he’s already had on his phone. Dad and him, district game in 2008. Now, he’s passed that round now he gets to live out that dream.
“It’s pretty special to get to play (at state),” he said.
For me and coach, sometimes the lessons come out of nowhere.
“There was joy in how your dad coached,” Brad says. “He had that deep laugh. He kept it fun and he wanted it to be simple.”
Fun and simple. Lessons for a championship week. Lessons for life.
As the balls bounce and the recorder turns off, life can surely come full circle.
Tyler, Cale, Dane and Tate are getting a few shots up. So is Coach’s granddaughter, Ella. Probably too many threes from her, but who is dad to judge.
She keeps a handwritten binder of each of the 16 brackets this week (no idea who she would have learned this from). Our plan was to let dad work on Monday and Tuesday but with a week off at school, she already talked me into the morning Class B girls session at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Girls have heroes, too.
I ask the boys what time their game is, not having them all memorized yet.
“1:30, Tuesday. Devaney,” Brad says.
Ella gives me a look and I know it came from grandpa. We have another game to watch. She has some new friends to root for.
As for me? Maybe, I’ll watch one of my favorites be a dad. Get some more lessons from Heaven — Coach and Me.
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