Teaching kids to win in basketball and life

By Matt Nestor
Sports Columnist

Winning can make a lot of things better for a coach and a player. So there is little doubt Steve Goers spread his fair share of cheer as a head coach boys’ basketball coach at Rockford’s Boylan Catholic High School.

But beyond the wins are the lives that are affected by an iconic coach who was an institution at his school for 30 years.

To this day, Goers hears constantly from players from every stop he has made as a coach, whether it is a phone call, stopping in at a game or even dropping by his house.

“Those are the things you think about,” he said. “Not the X’s and O’s. We hope we’ve been a positive influence in everybody.”

While looking back at his career, Goers was able to reflect on several of the lives he had some part in shaping, like Michael Slaughter’s.

Slaughter came to Boylan from California his sophomore year, sporting a grade-point average under 1.5. That quickly changed as a focus on his studies proved to be more important than basketball, and his coach made sure, even recalling a homework session at his kitchen table.

Slaughter eventually was able to qualify to play Division I basketball at Eastern Illinois, where he took his academics to another level. He earned a presidential scholarship and even gave up his last year of eligibility to pursue a further degree.

“He left to go to law school at Pepperdine,” Goers said. “He left there after a year and a half…and he was an assistant professor at UCLA finishing his doctorate.”

Goers and his wife, Mary, shared another story of a student in public school who was having problems. He would only talk to Mary in the gym if they could shoot hoops.

Years later, he would end up at Boylan, no longer having problems at school. And down the road, he became a school social worker, just like Mary, and came back to thank them for the role they played in his life.

There are former players like Durrel Banks, who is going back to school for his master’s degree to coach and teach. Or Tim Hobson, who has an IT degree. Or Johnny Hernandez, who went on to Eastern, Damir Krupalija, who went to Illinois, or Joe Tulley, who went to DePaul.

Goers also recalled a letter he received from the mother of Jeff Myers when the future Titan was still in eighth grade.

“One of the best players I’ve ever had here, you wouldn’t think it if he walked into a room,” he said. “His mom sent me a letter and asked, ‘Do you really think he can play at Boylan?’. I told her we always have room at Boylan for a person that has the heart, intelligence and desire that your son has. And thank goodness, because he was one of our greatest.”

There are many more stories like this, and sitting with the coach for any short amount of time will amaze you as to what he has done.

And all this comes from a lesson he learned from his mentor, former Quincy coach Sherrill Hanks, that he has tried to instill with everyone.

“Every day you get up, you have to be better than the day before,” he said. “That is a tough concept for a young person and a student-athlete to grasp.”

From the May 18-24, 2011 issue

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