He’s a role model in my book

When I was on the basketball team as a freshman at Butte Central, I didn’t see a whole lot of playing time.

One reason was that I wasn’t very good. I fancied myself a pretty decent shooter, but ball handling, defense and rebounding weren’t exactly my cup of tea.

Another reason, I always suspected, was that every time coach Don Peoples Jr. looked down the bench for a sub I was laughing like crazy at my buddy Derek Hendrickson. Coach Peoples preferred players who always had their “game face” on during the day of the game, and I could never keep a straight one with Derek nearby.

Whether it was his running commentary on the end of the bench or him turning around to talk to me in Mr. Brophy’s Montana History class, Derek always had me laughing. He had all of us laughing. He still does.

Today, Derek isn’t laughing, and neither am I. Right now my friend is heartbroken.

He’s heartbroken because of an unfortunate turn of events on Saturday night during the championship game of the Southwestern A Divisional basketball tournament at the Maroon Activities Center.

Derek was the scoreboard operator who found himself getting kicked out of the MAC because he lost his head when confronted by a highly-unprofessional assistant coach from Stevensville.

It happened about a time when just about everybody in the building lost his or her head. There’s nothing quite like teenagers playing basketball to bring out the irrational side in all of us.

After the game, one Butte Central fan yelled at the Stevensville team to put the referee in the team picture. I’m sure she wishes she had that moment back today.

A woman cheering for Dillon in Saturday’s third-place game yelled at me as I approached my seat in the middle of a timeout. “Hey, bub, you can’t stand there,” she said when there was still 45 seconds left on the timeout clock. Though I was tempted to stay standing, I took my seat long before the players took the court.

A guy from Hamilton was ready to start smashing the heads of anybody associated with the tournament because his wife fell in the snowy parking lot.

Yes, by Saturday night of a high school tournament, tempers were definitely short — even when this one was probably the best-run tournament I’ve ever seen.

It came to a boil late in the championship game when the Stevensville coaches claimed the guys at the scorer’s table messed up and credited a timeout called by Butte Central to the Yellowjackets. The coaches might have been right. It’s possible Derek and the man on the book, the incomparable Bill McBride, made a mistake.

Only the Yellowjackets didn’t contend it was a mistake. An assistant for the Yellowjackets made a pretty bold accusation. The coach starred at Derek and called him an “—-ing cheater.”

“Say that to me after the game,” Derek shot back. The coach repeated his allegation, and Derek yelled back some more angry words.

Officials from the school, tournament staff and Montana High School Association told Derek he had to leave. Security escorted him out of the building, the only thing that could break his heart more than seeing his beloved Maroons lose.

When we started ButteSports.com last summer, one of the first things I did was talk Derek into contributing to the site with a blog. He’s passionate about sports and he loves the Butte Central Maroons.

It has been nearly 20 years since Derek graduated from Butte Central, but he still lives and dies with its athletes, be it football, basketball or tennis, a sport he coached at the school for the last five years.

Late Saturday night, Derek got on his blog to say that he was sorry.

“I apologize to anyone I may have offended and certainly regret bringing any bad light on the school that I love,” he wrote.

Then, on Monday morning, Derek told me he had just resigned as a tennis coach for the Maroons. He resigned from the program that he helped rebuild.

Before he took over the BC tennis team, Butte High wouldn’t consider playing the Maroons because the BC program was so down it wouldn’t be worth the time of the Bulldogs. The last two years, the Butte Central boys’ team beat the Bulldogs.

The Maroons only scored one point at the divisional tournament in his first year. BC took second at divisionals the last two years. The Maroons made those runs with a lot of players who never really picked up a racket before going out for the team, too.

Derek Ralph and Cole Noctor made a run at the State tournament. Noctor and Brad Wilson — yes, that Brad Wilson — made a State run the year before, and Wilson was using a K-Mart brand racket that had Serena Williams’ signature on one side and her sister Venus’ on the other.

Also, Colin Hollow went from going out for tennis simply to meet girls to being a State tournament player two years in a row, in singles last year and with Ed Lally the year before.

All those players had an absolute blast along the way, too. Their coach takes great pride in those accomplishments, and he certainly shared in the laughs.

During Derek’s first year as coach, the Maroons had about 10 players out for tennis. Last year, the Maroons had 33 tennis players — about a quarter of the school — because they heard how fun it was.

All of the players, by the way, called Derek “The Magic Man,” a nickname he earned dealing cards several years ago. Some player never knew his real name.

“My overall highlight was just the kids and being a part of their lives,” Derek said.

Derek was always a coach who genuinely cares about his athletes. That’s why he stepped down on Monday. He didn’t quit on the team. Rather, he quit for the team.

“I feel like I have tarnished something that meant the world to me,” he said.

When he broke the news to me, I considered putting a story on this website about it. You know, one of those short stories about the coach stepping down and the school starting a search to replace him.

I couldn’t do it, though. I wanted to give Derek time to reconsider.

Derek was going to be the assistant coach this year because of his work obligations forced him to miss meets last year.

Bernard Carey was going to be the head coach this year with the understanding that Derek would take over as head coach again next season.

Now that won’t happen, and that is just sad.

Derek, though, doesn’t blame anybody but himself. He has said nothing but positive things about the school. He doesn’t blame the men who forced him to leave the MAC.

He doesn’t even blame the assistant coach who also owes an apology — at least — for actions that are unbecoming of a leader of young men.

“I have gotten some love from the kids who don’t want me to quit and I think I will probably hit with them still,” Derek said. “A big part of this is in my mind I don’t see how I can be an ambassador for the school now.”

Derek said he cannot be a true role model for the student-athletes after what happened Saturday night.

I couldn’t disagree more with Derek, who I think is being too hard on himself.

Somebody who stands up and takes full accountability for his actions is exactly the kind of person we need guiding our young athletes. He’s the kind of guy I want coaching my children.

In my book, my pal Derek is a perfect role model.

Unless, of course, you’re sitting next to him at the end of the bench or in Montana History class.

— Sportswriter Bill Foley writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.