Years ago, coach Nick Markette had the Hamilton boys soccer team over to his house for dinner.
The underclassmen were browsing the halls when they stopped on something that had them befuddled. Next to Markette was their teammate, Michael, in what looked like a family photo.
“We don’t resemble each other that much,” Nick Markette said. “He’s very long and skinny and I’m not. Some of the younger kids looked at it and said, ‘Whoa, are you guys related?’”
Whenever a coach has a son or daughter on the team, the first worry is favoritism, perceived or real. So while some people may have laughed off the collective naiveté of the players, Nick Markette took it as a compliment.
Not only were the youngsters not concerned with their treatment compared to that of the coach’s son, they didn’t even know a divide existed.
It’s an ongoing battle for local coaches, many of whom got the coaching bug because their kid grew up playing sports.
Two high-profile girls basketball stars — Pinnacle’s Sydney Wiese and St. Mary’s Courtney Ekmark — are currently being coached by their fathers. Red Mountain boys basketball coach Greg Sessions has his middle son, Andy, on the team.
None admitted to any bad experiences yet. It helps that Pinnacle and St. Mary’s are a combined 32-2 on the season, while Andy Sessions does not shoot or handle the ball a disproportionate amount for the Mountain Lions.
“Having done this for so many years, I’ve seen and heard a lot of horror stories,” Greg Sessions said. ”I’m very aware of it, but it has not been a problem for us. At least no one’s said anything. I’m probably biased but I think my team’s team-oriented and Andy fits with that.”
By the time the players become juniors and seniors like Ekmark, Wiese and Sessions are now, the problems often dissipate. At that point they are playing with the same kids they did while growing up, who are aware of their talent level.
Coaches noted the toughest transition is often when a coach’s son or daughter is deserving of playing time as an underclassman, displacing seniors in the process.
Markette was so concerned of possible backlash that he played Michael fewer minutes than he should have as a freshman until assistant coach Nathan Fairchild spoke up.
“I remember it was his freshman year after a Mountain Pointe game,” Markette said. “(Fairchild) said, ‘Well, I think we have one kid who isn’t getting playing time because of his last name. That was his polite way of saying, ‘Don’t keep Michael on the bench as a freshman because of the relationship.’”
Ekmark, who is verbally committed to Connecticut, made varsity at St. Mary’s as a freshman and saw considerable playing time.
Curtis Ekmark, though, had shown a propensity to play freshmen the two previous seasons, and said there was actually more backlash back then.
“People were all over me when I played Shilpa (Tummala) and Cortnee Walton as freshmen,” Ekmark said. “The good news for Courtney is that she got to come last. She benefitted that there was a little bit of a precedent set.”
Ekmark didn’t keep any individual statistics when he began coaching the Knights, and he certainly wasn’t going to change that when Courtney joined the team.
He also said he doesn’t run any plays designed to get her shots.
“We never have, we never will,” he said. “It’s pure motion, and that helps. If we ran 20 plays a game for her that could get people mad. It lends itself to a team-oriented approach and diffuses any allegations of favoritism.”
Troy Wiese was an assistant coach for Sydney’s first two years on varsity. He coached the junior varsity last season. When the varsity job opened up, he asked for Sydney’s blessing to apply before doing so.
While Sydney, an Oregon State-commit, had already established herself as the team’s go-to scorer, Troy wanted to make sure the other girls were comfortable with their roles. It helped that he had been around this group of players for several years as they grew up.
“I didn’t want people to think the whole team was centered around Sydney just because she’s my daughter,” he said. “I wanted to establish that everyone has part ownership of the team. Syd is my daughter at home but she’s just another player on the court. She calls me Coach Wiese just like everyone else.”
It may be a lot of work to appease the other players and the parents — especially perceptions — but the coaches say it’s worth it.
They get to spend a lot of time with their son or daughter in their teenage years. An age, Markette noted, when kids aren’t exactly clamoring to spend more time with their parents.
“At the time it was challenging because you’re ever-conscious about being fair and balanced,” he said. “In retrospect, now that I’m a few years out from having done it, it was good because it provided a lot of quality time.”
Ekmark and Wiese joked about not messing up the situation before their daughters graduate. But as long as the coaches remain cognizant of the potential pitfalls, it seems like a situation that can work out well.
“We went into this with our eyes wide open,” Sessions said. “I’ve coached with and against a lot of coaches who have done this. Some have chosen to let their kids play at other schools so as to (avoid coaching them). But I’ve had a great time with it. It’s been really good for me.”