Sherri Coale, the legendary women’s basketball coach at the University of Oklahoma, has announced her retirement after an incredible 25-year run. Coale is the story today. But the point of this post is to direct your attention to me and to my admittedly loose connection to this rock star of a hoops coach.
Sherri Coale was Sherri Buben when we were in college together at Oklahoma Christian University. She played point guard for the nationally ranked Lady Eagles basketball team, winning Sooner Athletic Conference championships and competing for NAIA regional and national titles. She was a relentless competitor, a fiery defender, a fearless driver of the lane, and she saw absolutely everything on the court. She was a leader in every aspect of the word.
Sherri was two years ahead of me in school. By the time I became Sports Director at KOCC and began handling the play-by-play for OC sports, I was a sophomore and Sherri was a senior. We didn’t know each other very well at all. But I was on the sidelines and voiced the call for every single dribble, drive, and shot of Sherri’s spectacular senior season. In this picture of Sherri that OC likes to use, you can see me in the background on the left at center court. That’s little 20-year-old Allan calling OC basketball at the Eagles Nest. Sherri looks like she’s about to steal an in-bounds pass or take a charge. I look like I’m about to miss it.
Sherri had coached Norman High School to a couple of 6A state championships when OU came calling. The Sooners women’s basketball team had been famously abolished six years earlier for a lack of wins, a lack of players, and a lack of any real interest. She took the gig as an incredible underdog and quickly rose to the pinnacle of the sport, guiding OU to the national championship game in 2002. All told, Sherri recruited, promoted, and coached OU to 19 national tournament appearances, three Final Fours, six Big XII regular season championships, and four conference tournament titles. She and her long-time OC teammate, friend, and assistant coach Jan Ross coached 14 WNBA draft picks at OU, including six first-rounders. And Sherri was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.
It was a thrill for me to run into Sherri once or twice a year while I was Sports Director at KRLD in Dallas. Back then the Big XII women’s tournament was held at Reunion Arena and I would make it a point to attend at least a couple of their games. It was cool to walk across the floor and greet Sherri and Jan while their team was warming up. Again, we don’t know each other very well at all. But we had the OC connection and we both were genuinely pleased with the other’s career successes.
Congratulations, Sherri. I’m very happy for you and proud of all you’ve accomplished. You’ve positively impacted each of the hundreds of young ladies you’ve coached and the countless numbers of others who watch you from afar. You are to be commended for the positive Christ-like influence you have on everyone you meet. I don’t know what’s next for you, but your spirited grit and determination make anything possible.
I was enjoying my iced tea outside on the front porch at Roaster’s yesterday afternoon. Sunny and 75-degrees. Not a cloud in the sky and not any bit of wind at all. Short sleeves. Sunglasses. One of those perfect Amarillo days. But we were under a blizzard warning for the following day. Sure enough, the clouds started rolling in at about 6:00 last evening. The lightning and thunder and sleet started at 4:00 this morning. Right now it’s 31-degrees and the heavy snow is blowing sideways in a 40-50 mph North wind that’s gusting to near 60. The wind chill is minus 17. Visibility is an eighth of a mile.
By the way, we had seven tornadoes Saturday night. And it’ll be sunny and 70 again this weekend.
Unlike the cartoon cat, I’m not complaining. I actually enjoy the crazy swings in weather up here. This is the only place in Texas where you truly get all four seasons and, sometimes, you get them in the same week.
As I am penning this post at 9:30am, the outside temperature has warmed to a pleasant six degrees on our way to a downright balmy high of 22. We just experienced our first-ever rolling blackout, 95-minutes of no electricity in a forced conservation imposed by Xcel Energy. Our neighborhood went dark less than 30-seconds before I opened the garage door. I was walking through the kitchen, toward the garage, ready to open the door when we lost power. D’oh! So I disconnected the door, raised it by hand, and it’s snowing. Again.
The temperature hit -1 on Sunday and then bottomed out at -10 degrees yesterday and never reached positive double digits. The low this morning was also -1 and the wind chills have been in the negative double digits since Saturday. I can’t remember the last time we were above freezing — late last week — but we’re supposed to stay below 32 until Friday afternoon. We received about five inches of snow Saturday night and Sunday and are expecting another three to four inches today and tomorrow. But you can’t even make a snowball with this stuff. It’s too cold! It doesn’t stick to anything! It just blows around and piles up! No icicles! Anywhere! Nothing’s melting!
I’ve never been in a place where the temperature was below zero. Not once in my life. Or where it stays below freezing for a full week. The high here Sunday was 3. Yesterday’s high was 7. I don’t know how to do this. We’ve had all our cabinet doors opened and every faucet in the house dripping since Saturday afternoon. Still, something’s frozen up with the water supply to our washing machine. The pipes come in through the garage, which never gets below freezing, until now. It’s 21-degrees inside the garage!! So, no laundry, maybe until late Thursday.
This feels bad. And big. Like, how much worse are things going to get? Tom Brady won the Super Bowl. It’s snowing in Galveston. Texas is in a power crisis. J. J. Watt is gone from Houston. The Stars are on an eight-game winless streak. Amarillo is experiencing its coldest temperatures in two decades. And rolling blackouts? That’s always been something that happens to people who don’t live in Texas. People we feel sorry for. People and conditions to which I’ve never been able to relate. Will 2020 never end?!?
I joked with my friends in Edmond/ OKC today that if they would just move to Amarillo they wouldn’t have to worry about losing branches because we don’t have any trees here. That’s obviously not true. I’m not even sure it’s that funny.
We lost about a fourth of the biggest tree in our front yard last night when the weight of three days of ice and snow became too much. We hadn’t been out of the teens and 20s since Sunday evening and we had experienced three straight days of deep freeze temps and a constant wintry mix of precipitation. Light snow, sleet, freezing rain, freezing mist — it fell for three days and just kept accumulating on the tree branches that were still full of leaves. It’s not supposed to do this in October!
I was worried about all our trees, but especially this one on the east side of our front yard. I don’t know what kind of tree it is — the leaves look like Chinese Elm but it’s not and the branches look like Hackberry but it’s not — but the branches were sagging big time. I checked on them through the kitchen windows every couple of hours and fretted that I couldn’t do anything about what might or might not happen. They were predicting 5-8 more inches of snow last night before the slow-moving system finally cleared the Panhandle. That’s what concerned me. It looked 50-50 on whether we would lose the whole tree or not suffer any damage at all. I couldn’t tell. We’ve not been in this situation before. Ever.
The blizzard hit at about 6:00pm and lasted about four hours. A classic Amarillo snowstorm: big, wet, fat flakes blowing sideways and sticking to everything. By 7:00 I knew we were in trouble. I spent about 20 minutes in the worst part of the storm with a long rake, trying to knock the snow and ice off the branches of the trees in the front yard and the back. I spent the most time and paid the greatest attention to this one tree that looked like it couldn’t take another five minutes. All the major branches were bowing and sagging to within three feet of the ground. I must have looked like a fool out there, but I managed to knock enough snow off the branches that they were about seven or eight feet off the ground.
At 10:15, as Carrie-Anne and I were getting ready to go to bed, we both stood at the window and looked at the tree. The branches were about halfway back to where they were before. I said, “They look so heavy.” It was still snowing.
And at 10:45 it happened.
It looks like we got around seven additional inches of snow last night during those four hours. And it was too much. Thankfully we only lost that one big branch. This is nothing like what they’re suffering in Edmond this week where my sister Rhonda lost almost every single branch off every tree they own — nothing but bare trunks in their once beautiful yard.
Today the sun is shining for the first time in about a week and it’s climbing into the upper 40s. Clear skies, no wind — it’s an absolutely beautiful October day and everything’s melting. Almost melting too fast. The streets and sidewalks are flooding all over southwest Amarillo, cars are getting stuck in rushing water on Bell Street and 45th. And I’m shoveling our driveway that is always too big after a snow.
I’m grateful we only lost about a fourth of the tree. It’ll be fine. I’m thankful it mostly missed the house — just a nick or two, it looks like, to a few shingles and the gutter. The skeleton-ghost thing I had hanging in the tree survived. And now I’ve got something to do on Saturday when the temperature is supposed to be near 70.
There was an almost 30 year period, from the late 1970s through the early 2000s, when every band in America had a guitar player who thought he was Eddie Van Halen. Of course, there is only one Eddie Van Halen. And his passing yesterday after a long battle with throat cancer caught me off guard, brought to mind many memories and to my heart many wistful waves of nostalgia, and afforded a wonderful opportunity to connect with lots of great old friends.
The first text came from the Drake — love the Drake — at just after 2:30 yesterday afternoon. “Pour one out for Eddie Van Halen, dead at 65.” After we exchanged a few messages regarding the details and once I confirmed the awful news with a quick search of the internet, the first phone call I made was to our youngest daughter, Carley. It went straight to voice mail.
She immediately texted me two words: “I heard.”
She knew. She knew exactly why I was calling. Her follow up text informed me that she was in class and would call me soon.
My next call was to Todd Adkins. Todd was my best friend in high school and we were roommates during our Freshman years at OC. I think it was the summer between our Freshman and Sophomore years in high school when Todd’s aunt made him a cassette tape copy of Van Halen’s phenomenal debut album. She recorded it from her LP to the cassette, wrote “Van Halen” on it with a black ballpoint pen, and gave it to Todd. And we absolutely wore that tape out. My October birthday meant I got my drivers license before anybody else in our class and we played that tape on a continuous loop in my 1974 Monte Carlo. One night, very soon after I began driving, I spent the night at Todd’s house on Telegraph Lane off I-30 and St. Francis. We spent most of the whole night terrorizing his neighborhood, doing things we should not have been doing, with the windows rolled down and that Van Halen tape blaring .
The very first time I ever heard “Eruption,” Eddie’s screaming guitar solo that leads into their blistering cover of “You Really Got Me,” was spinning that tape that belonged to Todd. “Eruption” is one-hundred-seconds of pure jaw-dropping, face-melting, guitar genius. I’m not sure I had ever heard anything like it. And I was hooked. Todd and I rolled that tape way too loud on an oversized boombox during late night basketball games in Glen and Becky’s backyard. We listened to it before football games and while we were washing our cars, to and from concerts and on long road trips. We took it to college, pulled our stereo speakers out into the courtyard, and blasted that tape across the tennis courts, up to the student center, and through the lobby in the girls dorms. When I hear any cut off that incredible album, I think about Todd.
Todd and I only talk every two or three years or so. When he saw my name flash on his phone, he just knew someone had died. He was not relieved to learn that it was Eddie Van Halen. We talked together about our wives and our parents, our younger sisters and our kids. And we remembered the Texxas Jams and the late night basketball and the cruising and screaming along with Diamond Dave as Eddie’s guitar deliriously pierced our brains and infected our souls.
As I started my truck to head home last night, “Atomic Punk” was playing on the stereo. “Nobody rules these streets at night but me, the Atomic Punk!” Yeah, I had already been listening to that first Van Halen album all day. I plugged it in on my way to work yesterday morning, the day Eddie Van Halen died. I listened to it to and from lunch that afternoon, and it was in the player when I started for home. It’s not a total coincidence. There’s always about a 70-percent chance I’m listening to something by Van Halen.
When I got home, I immediately pulled out all six of my original Van Halen LPs and went through the liner notes. I reviewed the ticket stubs from the six times I saw Van Halen in concert. I remembered that my first Van Halen show was the 1986 Texxas Jam, and I had won the tickets off the radio. I noticed that my ticket from the 1990 concert at Reunion Arena was $12.50, the 1992 show at the Erwin Center in Austin was $22.50, and the last time I saw Van Halen, with Carrie-Anne on the floor at American Airlines Center in 2004, the tickets were $97.50. Worth every last penny every single time.
There were also the concerts that didn’t happen. We were at the 1988 Texxas Jam with Van Halen headlining when, two songs into their set, Sammy Hagar’s voice completely gave out. They were doing “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and he couldn’t get through the first chorus. Sammy stepped off the stage while Eddie, Alex, and Michael finished the song. Then those three did a wild cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” with Michael Anthony taking the lead on vocals. Then Sammy came out and announced they couldn’t continue that night, but they would make it up to us and do a free concert in Dallas at a later date. That fall of 1988, we all had tickets to Van Halen’s Oklahoma City concert at the Myriad Gardens; then we all got refunds when the band cancelled. Three years later, on a late November afternoon in 1991, Dallas radio stations announced that Van Halen was playing that free concert in the West End. That night. We were in Marble Falls by that time and I was broadcasting a high school football playoff game that evening. I couldn’t have made the four-hour drive in time anyway.
Speaking of Sammy Hagar, I am not a Van Halen fan who lives and dies in the David Lee Roth versus Sammy Hagar wars. So many fans of the music are in the “either/or” category – you have to love one and hate the other, you have to choose – and I’ve never been that way. I truly believe you can put 5150 and OU812 up against Van Halen’s first album and 1984 and they’re all so solid. They all stand up, side by side, because the driving force behind all of it is Eddie. It’s his band. It’s his songwriting. It’s his passion. It’s always been about Eddie for me.
The Eddie Van Halen poster I had on the wall in my room as a teenager growing up in Dallas? The one I took with me to college and hung in my dorm and my apartment? I’ve still got it. It’s hanging up in my garage today. It’s always been about Eddie.
Two Sundays ago, Carrie-Anne and I were driving home from church, listening to Van Halen’s “Right Now.” I said, “Do you remember when they played this song in Dallas? Remember the video clips they were playing and all those funny slogans they were showing during this song? Remember when Eddie played this solo?” She replied, “All I remember is that when he played his solos, he played too long.” She doesn’t get it. I love her dearly. But she doesn’t understand.
Eddie always did something with the guitar you had never seen or heard before. Every time. Even two hours into the sixth time I had seen him live, I was still surprised. Still overjoyed and almost overcome. His fingers moved so fast and he used every square centimeter of the guitar, from top to bottom. His sound is uniquely his – you know it’s Eddie by the second note. That guitar solo in the middle of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It?” You know why it sounds just like Eddie Van Halen? Because it is. Only he can do that. And he always had so much fun. He was always smiling, laughing, while he played. He made it look so easy and so fun – the way he interacted with his band mates and with the crowd, the way it seemed so effortless. Of the tributes you’re seeing on the news, of the video clips, he’s smiling in all of them. He loved what he was doing and you loved being in his presence while he was doing it.
I heard from David Byrnes yesterday and the conversation quickly turned to how old we are. Darrin Carpenter checked in with me and we discussed 5150 — he had been listening to it that morning, just like I had been listening to Van Halen I. I texted Mike Osburn and we acknowledged the sadness we both were feeling and the gratitude for the chance to re-connect with old friends. Carley called me back and I vowed to get her to an Aerosmith show before Steven Tyler dies. She made it to Tom Petty with me in 2016, but I never got her to a Van Halen concert. I always thought we would have time. I just assumed Eddie Van Halen would always be playing guitar somewhere. Valerie checked in with me. She knew it was tough news for me. My brother-in-law, who teaches at a Christian high school in Edmond, Oklahoma texted me this morning to let me know he was beginning every single class period today with “Eruption” in honor of the greatest guitar player in history. He’s got a surround-sound system in his classroom; I’ll bet it’s awesome. Even as I’m typing this post, I can hear Van Halen coming from Elaine’s computer in the office next door. She’s remembering, too.
Here’s “Eruption.” Let’s all listen to it one more time.