As a dad we want to not only provide for and protect our children, but also pass on the wisdom and knowledge of our years.
While that concept covers a wide range of topics, one group of fathers have had the privilege and pressure of walking a fine line with their children by coaching them in a sports setting.
While there are many dads who coach their kid’s youth sports team, for those who makes their living as a coach, the opportunity to have their own child on their team can be a blessing as well as a prickly predicament.
“You have to have a balance. There are times you’re dad and times you’re coach. You and your child have to understand the difference,” remarked Bradley Central head coach Jason Reuter, who coached his oldest daughter Rebecca at the high school level for the last four years and has a younger daughter, Amelia, who will be a Bearette in a couple of years.
“I’ve always been a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ when it comes to coaching. I’m a totally different person off the court than I am on,” he added. “We (he and his daughter) talked about it before I decided to take the (Bearette) job and we felt like we could handle it.”
The 6-foot-8 Kentucky high school and Lee College standout player had been an assistant coach with legendary coach Kent Smith’s highly successful boys’ basketball program for a dozen years before getting the opportunity to switch to the other side Jim Smiddy Arena a year before Rebecca would join the team.
“I was at a crossroads in my life. With 16 years (four at Meigs County before coming to BCHS) of coaching under my belt, I knew that I enjoyed it, but it had caused me to miss so much of Rebecca’s growing up,” Coach Reuter related. “I considered getting out so I could watch her, but then the opportunity to work with the girls’ team came along. It was like God had it planned out to help me get into the place where I could do both — coach and be with her.”
After serving as an assistant with the Bearettes for a year, Reuter was promoted to head coach of the storied program as Rebecca came in as a freshman. With Jason at the helm and Rebecca along side of best friend Brooke Copeland, forming the dominating “Twin Towers” all-state duo, the Bearettes went 114-17 during their four years in the Black-and-Gold.
“He had coached me in AAU for a couple of years so I thought him switching (from the boys team to the Bearettes) would be great,” commented Rebecca, a 6-foot-3 post player that leaves in early July to join the Middle Tennessee State University program.
“There were some tough times, but it worked out great in the long run. I’m a little nervous about not having him as my coach, but Coach (Rick) Insell will be great to play for. It’s going to be different without dad coaching me. He’s all I’ve known.”
“It was hard separating coach and dad at first. He was very tough on me at times, but he did what he needed to do to make me a better player,” she assessed. “I didn’t want to be the kind of coach’s kid who just got to play because my dad was the coach. I wanted to earn my playing time.”
Helping to bring a good balance to the family/coach situation has been wife/mom Melissa (Bigham) Reuter, the daughter of a coach herself. “I understand being married to a coach is a special relationship,” she remarked. “While the season is going on you’re basically a single parent (due to the long hours the job requires).”
“We try not to talk sports when we’re away from the gym. I deal with the more personal aspects of raising our girls,” she stated. “For the team, I work in the concession stand, help with fund raising and trip planning for tournaments.”
“Melissa has been very good to balance our family,” remarked Jason of his bride of almost 21 years. “Sometimes I get tunnel vision. It’s good to have someone help me see the bigger picture.”
“When I was at Lee, I heard Bobby Jones, who played for the Philadelphia 76ers, speak one time and he stressed the importance of leaving the game on the floor. He said never bring the game home to your wife and kids. At home you’re dad,” Jason said.
With the high school and college basketball seasons running parallel, Melissa will be making most of the trips to Murfreesboro to watch Rebecca play the next few years. “I will get up there as much as I can, but her mom will probably see a lot more of her games than I’ll get to,” Jason related.
Like he did for Rebecca, Jason is helping to coach Amelia’s summer team. Already 5-foot-8, the 12-year-old said she “likes playing for her dad.”
“I’m helping Andy Williams with her AAU team,” Jason related of the rising Ocoee Middle School seventh-grader. “I saw a light got on in her (Amelia) about a year ago. She has really upped her commitment level.”
“We’ve never forced either of the girls to play sports, but we’ve supported them in what they wanted to do,” he added, although Rebecca says he told her there were no tall ballerinas. “Being how this is my profession, I’m proud they have chosen to play and that I get to be a part of their lives in this manner.”
“I know I’ve made some mistakes in coaching Rebecca, but there were other times when I hit the nail on the head,” the veteran coach commented. “I’ll probably be less critical and more encouraging with Amelia, but I won’t change a whole lot.”
“I admit, I was too tough on Rebecca at times because she is my daughter and early on I probably didn’t play her as much as she deserved because I was a little worried about what people would say, but she worked hard and proved herself with her play on the court,” he related.
With an .870 winning percentage, Reuter is just the fifth Bearette head coach since 1958, when legendary coach Jim Smiddy took over the program.
After Smiddy's retirement in 1993 with a national record of 1,217 coaching victories, five state titles and a 90-game win streak that garnered the Bradley the 1975 and '76 state and national championships, Paul Cretton had the program’s best winning percentage (.886) with a 148-19 mark in six season (1993-99), including a state runner-up trophy in 1996.
Jack Harlow patrolled the sideline from 1999 until 2004 posting a 112-66 mark with four TSSAA sub-state berths and a 2000 Final Four appearance, while Bryan Glasner had a pair of 25-win teams in his six seasons at the helm, but also the only two losing seasons in Bearette history.
Under Reuter’s tutelage, Bradley has won four straight District 5-AAA and Region 3-AAA championship and made back-to-back trips to the TSSAA State Tournament.
While he admits he will have to take a little different coaching approach without the “Twin Towers,” Reuter will do his best to continue the success of the storied program. “We’re not going to slow down. We want to keep the tradition going. To be able to be a part of the Bradley winning tradition is great.”
“The Lord has been so good to me and my family. I feel so blessed to be able to do what I love and to have my family right here as a part of it as well,” he commented.