The season may have ended in March, but Pike Piekenbrock is still fired up about his basketball team.
“It was the best basketball experience I ever had,” the seventh-grader said. “It helped each and every one of us on the team grow as a person and as a basketball player.”
Although they don’t have any trophies to show for it, the nine teammates and their parents agree with Pike that the seventh-grade boys basketball “B” team from St. Mary, Hales Corners, was a winning team.
And they credit that success to Coach Domitrz … all three Coach Domitrzes, that is.
Coaching is all in the family
When Matthew Domitrz went out for the seventh-grade team this past winter, his grandfather, Joe Domitrz, agreed to coach the team, while his father, Mike Domitrz, and his brother, Anthony Domitrz, became assistant coaches.
Joe, 72, is a retired dean of the business school at UW-Whitewater who started coaching basketball more than 50 years ago. To coach Matthew’s team, he drove from Whitewater to Milwaukee three to four times a week.
It wasn’t the first time Joe regularly made the one-hour drive to coach with Mike. Together, they coached Mike’s two eldest sons, Anthony and Bryan, both Whitnall High School students, when they played basketball at St. Mary. Anthony graduated June 2, while Bryan will be a senior in the fall.
“We are blessed,” said Mike, a professional speaker and founder of The Date Safe Project, Inc. “Not every child wants their parent to be their coach. Then add to that how I get to coach with my dad and Anthony, that adds on a whole new round of gratitude.”
Coaches guided by faith
This was Anthony’s first experience coaching.
“It was fun,” Anthony said. “It was difficult to get used to being a coach at first because I was so used to being coached. I had to take different views in order to coach.”
But it was easy for Anthony to follow his family’s tradition of letting their Catholic faith guide them as coaches.
“I think the key, more than anything, is to be respectful, treating everyone evenly and having faith in others – and then trying to get that across to the young men to feel the same way about their teammates,” Joe said.
That mind-set helped David Wrucke feel welcome when he joined the team.
“They are really nice people; they are all friendly,” David said about the Domitrz family. “They try to get you to play to the best of your ability. They don’t expect you to be a pro – just be your best; do your best.”
Philosophy dictates equal time
The Domitrz family has a straightforward coaching philosophy: youth basketball is about developing as a player and a teammate. Therefore, each player gets equal play time.
“The parents have known our philosophy since day one,” Mike said. “We were blessed with parents who wanted that for all the kids. All the parents wanted to see all the kids play.”
And they did. It didn’t matter what the score was or how much time was left. It didn’t matter if they were in a tournament. It didn’t matter how many points or rebounds someone had. Every player got equal playing time.
“What impressed me the most is they practice what they preach,” said parent Bob Piekenbrock. “They said they were going to do that, and that’s what they did. They were playing as a team to win, by developing the kids and developing the team through equal playing time. It was one of the most exciting sports events to watch.”
Focus on fundamentals
The coaches tried to focus on fundamentals and skills to help the players learn the game.
“The coaches were all very encouraging, giving positive instruction from the sideline to help the players improve. Feedback was always positive, never negative,” said Bill Wrucke, David Wrucke’s father.
“They would cheer for us if we were doing something wrong, and they would cheer us on if we were doing something right,” Pike said. “They were our number-one fans.”
The parents also cheered on the kids. And the kids cheered on one another.
“It was a really good experience because all the other teammates were nice and supportive,” David said. “It was all about improvement.”
The equal playing time helps make each individual a better player, Mike said.
“It teaches them that each player is valued,” Mike explained. “At this age, if one kids plays for only three minutes, and another plays for 20 minutes, how can you learn to handle the stressful moments in a game? If you only focus on the best kids, and not on the one who struggles a little, that one never learns how to handle a situation. Then when they are in a game, they have fear, and they pass that ball to someone else. This way they have confidence. That’s the neatest thing – they are in a game and they say, ‘I want that ball’ because they can say, ‘I’ve been there before.’”
Even though the coaches were not focused on winning every game, the team improved throughout the season. With a final record of 7-17, the squad beat the two top-ranked teams in the final two games of season.
“This was a very good group of young men to work with,” Joe said. “They were always positive, whether they won or lost. They were always upbeat.”
“It was fun watching them,” Piekenbrock agreed. “They had the sportsmanship; they had the mojo.”
Off the court still a team
The season has ended, but the nine basketball players from the “B” squad still have a connection.
They are a team.
“Sportsmanship goes hand-in-hand with respect for each other’s teammates,” Mike said. “What’s amazing is these kids, regardless of the circumstances, really support one another. They never say anything against each other; it’s all positive. They value one another and will be there for each other. They are a fantastic group of young men, and they enjoy being with each other.”
When they weren’t on the court during the basketball season, the players would get together for team-building activities or to simply hang out.
“We really were a team at the end. There were no attitudes; everyone bonded,” Pike said.
“With the basketball, we got to know each other,” David agreed. “There were no ball hogs; everybody passed. Nobody tried to be a superstar and took all the shots. Not everyone on the “A” team got to play that much, so I feel kind of lucky that I was on this team.”
Because of this season, the nine boys on the “B” team, all students at either St. Mary Parish School or in the St. Mary Parish Christian Formation classes, share a love for basketball. And they share a common faith.
“Treating everyone with respect is at the heart of what we do,” Mike said. “It is a gift that we are here; God created each of us as gifts. We are here to learn how to handle these stressful moments and how to excel. To be able to develop these gifts in a faith-based setting is really a gift in itself.”