Some coaches leave their posts when they feel their talent is depleted and they just don’t have the time nor the inclination to put in to build another team. Not so with Keith Chambers. He is leaving at the top of his game after guiding his Stevensville Yellowjacket team to the state championship a couple of weeks ago. After 22 years at the helm of the Stevensville boys’ basketball team, Chambers is ready to take a break.
“I’ve come full circle,” he said. “My first year here, we went to the state championship game. This time is a little different.”
Along the way, Chambers has seen his ups and downs but through it all, he has worked to improve the basketball program at Stevensville. Although it wasn’t official until right before the Southwest A Divisional tournament when he handed in his resignation, the team has known since the first of the season.
“Theses kids that are coming back, they can adjust and they can help the next guy in the program,” he said.
Chambers grew up in Polson, one of six kids. His mother had a small house just across from Linderman School where the Polson gym is located.
“We didn’t have television so we were always outside playing,” he said. “My brother and I would sneak into the gym and watch the high school team practice.”
Carl Tait was the coach at Polson at the time and had built a successful program. Chambers said they would sneak in to watch Tait’s antics during practice. “He would be trying to make a point and would be quite loud and animated. The louder he got, the more he gestured. At some point our heads would pop up over the edge to see better.”
The coach would see the boys and kick them out of the gym for the day. But they kept sneaking back in time after time to watch. “Coach Tait, he was our entertainment, with foot stompin’, yellin’ and whistling going on all the time.”
When they weren’t sneaking into the gym to watch basketball practice, they were playing basketball in the street. There were always a lot of ‘strays’ that showed up at the Chamber house so there was always enough for a pickup game.
“We were so competitive, though,” said Chambers. “Before long it would be a full blown fistfight.”
When his energy got to be too much for his mother to handle, he was sent out to a relative’s farm to work. It was there, on the ranch, that he decided to go on to college.
“It was cold and I was pulling a calf. I thought there has to be a better way.”
He told his counselor he wanted to be an auctioneer and that he wanted to play basketball. They found a school in Colorado that offered both, or so they thought. The coach of the school called and told Chambers that the auctioneering school was no more and that he didn’t think Chambers would be a good fit there.
Chambers went on to play at Western Montana College, now University of Montana, Western, at Dillon. He majored in education and took his first job at Ekalaka.
Since that time, he’s seen a lot of changes in high school basketball. One of the big differences is the time the players spend in the weight room. “The players are a lot stronger and more athletic than they used to be.”
Technology has changed the sport as well. Now many hours are spent pouring over film of other teams to spot weaknesses and develop strategies for teams. One other interesting fact about today’s’ technology as it relates to basketball teams: when Chambers first started coaching and the team was on the road and staying in a hotel, the coaches only had to make sure the televisions were turned off and the phones in the rooms were turned off; now they collect the team’s cell phones every night.
“Can you imagine what it’s like in the morning when all of their alarms go off,” he asked with a laugh. “We’re trying to find all of the plugins because they are all being charged, and every tone you can think of is going off.”
Another aspect is the time spent playing basketball in the summer. When he first began coaching, summer ball and AAU ball were not a part of the lingo. Although coaches can’t coach their teams at certain times of the postseason, most do put in a lot of miles going from tournament to tournament. Chambers has been fortunate that he has had good volunteer coaches that have helped with this.
In fact, his coaching mentors and helpers through the years have been a big influence on his life and coaching. He vividly remembers watching a tournament in St. Ignatius with his dad. Stevensville was playing and he said he couldn’t take his eyes off of one of the coaches whose antics were ‘something’. Little did he know that those two coaches – Jack Filcher and Terry Rosin – would be such an influence on him. When Chambers came to Stevensville, Filcher was coaching the junior high. Rosin coached at the junior high level, coached girls’ basketball and for the last 10 years or so, has been right at his side as an assistant for the boys’ team. It is Rosin that sometimes has to restrain the exuberant Chambers and be the voice of reason. It’s evident the two are close friends and bring out the best in their teams.
A couple of other coaches have also helped Chambers along the way. Lee Zeiler has been a volunteer with him for several years and often times takes the team during the summer games. ‘PeeWee’ spends a lot of time looking at film for Chambers as well.
And then there’s Coach Bob. Several years ago Chambers was approached by Bob Luoma to see if he could help with the team. At first, Chambers said he was reluctant to let him help. “I was a bit territorial to start with, but that man has more basketball knowledge than I have in my little finger.”
Soon Coach Bob was at most of the practices and games and looking at film for the team. When Chamber’s sons, Bridger and Boone, came along, Coach Bob told him “I’ll coach your kids, you coach the team.”
That was one of the best things to happen to both Chambers and his sons. It took the pressure off of the kids at home because basketball wasn’t talked about at the dinner table. Coach Bob took the two boys under his wing and created a couple of the best players around.
“One of the best things about coaching was the chance to have this experience with my kids,” said Chambers. “How many dads get that chance?”
Coach Bob was there for all of the teams. Although he wasn’t feeling well enough to make the trip to Billings for the state tournament, the first person Chambers called after winning the championship was Coach Bob.
Although the times have changed and technology has changed some of the coaching methods, the things that haven’t changed are the kids and the parents according to Chambers. He says you have to have committed players and parents that are willing to help the kids along the way.
“The players have to believe in the program. They come to practice every day for a chance to improve themselves, that part hasn’t changed.”
Now that he’s hung up is coaching whistle, he is looking for the next big project. In the meantime, he’ll continue teaching, painting houses and providing all of the firecrackers and smoke bombs he can around Western Montana prior to July 4th. (He owns Beijing Bob’s Fireworks stands.) He’ll do a lot of fishing and telling stories.
But is he done coaching? Well, he’ll only commit to saying he’s done coaching at Stevensville.
“I have a lot of unsolicited advise I’m going to be giving from here on out.”