One word dictated direction of basketball star's career

Courtesy of St. Louis University
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Scott Highmark
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Scott Highmark would not have been a member of St. Louis University's Billiken Hall of Fame if it had not been for a three-letter word from his new coach, Charlie Spoonhour -- fun.

Highmark's basketball experiences had been focused mostly on winning and losing, and he'd been on the winning side until his freshman year at SLU. The team started out 5-5 and ended up 5-23. The coach, Rich Grawer, whose son was Highmark's best friend and roommate, was fired after that season. Highmark was ready to transfer to Mizzou until he sat down with the new coach, Spoonhour.

"He said, 'We're going to make this fun. It's a game. I want to bring that same spirit you had in high school,'" Highmark said, quoting the coach.

Those words were inspiring enough that Highmark, whose college career spanned from 1992-95, stayed at SLU. He begin to focus on having fun, and the results weren't too shabby

After a sub-.500 season, the team went to the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years. Highmark poured in 1,663 points during his career, making him the fifth-best scorer in the history of the program. He was a second-team All-Great Midwest Conference selection in 1994. A two-time GTE Academic All-American, he also won the Champion NIT Student-Athlete award in 1993.

Now a senior vice president with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in St. Louis and a part-time broadcaster, Highmark was the keynote speaker at the St. Louis Youth Sports Summit Jan. 14 at Maryville University presented by the St. Louis Sports Commission's Sportsmanship Initiative.

He explained that he didn't always have the best attitude, noting that his coach at Parkway West, Bill Sodemann, had to point out to him how his expressions on the court displayed a poor attitude toward his teammates and referees

Highmark noted how coaches, parents and athletes can take steps to promote the spirit of sportsmanship and that experience will help them on and off the playing field.

"I can't think of another conduit better to teach life lessons," he said, noting that sports helps in areas of competition, discipline, sacrifice, accountability and trust, integrity, perseverance, friendship, teamwork and pride.

Highmark, a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, has three daughters, including one who was playing basketball that day on a team from Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church in the Catholic Youth Apostolate's CYC sport program. He said he is teaching his children to have fun in sports and that "all you can do is the best you can do with what God gave you."

Children, parents and coaches need reminders that berating officials is wrong and that they shouldn't blame them for the outcomes of games, Highmark explained.. For parents and coaches, he said, "the best thing to do is to be encouraging. Tell (the children) you're proud. Be inspiring."

He admitted that the role as a parent is difficult, with a temptation to overschedule children in organized sports and to take the youth sports too seriously. Too many children quit playing sports because they are not having fun, he added.

Mark Schreiber of the St. Louis Sports Commission said the summit is intended to help adults present positive sports experience for youths so they can stay active and live healthier, happier lives.

For information on the commission and its sportsmanship summit, see stlsports.org.

Baseball clinic

WHAT: A "Coach it Right" baseball clinic, free to baseball and softball coaches and parents, led by SLUH coach Steve Nicollerat

WHEN: 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 3

WHERE: St. Louis University High School, Danis Field House

HOST: The St. Louis Sports Commission and SLUH.

REGISTER: See stlsportsmanship.org or call (314) 345-5130. 

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