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The Humann spirit

Steve Humann, former SOU men's basketball coach, has overcome life-altering disabilities to coach the Ashland High girls this winter

SHLAND ' Steve Humann is not your typical coach.

Nor is he your ordinary man.

Brain surgery gone wrong in December of 1982 has left Humann wheelchair-bound and with full use of only his left arm among his limbs.

He was the Southern Oregon University (then Southern Oregon State College) men's basketball coach of more than two years when dizzy spells led to a CAT scan that revealed a tumor at the base of his brain.

The tumor was diagnosed as life-threatening and in need of immediate attention, a prognosis that would later come into question.

Humann underwent surgery, and the operation went so poorly he fell into a coma for nearly four weeks.

Two more operations and a bout with pneumonia that nearly killed him later, Humann still faced a grueling battle to be able to function again in any facet.

He began intense therapy, which included learning to talk all over again, and how to deal with immense physical pain.

As the follies of the initial diagnosis and surgery came to light, Joyce Humann ' reluctantly, at first ' filed a &

36;10 million medical malpractice lawsuit on her husband's behalf in January of 1984. It was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount in May of 1986.

Steve Humann's exhaustive therapy lasted eight years.

That is the past.

This is the present.

With his Ashland High School girls varsity basketball team less than four hours away from a 7 p.m. tipoff for a home date with Klamath Union, Steve Humann occupies a motorized wheelchair in the living room of his comfortable Ashland home.

His wife of 28 years and youngest of three daughters, 21-year-old Megan, tend to grandson Tobias, 6 months new, in another room. Two other daughters ' Nikki, 33, and Katie, 24 ' live in Seattle and Portland, respectively.

Humann, 57, explains ' in a slow, measured voice dripping with wisdom and wit ' why he applied for the Grizzlies' job last spring.

They'd had three coaches in three years, Humann says. And I wanted to do it. It was an ego thing, too. There's never a coach without a big ego. My idea was to give them a coach that they knew and would be around through the years.

Humann has known nearly all of his players since they were in elementary school.

They grew up participating in the Ashland AAU program run by Humann.

The possibility of getting back on the court, back to coaching ' back to the game he always loved and the pursuit he always wanted, even as a child in Castro Valley, Calif. ' did not simmer within Humann during his recovery.

A return to coaching was never his aim.

The idea was for me to get as good as I could get, Humann says of the difficult years following that fateful winter of '82.

But in 1986, Humann was first lured back to coaching by family friend Joe Pedrojetti, who guided a Little League baseball team that Humann's middle daughter, Katie, played on.

Then, in 1988, Pedrojetti asked Humann to help out with Katie's YMCA basketball team.

The fire rekindled.

When Pedrojetti moved to Medford the next year, Humann took over as the team's head coach.

I thought it was great because I knew it was his passion, Joyce Humann says. (Before that) I teased him about hanging around the house so much.

As time passed, Humann's coaching commitments grew.

He became the patriarch of Ashland's girls basketball AAU program.

That's where current Grizzlies like seniors Marla Morin, Julia Sobolik and Chloe Hansen and sophomores Alysse Carlson and Hilary Huyett ' this year's varsity starters ' first met Humann.

What was their first impression when Humann showed up at their YMCA games, then extended invitations to join his AAU program?

In fifth grade, when you see a guy in a wheelchair with a speaker and he asks you to play on his team, you get kind of nervous, Morin recalls. So I was really, really nervous and scared, and didn't really know what to think. But I knew that he was respected in our community, so I was excited that he invited me to play on his team.

Humann still knew how to recruit, a skill he first honed as an assistant at San Francisco State and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, the colleges where he earned his undergraduate and master's degrees, respectively.

And although the kids initially struggled to understand their new mentor, whose re-learned voice then was not as polished as now, they quickly warmed to his knowledgeable, caring, winning direction.

At first, I was a little intimidated, says Sobolik, who joined Morin on a Humann-coached squad in sixth grade. But that didn't last long.

Humann's work with the fifth- through eighth-grade girls teams wasn't lost on an appreciative Ashland community.

When Humann applied for the Grizzlies' varsity opening last year, the public overwhelmingly supported him.

Ashland athletic director Jim Nagel said, upon hiring Humann last May, that he received well over 30 letters of recommendation, probably as many phone calls and a number of drop-ins endorsing Humann's bid.

A lot of people understand how much he's done to develop basketball among the younger kids, says Ross Coldwell, a 1966 Ashland graduate and longtime Grizzlies coach who is now Humann's top assistant. How many hours he's spent, how much time, how much care.

For the last few years, all the seniors, when asked who did the most for you as far as basketball, they'd all say Steve.

Humann's first task as Ashland's new girls basketball head coach was to assemble a staff.

Coldwell, a longtime friend who attended the same church, was an easy choice as his top aide.

Then Humann talked to former SOU women's head coach Shirley Huyett and asked if she could recommend any other potential assistants. She pointed him toward Melissa Core and Tara Murphy, both of whom completed their Raider playing careers last year.

Core and Murphy, both pursuing MATs (master's of art and teaching) at SOU, agreed and now serve as co-coaches of the Grizzlies' JV team as well as assistants for the varsity.

I really rely on my assistants, Humann says. I can tell (the players); I cannot show them.

Physical limitations may force Humann to depend on his staff, but he says he learned long ago, after enduring frustration as an unused assistant himself, that coaches are there to coach, not watch and keep quiet.

Humann also relies upon friends, of which Ashland's citizen of the year for 2000 has many, to help him tackle the rigors of his daily life.

With tonight's game creeping close to three hours away, Randy Carlson, the father of Grizzlies point guard Alysse, appears at the Humann household. He is one of the dads that have befriended Humann and taken turns helping him get around through the years.

If it wasn't for (players' fathers and other friends), I'd be kind of stuck, Humann says.

As the clock strikes 4 p.m., Humann maneuvers the joystick on the left arm of his wheelchair to move through the kitchen and into the garage.

The Chevy Red-E-Kamp van outfitted for Humann's traveling needs awaits, and Carlson uses the motorized lift to load Humann inside.

It's a 10-minute ride through invigorating winter sunshine and surprising side-street traffic before the van pulls up in front of the Ashland High gym.

A wiring default with the lift complicates Humann's unloading process. After a 10-minute holdup, Carlson solves the problem, and Humann's wheels touch asphalt.

The coach makes his way to a back door, which Carlson pushes open from the inside.

Humann moves up a carpeted ramp, into the bright gymnasium and across the court to the southeast corner.

I like to get down here early; that's just a typical coach, Humann says.

Then, with his trademark good-humor, he adds, Ross will get things set up. I just kinda sit here and grin.

Murphy and Core come over to find out how many quarters Humann wants the reserves who also play JV to be available for in the varsity game. Each athlete can play in a maximum of five quarters between the JV and varsity games.

Sophomore post Abeni Hill then approaches, tugging at a broken drawstring on her warmup pants.

You never know what's gonna happen, Humann quips.

As Humann pores over the Klamath Union scouting report ' to augment tape he's already watched ' put together by Robbin McCormick for the umpteenth time, Pelicans head coach John Riggs, athletic director Nagel and Huyett, who serves as a consultant and stat-keeper, are among those to visit.

Soon, the JV game begins.

I watch it for enjoyment, says Humann, who takes notes on those Pelicans who will suit up for varsity. You can tell sometimes what the varsity's gonna do by watching the JVs.

With 5 minutes, 42 seconds remaining in the JV game, and 45 minutes to go until varsity tipoff, Humann heads to the band room, which is just a few feet behind his corner perch.

The varsity Grizzlies trickle in, Humann quickly gets them focused.

When we walk in here, let's make sure we're thinking about what's going on, he says.

He proceeds to talk through every player's defensive responsibilities.

Sobolik and Morin ' who, along with Hansen, constitute the team's senior class ' speak as well.

Everyone is very guarded about overlooking KU, which is winless in Southern Oregon Conference at 0-8 entering the contest.

Do you wanna be the first that they've beat? asks Humann, panning the room. You're too good to let that happen. You've been too good since the fifth grade.

And remember that. You're too good.

A cheer of intensity sends Ashland out the door.

The JV game ends in a 48-45 Grizzlies victory, and Core and Murphy reconvene with Coldwell and Humann.

The scoreboard clock shows less than 19 minutes remain until game time when, across the court from Humann's corner, the Ashland players huddle and sway as they repeat Ashland, Ashland with increasing volume and speed.

Eminem's Lose Yourself pipes in through the sound system as the Grizzlies run on the floor.

Humann motors to midcourt and across, then goes in reverse to back into his spot at the end of the Ashland bench.

Terms like low-key, understanding, and patient describe Humann's coaching style, according to those involved with the Grizzlies.

There was a time when fiery and even hot-headed painted Humann's coaching persona.

His wife says he first gained that reputation, coaching-wise, during his six years as an assistant at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. ' the job that launched him into the SOU men's position beginning in 1980.

But the roots are deeper than that.

He's a redhead, Joyce Humann says. And Irish.

Steve Humann chuckles when remembering his sideline antics.

I was pretty animated, he says. I'm probably a better teacher now. ... The chair will give you patience. And, of course, the Lord gives you what you need.

Coldwell first met Humann when he coached the Raiders, going 20-64 during his short stint.

He was intense, Coldwell says. He's still intense, but in a different way.

Humann, who wears a headset that works in unison with a cordless speaker to resonate his voice during games, doesn't appear to say much during games.

But appearances can be deceiving.

He tells us what plays and defenses to run and makes all the subs, Morin says. Even though he's quiet, he definitely runs the show.

The game begins slowly, from Ashland's perspective.

With 3:42 left in the first quarter and the Grizzlies yet to lead, Humann makes his first substitution, summoning freshman guard Jamie Roupp into the action.

Roupp responds with an immediate 3-pointer to tie the score at 9-all.

the end of the quarter, Ashland holds a 16-11 edge.

The Grizzlies build their lead during the second quarter, but when Hill is stripped of the ball and Ashland whistled for an ensuing foul under its own hoop late in the half, Humann is all over it.

She's getting killed! he tells the referee.

At halftime, the Grizzlies' cushion is 35-22, but Humann is worried.

You cannot let up, he reminds his players, sitting in front of him back in the band room. You cannot let up.

His attention switches to Morin, the star post who picked up two fouls and had to spend the final minutes of the half on the bench.

Dumb foul, he says of the second infraction, called on a reach-in after the Pelicans secured a defensive rebound. Your mother's going nuts in the stands.

Ashland returns to the court and Humann gets back into his spot, the wheelchair reclining back for more comfort and a headrest adding cushion.

His head swivels from end to end to follow the action, but that's about the extent of his movement.

The Grizzlies quickly begin pounding KU and roll to a 60-31 lead through three quarters.

As all the reserves play in the final period, Humann is coaching as much as ever.

Ariel! Ariel! he shouts at sophomore forward Ariel Badenhop after one sequence.

Then softer, Get the shot off. Quicker.

A 73-40 victory boosts Ashland's league record to 7-2 and keeps it tied for second place in the SOC.

Good work, Humann says in the postgame huddle.

It's evident Humann positively affects many people in his day-to-day life.

His kind words and quick humor attract smiles from everyone ' players, parents and Grizzlies ball girls alike.

His passion makes an indelible impression.

The biggest thing is how dedicated he is, Sobolik says. Even when I was young, I could see how much he cares. He shows what it is to truly love a sport and truly love what you're doing. I've learned that from him.

Despite what many would classify as grand misfortune, Humann lets no bitterness, no self-pity dampen his spirit.

It's something the Lord gave me, he says. I'm a Christian man, and a strong Christian man. And this chair, you have to understand, this chair is where the good Lord wants me.

I'm doing more good in this chair than I would have been outside it. And getting more fulfillment.

Reach reporter Tim Pyle at 776-4483 or e-mail

Ashland head coach Steve Humann watches his team play against Klamath Union along with assistant coaches Melissa Core, right, and Ross Coldwell. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli