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Meyer thankful for crash that changed his life

July 20, 2009

The all-time winningest men's college basketball coach is ... Don Meyer of Northern State.

It is a Division II school in Aberdeen, S.D.

He is a 1967 graduate of Northern Colorado, where he played basketball and baseball. He started his coaching career in 1972 at Hamline University, then spent 24 seasons at Lispcomb University in Nashville, Tenn. Meyer was twice selected the NAIA Coach of the Year and led the Bison to the 1986 national championship.

Since taking over at Northern State in 1999, the Wolves had seven straight 20-win seasons.

Last season the Wolves lost six of their last seven to finish at 19-11.

If you happened to watch the ESPY Awards Sunday night, you know the story. He was awarded the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, which went to former North Carolina State women's basketball coach Kay Yow in 2007 and former Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett last year.

But, it should be repeated and so I will.

Meyer was behind the wheel in a car by himself leading the team caravan to a hunting lodge for an annual retreat last Sept. 5.

According to published reports, the vehicle he was driving abruptly crossed the center line on a two-lane highway after the coach apparently fell asleep and the car was hit on the left side by an oncoming semi-truck and skidded into a ditch. Assistant coaches and team members rushed to his aid.

"He was making some crazy sounds because he got the wind knocked out of him times a million," fifth-year senior Kevin Ratzsch said of the accident. "We were holding his hand, keeping him fighting because he was wanting to call it quits, but he kept fighting."

Multiple operations followed in a hospital 200 miles from home to remove Meyer's spleen, repair cracked ribs and deal with a mangled left leg that later was amputated below the knee.

During his hospital stay, Meyer lost 20 pounds and went through rehabilitation to rebuild his strength and learn how to move with a walker or in a wheelchair.

Meyer calls the accident a blessing.


Because without it, doctors probably would never detected the slow-moving cancer growing inside of him when they opened him up during the emergency surgery.

Northern State Athletic Director Bob Olson read a statement from the coaching during a news conference held one week after the accident:

"It is now 10 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 12. My trauma surgeon, David Strand, just told me they found carcinoid cancer in my liver and small bowels. The cancer was discovered during the emergency surgery after my wreck on Sept. 5. What's great about this is I would not have known about the cancer had I not had the wreck.

"God has blessed me with the one thing we all need which is truth. I can now fight with all of my ability. What I now ask is that everybody who believes in God would praise him for this discovery and pray to Him to give me the strength, patience and peace to be a man of God on this journey.

"I am looking forward to coaching this season and am forever thankful to my team who saved my life and the coaching staff who has stepped up to the plate."

He was in the hospital for almost two months. One day after his dismissal, he was at practice at 5 a.m. and, five days later, accompanied the team to exhibition games at Minnesota and Purdue.

Four months after the accident, Meyer was on the sidelines, wheelchair and all, when Northern State defeated the University of Mary, 82-62, to earn him his 903rd career victory, one more than Bob Knight.

He now has 910 wins.

But, his greatest one came off the court.

Here are a few of Meyer's quotes that I picked up along the way.

"Shared suffering: one guy messes up and everyone runs. One guy does well and everyone benefits."

"Players who are late say that their time is more important than the team."

"Successful programs consist of people working hard, working together, while never worrying about who gets the credit."

"When the legs go, the heart and the head follow quickly behind."

"Every day you teach attitude."

I have decided that next summer I am going to put together a 4- and 5-year-old T-Ball all-star travel team.

I will coach and moms and dads will have no say in who gets picked.

I promise to take nap times into consideration when we travel a couple of hours away to play a 45-minute game.

But ...

I do not lose. I am a winner. I do not tolerate losing.

I will not tolerate errors and any kid that makes a mistake on the basepaths will take a seat on the bench.

If I do not see an outfielder layout for every fly ball that is close to their glove, they will also sit next to me on the bench. I mean, there is no reason not to try to catch every thing hit to the outfield. You touch it, you catch it.

And, if you dive for the ball, you better keep it in front of you like a good outfielder and do not let it roll to the fence.

We will have four two-hour practices a week.

You miss any practice for any reason, you sit the bench. No play dates. No pool parties. No naps. No jungle gyms. No parks. No playing with puppies.

I will not tolerate losing. I hate losing and want no part of it.

The kids will know that I am a winner.

I expect all players to be in the perfect position when a ball is to be relayed from the outfield and all players in the correct positions to back up throws to any base.

I will not tolerate losing.

I expect each player to be ready each time a ball is put on the tee - hands out, butts down. I expect the outfielders not to be out there picking dandelions and infielders ready to turn two when a sharply hit ground ball gets anywhere near them.

No playing with ant hills or making them.

All kids are to make the proper turns around the bases with the appropriate arc rounding those bases.

I will not tolerate losing.

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at

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