Everyone loves some friendly competition—especially in the ACE community house in Corpus Christi, Texas, when three community members coached two competing teams during the middle school basketball season.
ACE 25’s Jack Feger, a science teacher at St. Anthony’s School and head coach of the boys’ basketball team, squared off against ACE 24’s Johnny Kunst, a fifth-grade teacher and head coach at Sts. Cyril and Methodius School. Mitch Coughlin (ACE 24) coaches alongside Kunst, although he teaches fifth grade at St. Anthony’s.
Coughlin explained that his decision to coach at Sts. Cyril and Methodius was ultimately an effort to help out a friend, as Kunst was slated to coach 30 boys unassisted.
“Even though it wasn't my school, I felt an obligation to help a community member of mine, especially one who was a close friend,” he said. “Since I helped coach last year and developed great relationships with the players and parents, I decided it was a no brainer to help coach again this year.”
Feger explained that the three teachers were aware of their teams’ relative talent levels well before the game.
“My team has a few sixth graders, while Johnny's team only had up to fifth grade, so my team had a bit of an unfair advantage from the beginning,” he recalled.
“My kids are much more interested in having fun with their friends than winning basketball championships, and at this age, that's how it should be,” he said.
Coughlin said the experience was a blend of many emotions, including friendly banter leading up to the game. Kunst acknowledged a pattern of teasing throughout the season, explaining that the two teams had faced each other earlier in the season, leading to a 28-2 victory for St. Anthony.
“After the first game, I came home and joked with Jack that he was a jerk for running up the score against a team two years younger than his team,” Kunst said.
Kunst explained that his team took the 26-13 loss during the second game as a personal victory due to the large emphasis that Kunst places on growth mindset. He fondly recalled an interaction between one of his players and Feger.
Kunst acknowledged the skill discrepancy as well, noting the teams’ different priorities.
“I am a huge growth mindset guy, and Jack is not as much, so I have used him in class as an example of a fixed mindset,” he said. “During the postgame handshakes one of my players asked Jack why he has a fixed mindset, which Jack told me about at home and we laughed hysterically,” Kunst chuckled.
Anna Busse, another ACE 24 member of the Corpus Christi community, and a sixth- and eighth-grade social studies teacher at Bishop Garriga Middle School, described the competition as a mutual exchange on par with the household’s general atmosphere.
“There's always been a bit of healthy competition in our house, whether it's about sports or Bachelor contestants or who comes from the best home state,” she said. “Jack likes to poke fun at Mitch for coaching the other team, and Jack's team is better so that's a point of contention, too.”
Coughlin described the lighthearted discomfort of the situation as a point of tension between his two loyalties.
“I felt awkward walking into the gym watching the parents stare at me and having to feel obligated to coach for SSCM while also cheer for St. Anthony,” Coughlin recalled. “It was funny, at one point the Principal from SSCM joked about me cheering for St. Anthony: ‘Mitch, you're coaching our kids, not theirs!’”
Ultimately, the teachers put their students above all else, sacrificing competition in the name of good, clean basketball. Coughlin joked that the story may have been different had the men been directly competing against one another.
On the scoreboard, Feger delivered with a victory for St. Anthony, which brought their record to 2-1. Coughlin reflected upon the game as a nearly-ideal outcome.
“I was happy because my St. Anthony students got the win, and my SSCM boys played their best game in the two years Johnny and I have coached them,” he said. “In a sense, it felt like a win-win situation.”
The St. Anthony head coach concluded with a playful comment about the game.
“The house was normal afterwards–the results of the game were expected. It's hard to take fifth and sixth grade basketball too seriously!” Feger said.
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