IN A PROFESSION where so much is under the microscope, an unexpected text message on a Saturday in the offseason from one of your players could hold more dread than anything for a head coach. But on this autumn day, Ken Bone’s phone lit up with 13 words that made him smile.
“Thanks for the opportunity. Definitely a humbling experience. Would love to do again.”
It was a note from freshman forward Brett Boese, who was returning to Pullman from a basketball clinic in Lapwai, a humble town on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation, about 15 miles east of Lewiston.
He and teammates Royce Woolridge, Jordan Railey and Keaton Hayenga had gone down to help at the clinic at the request of Brad Meyers, a Cougar ballplayer from the George Raveling Era who is the development director of a chemical dependency treatment center for adolescent Native Americans.
“For college athletes, life is so structured that they can be sheltered on a college campus,” Bone said in an interview with Cougfan.com. “In a way, they’re not involved in what life is really about, so it’s important we make sure they are put in situations where they can see it’s not ‘about you’.”
So when Meyers contacted Bone about getting a few Cougs to Lapwai, the answer wasn’t just yes, but absolutely.
Indeed, the trip to Lapwai wasn’t an isolated instance of community outreach.
Every couple of weeks a group of Cougar players go to the Pullman Senior Center for lunch. The Cougars are also active in WSU’s Reading Buddies Program for elementary schoolers in Pullman. Each July, players head to Uniontown with paintbrushes and hammers as part of the Palouse Habitat for Humanity program. And just before this season began, the Cougs held a free hoops clinic on campus for area youngsters.
The list goes on.
“In sports, kids are groomed to work hard and be successful, and for the most part that’s all about themselves,” Bone says. “We motivate them to play, to start, to be the best they, as an individual, can be. But in the big scheme of things in between, it’s more important to learn to give than to take," Bone says.
He remembers his own playing days at Seattle Pacific University, when the team would be enlisted to do yard work for elderly people in the neighborhood. The value of that experience, which sometimes ran five or six hours in a day, was never lost.
“When I became a coach, it was natural to continue on that path,” he says.
BOESE SAID THE CLINIC in Lapwai was eye opening.
“It’s isolated and underprivileged, a tiny town with very small houses. It just puts into perspective many of the things we take for granted,” he said.
“The kids were so excited to see us. We talked and took pictures and signed autographs. They had millions of questions for us.
“Doing things for other people is a privilege. Being able to give back is something we are honored to do.”
For Bone, coaching is just part of a broader job.
“I’m in the business of education,” he says. “And part of that means going back to the community, personally, but also in trying to instill that idea into the hearts and minds of our players.”
The life lessons of the real world can translate directly to athletics, Bone says.
"In community service, our guys are giving to something bigger than themselves. They're learning about what it takes for our towns and cities to be better places. It's mutual care, support and love, and an investment in time and effort.
"They're learning that all the little things that help make a community stronger can also help make a team stronger."