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A Lesson Related

At 6’8”, Dean Kriebel is an imposing figure as he stalks the sidelines. While a basketball court is a familiar surrounding for the former Lock Haven University standout who earned a tryout with the Philadelphia 76ers, his new role as seventh-grade coach for the South Williamsport Mountaineers reengages him with the game he loves while at the same time presenting an opportunity to teach more than basketball to the youngsters on his team.

Kriebel’s hoop expertise helped guide the fledgling Mountaineers to a winning season. More importantly, his influence and life experiences in teaching his young charges the importance of preparing for the game of life long after their basketball playing days are over.

An avid storyteller, Kriebel often engaged his players with tales from his playing days interspersed with conversations with his players about things going on in their lives and what they might like to do after their high school days were done. In response to a question about his job, the retired Allenwood correctional officer took the opportunity to relate a particular story about a one-time prisoner whose personal desire to turn his life around left an impressionable message on his young charges.

The former inmate, Adam Clausen, was a standout junior high and high school basketball player in southern New Jersey. His love of the game far outdistanced his desire for schoolwork. Despite his proven athletic ability, his high school asked him to leave due to his disruptive attitude and negative influence on those around him. Running with the wrong crowd, Clausen took to the streets, and a downward spiral soon found him serving 2 ½ years in state prison for drug-related activities.

Upon his release, he found employment with a general contractor, but his criminal conviction hindered his opportunities for advancement or landing a better job. Impatient and disgruntled, he again yielded to the temptations of the street and his next two years consisted of booze, drugs, partying, and a series of armed robberies to support his downward spiraling lifestyle.

Although he was never caught committing these crimes, eventually, “his friends,” under police pressure, turned him in. He was convicted for his various crimes and received a 213-year sentence, which landed him at Allenwood and a surprise meeting with Kriebel.

One day in the recreation yard, Clausen approached Kriebel and asked if he remembered him. Guarded and suspicious, Kriebel turned him away. In a later conversation, Clausen related that he had been a ball boy for one of the semi-pro teams Kriebel had played for in the Philadelphia area. Kriebel then began to notice that Clausen seemed different than other inmates. He was articulate, staying away from the prison gang elements, continually seeking out educational opportunities, and counseling other inmates on ways to improve themselves.

After serving 20 years in federal prison, a judge agreed to review Clausen’s case. The resulting appeal gave him his freedom. For the past few years, he has used his knowledge by being employed by an organization whose mission is to help other released prisoners improve their lives and gain meaningful employment.

Using Clausen’s story as motivation for his players, Kriebel reached out to see if Clausen would be willing to share his story with the team. The 45-year-old readily agreed, and a zoom conference was soon established. Gathered around a computer in the school cafeteria, 17 junior high athletes were mesmerized as Clausen recounted his life story, relating how his love for basketball was destroyed by a negative attitude towards school and the bad decisions that followed.

He told the players about the degrading experience of entering a federal prison, the prison gangs, the individual daily fight for survival, life in a small cell, loss of contact with the outside world, and the deprivation of life’s little things that we all take for granted. As he talked, he held up an orange telling the players he always keeps one on his desk because, for 20 years, he wasn’t able to walk to the refrigerator and get one any time he wanted.

Particularly chilling was his recounting of how he spent the day of the 9/11 attacks on our country.

As the result of a prison fight, he was sentenced to several days “in the hole,” which he described as a prison inside a prison. Like so many other Americans on that day, despite his circumstances, patriotism swelled within him, followed by frustration that he was unable to do anything about it. On that day, he realized what he had done to himself and vowed to do whatever he could to turn his life around.

The players asked Clausen several questions, and he responded to each, not in a lecturing way but with an honestly that seemed to hit home with the players.

As the session ended and the players were about to return to practice, Clausen told them. “Have a good practice. If I were able to come watch you, I would be looking for one thing; which of you are giving 100% of your effort to the game. Not everyone can be a star, but everyone can give the game the best effort you possibly can. If I would have done that, I wouldn’t have gotten into all the trouble I did.”

It is not always words from the coach that can lead a player into the game of life!

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