The shutdown of the federal government forced three basketball teams in Kentucky to nix games that were scheduled for Monday night.
The boys’ and girls’ basketball teams at Fort Knox and the girls’ basketball team at Fort Campbell could not play because the U.S. Senate last week was unable to pass a funding proposal, forcing a shutdown of the federal government at midnight Friday. The Senate on Monday voted to end a filibuster of a short-term funding bill that was expected to precipiate the end of the shutdown.
But that wasn’t soon enough for Fort Knox, which had to cancel boys’ and girls’ home games against Valley, and Fort Campbell, which had to reschedule a road game at Christian Fellowship to this Friday.
“We were supposed to play today and we’re not,” Fort Knox boys’ coach Kip Rambo said in a phone interview with the Herald-Leader.
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The teams at those institutions — both of which are managed by the Deparment of Defense Education Activity, a civililian agency — can not play games or host organized practices during a shutdown. Field trips and other extracurriculur activities are suspended as well. The only interaction coaches can have with their players is in the classroom.
A shutdown throws another wrench into the mix for coaches who already have to deal with circumstances that are unique to the military schools.
“I can’t speak intelligently as to why we can’t practice, but I just found out I couldn’t practice about two hours ago myself from my athletic director,” Fort Knox girls’ coach David Armes told the Herald-Leader. “I knew the game might be off because you can’t pay the bus drivers and you can’t pay the refs, but then I was told I can’t practice until it’s over.”
A recent wave of snow days cost Fort Knox practice and game time, Armes said, so getting into a routine and helping his girls stay motivated has been difficult.
“If it went long-term, I don’t know what we’d do,” Armes said of the shutdown. “We’d probably just play district games whenver it stopped and that’s it. And that would be really devastating to the girls. They’ve worked hard and deserve to play some games where they have a chance.”
Rambo said this is the first time he’s had to go through a federal shutdown during basketball season. He called it a “teachable opportunity as far as civics goes” for his players, several of whom deal with the stress of constantly moving, having a parent deployed overseas or becoming members of a single-parent family “not by choice.”
Basketball becomes a familiar outlet for those students that don’t have much else to cling to on campus. It’s not “just basketball” for them.
“For some of these kids, myself and my assistant coaches, we’re their dads in many cases. That contact with them, it’s really, really important for them,” Rambo said. “I’m sure it feels that way for any coach, but it might be even more critical here that they have that influence.”
When he saw some of them in the classroom earlier Monday, he encouraged them to take it upon themselves to get in the gym and do as much as they can to teach themselves for as long as the shutdown was ongoing.
“It certainly provides them with some autonomy, although without the structure they need,” Rambo said. “But my kids will do that, because just like any other kid they want to find out how good they can be.”
Because of the constant re-shuffling of rosters due to the moving in and out of players, the military schools don’t get to build team chemistry with one another over the course of five or six years like other programs. Rambo likened himself to University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari.
“I’m kind of like Coach Cal without getting to choose my talent,” he said with a laugh.