By Jon R. LaFollette
“It’s freezing outside,” Xavier Ringo, a Brownsburg High School sophomore says.
Joshua Kendrick, without hesitation, answers with a line delivered so smoothly, it’s as if he’s been rehearsing it his whole life, waiting for the proper moment to unleash it.
“Actually, it’s 45 (degrees). Freezing is 32.”
Today marks the end of Hell Week, a series of workouts designed to instill physical and mental toughness into those looking to earn a spot on the Brownsburg High School boys’ basketball team.
This morning, as a grand finale, Kendrick, the Bulldog’s head coach since 2004, his assistant coaches and a loose collection of prospective players are about to cap off a week of scrimmages and sprints, with a race between three teams as they push cars through a loosely sketched track outlined by orange cones in the school parking lot. The teams must complete five laps, losers run a mile.
A light rain intensifies a chilly October atmosphere, the sun has yet to show any sign of rising, the parking lot glistens in a lonely light beaming down from a tower used for band rehearsals, and the players are still fighting off an acute sense of drowsiness, but Kendrick is already plotting the details of an eventual victory with his team.
“Where are we going to push?”
“In the middle,” his team replies.
“In the middle,” he echoes.
And off they go, grunting behind a Toyota Camry, outgunning the opposing team’s Chevy Impala early on. But by the halfway point, his boys are tired and short of breath, with Kendrick himself panting heavily. Yet, always in coach mode, he reassures his kids and completes the task at hand.
“We’re almost there guys. Second wind. Second wind!”
By 7 a.m. he’s hit the showers and transformed from Coach K to Mr. Kendrick, a freshmen level English teacher. An hour later he’s a student simply known as Joshua as he discusses the logistics of a board meeting he intends to visit as part of a masters program he is currently enrolled with Brownsburg High School Principal Bret Daghe. He then reverts back to Mr. Kendrick and inquires on a door key for his student teacher, before morphing once again to Coach Kendrick as he plans a season’s worth of bus scheduling for the team’s away games.
Kendrick keeps the day’s itinerary, and goals, on a three by five inch note card with the phrase “self-discipline” written on the back.
“I read an article yesterday that said for every minute you spend planning, you save ten times that amount. So the cards are a new feature,” he said.
With all of his professional activities, as well as being a husband and father of two, Kendrick balances both worlds seemingly with ease. Not once during his 12 hour work day does he show any sign of fatigue, nor insinuate it verbally. Constantly on the go, Kendrick transitions from task to task blissfully in the moment, striving to make not only himself, but others, a better person.
Raised just outside of New Castle, Indiana, Kendrick’s love of basketball was something initially fostered as a means of retreat.
“There were times growing up where my parents fought a lot,” he said. “And basketball, as a way of being an escape, gave me time to get away and make some new friends.”
However, the game transitioned into something much bigger for Kendrick while attending games at New Castle Chrysler High School, and watching future Indiana basketball legend Steve Alford play to a packed house in the school’s massive 10,000 seat gymnasium.
“I was eight years old… I was there for (Alford’s) first game and the team was losing. I remember the crowd started booing him.”
Yet the sheer enormity of the event clicked with something inside him, and he knew, even then, he wanted to be a part of the game.
Kendrick took his passion for basketball to Wabash College, where he helped his team win a conference championship in 1996, before graduating with an English degree the following year.
“I am probably the worst player who ever played there,” he said. “I won the most improved player award two years in a row. I was that bad.”
However, even before Kendrick’s time as a player would run out, he had already begun making the transition to coaching, beginning in high school when he was given the opportunity to coach a fourth grade team through the Amateur Athletic Union, a national non-profit group which promotes physical fitness and development in sports.
“I was horrible, but the parents were understanding,” he said.
After college, Kendrick went home to Blue River Valley High School teach and coached as a varsity assistant. From there he served as head coach for the Tri-County High School team, and as an assistant coach for Kokomo High School before finally arriving at Brownsburg.
His greatest moment on the sidelines came in 2008, when he and the Bulldogs went on an unprecedented run to a state championship after defeating Marion in a thrilling win which came down to the final seconds as, future Butler University standout, Gordon Hayward tossed up a last second layup, giving the team a 40-39 win.
But before the big game that day, Kendrick pondered just what the outcome would mean for him.
“I was driving around and just started thinking to myself, ‘I’m still going to sleep in the same bed, wearing the same pajamas, wake up and go do the same job I’ve always done,’” he said.
But win the game he did, and with it came a call from his Alma Mater, along with the possibility of coaching a college basketball team. As tempting as the proposition was, Kendrick decided to stay for the benefit of his family, as well as his life in the classroom. The thought of sitting in an office, removed from the kids he hopes to impact, didn’t sit well with him.
For Kendrick, success isn’t defined by wins, losses and statistics. It’s in the people he can leave a legacy with, and gain inspiration from, both on and off the court.
Throughout the day, Kendrick will at times quote a book, or an article he has read about self-improvement, time management, or the concept of team work. The bookshelves in his classroom are littered with similar reading material, and sit alongside standard reads like The Giver, and Animal Farm for students to read.
For him, the journey is never over, and stagnation is not an option. Always optimistic and self-assured, he remains humble with an “aw-shucks” Hoosier demeanor, and an instinct to deflect credit to those who have helped him throughout his career. Those who meet Kendrick initially are hard pressed not to be won over by the wholehearted generosity of his personality.
“Coach K wants the best for, and out, of everyone,” says Zach Miller, a junior looking for a spot on the team. “His enthusiasm is a constant.”
After the final bell tolls, releasing students for the remainder of the day, it’s time for one more scrimmage to attend at an elementary school across the street, meaning another round of player evaluations for Kendrick.
As kids rotate on and off the court, sprinting up and down, and trying to make any sort of play in an attempt to stand out among the crowd, Kendrick stands off to the side, with his eyes narrowed, noticing every detail.
“I’m looking for four good players to put on a court with that kid.”
That kid is freshman K.J. Walton, who has just grabbed his own rebound, and banked in a layup off the glass, winning the round of scrimmage for his team.
When he calls everyone to center court, he praises the good (team work, making those around you better), and makes the players aware of the improvements which still need to be made (shooting, ball handling). He singles out those who attended every Hell Week practice and thanks them for their dedication before turning to Micah Whetsone, returning for his senior season. Kendrick uses Whetstone as an example of cherishing the moment, growing as a person and being a leader.
“It’s not about climbing the mountain,” he says. “It’s about who you take with you.”
Wetstone begins to become emotional, trying his best to fight back tears.
“He pushes us to do better than better,” Whetstone says. “He’s a father figure.”
As Kendrick makes the lengthy walk back to his office in the same rain which had fallen during the team’s morning drills, he comments on Whetstone’s emotions during practice.
“That’s what it’s all about.”
What exactly “it” is could be a variety of things; coaching, teaching, being a father, life. For him it’s all one mission, one goal, one item on a note card waiting to be completed and marked off, or a seemingly insurmountable mountain, waiting to be conquered.