Game of love

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
It’s one thing to be the wife of a college basketball coach. It’s another to be the mother of three sons who play or have played college basketball.

But it’s rare for a woman to be the wife of her sons’ college coach.

Meet Janette Brubacher, wife of Tabor College coach Don Brubacher and mother of Scott, who played four years at Tabor before graduating in 2003, and Grant and Andy, key contributors to this year’s team.

Walking the tightrope between being a supportive wife of a coach and a loving mother of athletes requires the balance of a circus entertainer.

“It’s nerve racking,” Janette said of her dual roles. “At times it’s very exciting and fun, but it’s also very stressful. It has its ups and downs.”

No one appreciates how she handles the challenge more than the coach himself.

“I would have given up coaching a long time ago if I didn’t have a wife who supported me in this profession,” Don said. “I wouldn’t be coaching if I hadn’t had that support at home because the job is really more difficult than most people imagine.”

Having just celebrated their 29th wedding anniversary, Don and Janette met while they were students at Tabor College.

Since 1978, Don has coached the Bluejays to 352 wins, 12 conference championships and post-season play in 19 of his 22 years.

Through it all, Janette, who works as a student support coordinator at Hillsboro High School, is a beacon of light for her husband, whose profession is often clouded by stress.

The first 17 years of Don’s tenure at Tabor were comparatively simple because Don was the only family member connected to the team.

But when Scott enrolled at Tabor after graduating from HHS, her life as a coach’s wife changed dramatically.

“I’ve tried harder, since the kids started playing for Don, to make a conscious effort to be a ‘mom’ more than a ‘coach’s wife,'” Janette said. “I know there’s only a few years left for me to watch them play, and I don’t want to miss out on that.

“When my children play I know it’s a game,” she added. “I know they’re not always perfect, and that’s OK. But when you coach, it’s a job, and in order to keep your job you have to win. With the kids playing, I have both dynamics going at once.”

Janette said she can’t forget the advice of a family friend years ago: Don’t get hung up on winning and losing and forget to enjoy watching your kids play.

“Now that the last one only has a couple of years left, that really hits home,” she said.

Janette said she regrets that her husband can’t enjoy their sons’ athletic prowess in the same way she can.

“Even though he’s present at all the games, he doesn’t get to sit back and enjoy the 3-point shot to put the team ahead, or watch them make free throws to give Tabor the lead,” she said. “He’s busy setting up the defense and planning the strategy for the final 10 seconds.

“I feel he misses out on the joy of what they accomplish on the floor.”

Janette’s dual role is further complicated when a game ends with mixed results.

“Our kids can have a really good game, and I can enjoy that,” she said. “But yet if the team doesn’t win, I hurt for them and for Don, too. The kids hurt in a loss just like their dad because, just like him, they’re very competitive.”

On the other hand, a game can result in a win for the team but a sub-par night for their kids. That creates a very different dynamic.

“He’s made comments about mistakes our sons have made in a game, and that’s hard for me to hear even though I know he’s the coach,” she said.

“I want to be supportive of our children, so I’m sure that’s got to be difficult for Don, too. He can’t always be the supportive dad because he has to be the coach.”

When Don added the job of athletic director several years ago, the stress increased.

“I know that having 16 sports to manage-dealing with coaches, budgets, scheduling and issues with players and athletes in other sports-along with all that’s involved in coaching his own sport makes it really tough,” she said.

The success of Tabor’s basketball program during Don’s tenure adds to the pressure, Janette said.

“His expectations increase and the expectations for his program increase because he’s won so much in the past,” she said.

“Last year we started 0-6 and people said ‘Don will turn it around’-which makes you feel good, but that also puts that much more pressure on him to win. The highs aren’t as high anymore and the lows seem to be lower.”

But the fact her husband coaches at Tabor College has been a blessing to the couple, she added.

“What’s amazing to me is that in all the years he’s coached, the Tabor crowd has been so supportive,” she said. “I can’t remember a time when I’ve heard people say negative things about Don.

“Sure, there are times when everybody in the stands, me included, wonders why he put a certain player in or why he did something. But I tend not to ask questions because I know he had a good reason.

“I definitely don’t give Don any coaching advice,” she added with a laugh. “I just see myself as being a support to Don-somebody who will listen to him when he needs to talk to somebody.”

Don said she handles her roles flawlessly.

“As a coach’s wife, she’s there to be supportive and to try to put up with my bad moods,” he said. “That’s always been her role, but she’s trying to balance that and being a player’s mother and just enjoy the opportunity to watch her sons play.

“It’s very hard for her to separate the two-and she can’t completely, of course. But she does recognize this is a special time for her to watch her sons play, so she’s making an effort to do that.”

Adding to the couple’s stress this season has been Don’s battle against cancer-a battle, thankfully, he seems to be winning.

“Anytime you face a life-threatening illness like that, it puts a different perspective on everything,” she said. “It has caused us to focus more on God’s grace and His purpose for our lives.

“We are forced to realize the need to slow down and appreciate God’s blessings each day,” she added. “It hasn’t changed his intensity or his desire to win, but it has changed his energy level.

“The same tenacity that makes him a good coach also helped him fight through this,” she said. “Our church family, Tabor colleagues and the Hillsboro community have also been a tremendous support.”

Janette said the most stressful time of a coach’s year is the season itself.

“It’s unfortunate that Don has had to go through cancer treatments during the season,” she said. “The worst part is game days, which usually start the night before and can carry over into the day after a game.

“He’s more preoccupied when he’s at home during the season. But I think it’s easier for me to handle that now because I’m busy with my own job and the kids aren’t at home,” she added. “It was harder when the kids were home and the winning and losing affected the mood around the house more than it does now,” she added.

“But it’s his job. A doctor’s wife probably doesn’t enjoy the weekends he’s on call either.”

With just two years of eligibility remaining for youngest son Andy, Brubacher said she’s already thinking about what life will be like without children playing for Tabor.

“I’ll miss seeing the kids play,” she said. “I don’t really want to see their playing days end because it is a lot of fun, but yet it’s so very stressful.

“The fact Don coaches leads me to feel it’ll be less stressful when they don’t play anymore,” she said. “But I’m sure I’ll still watch Tabor play after he retires just because it’s so much fun. It’ll be more like watching a high school game these days with none of our own kids playing-which is much more relaxing.”

Brubacher said she’s happy to spend time with her husband following a game-but not immediately after it.

“I don’t know what I’d do without the media and his coaches to take the initial emotion when we lose,” she said with laugh. “But I try to be supportive and positive when he gets home, and make our home a place for him to come back to when everything else builds up and he needs to get away from it all.”

No one appreciates that role more than the coach.

“Janette has always been supportive and helpful and she continues to do that this year with my health problems and with my work here,” he said.

“She’s always done anything and everything she possibly can to not only support me, but my work at Tabor as well.”

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