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Slaymaker inspires passion for basketball

Staff writer

When Ron Slaymaker went through the five F’s of basketball shooting, the group of Peabody second, third, fourth, and fifth graders got the first four words easily — focus, feel, form, and followthrough. However, the group struggled to find the last word — finish. In the scramble of F words shouted out while other students frantically raised hands, one student answered with “fun”. It caused Slaymaker to pause.

“I like that,” he said. “That really is important.”

It was obvious during his lesson April 10 to the Peabody Recreation team that Slaymaker was having fun, even after 58 years participating in every level of basketball. At one point, Slaymaker mentioned that the children all had floppy wrists. With that a sea of hands began to shake and shimmy like violent waves. He illustrated followthrough, an essential component to the backspin of a good shot, but he was also keeping his young audience interested. Slaymaker could not stop himself from adding a joke.

“My wrists aren’t floppy like that anymore,” Slaymaker said. “I’ve had a visit from Arthur. Do you know Arthur? Arthur-itis.”

With more than 25 years of teaching thousands of clinics and camps, Slaymaker has developed a colorful style to his presentations. When the recreation team broke into groups, Slaymaker taught fourth and fifth graders the Mikan drill — named after pioneering NBA center George Mikan. The drill involved players quickly alternating layups on either side of the basket. He described the rhythmic drill as a dance.

“You’ll get so good at this you’ll all be like Las Vegas showgirls,” Slaymaker said.

“It needs to be fun,” he added. “They don’t know yet about hard work, but they do understand fun.”

Fun can translate in passion and Slaymaker also spoke about passion. It was passion for basketball that inspired Slaymaker to shoot thousands of baskets at his childhood home — 511 N. Walnut in Peabody. That work ethic led him to Emporia State University where he was an all-American in 1958. In his final season in 1960, the shooting stroke — perfected on his neighborhood hoop — paid off with a .909 free-throw percentage, which is still an ESU record.

Recreation team and Peabody-Burns High School girls basketball coach Darren Schroeder said Slaymaker is known for his shooting — it has been a lasting legacy. Slaymaker taught Schroeder and his sister how to shoot during clinics in Madison. Schroeder was 8, not much older than his children Koby and Emma, who were in the audience April 10.

“It is the thing that draws them in,” Slaymaker said. “Ball handling is really important; defense is really important. Shooting and making baskets keeps them interested.”

Slaymaker drove that point home during his presentation to the elementary students.

“If you get bored making all your shots, you should try soccer,” he said.

Slaymaker’s time as a player led him back to ESU to coach men’s basketball. In 28 years, between 1970 and 1998, Slaymaker compiled 463 wins. His coaching career was storied enough to land him in three hall-of-fames: Emporia State University, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and Kansas Basketball Coaches Association.

No one would have thought twice if Slaymaker would have stepped away from the game at that point, but that is when he decided to devote himself to officiating. Slaymaker has been refereeing full-time for 15 seasons. His is also the commissioner of the Lyon County League, which assigns officials for games.

“If every coach would referee, they would see the game in a whole different way,” he said.

Although it seemed a curious transformation at the time — coaches and referees are often adversaries — Slaymaker said he officiated for his entire coaching career. Those games included junior high and junior varsity games in Brown Gymnasium in Peabody.

“That’s him,” Schroeder said. “He just loves the game.”

Slaymaker loves the game enough that he feels guilty that he gets to teach it. He said this will be the first summer in 25 years that he will not travel to Europe to conduct camps. Last summer, he went to Germany. Over time he has built relationships with some of those players. One former camper-turned-coach wanted to stay with Slaymaker when he visited America. The former camper is now one of the top motivational speakers in Germany, and Slaymaker said he could not help but feel proud he influenced that career development.

Of all the aspects to choose from, observing 60 years worth of changes in basketball, Slaymaker bemoaned the fact that players are not allowed to grow up in the game. Stylistically the game has become faster and more physical, but Slaymaker said he has been around long enough to see stylistic changes go in cycles. He is conflicted about summer basketball. On the one hand, he likes that children are playing. On the other, they are more likely to get burnt out playing year-round.

“Players are made by practicing on their own,” Slaymaker said. “Coaches plant seed. The kids have to put fertilizer on them.”

Even with all his travels, Slaymaker said it is important to keep coming back to Peabody. He wants to help transfer some passion to the next generation of players so they will want to work on their own.

“This community was very important in my life,” Slaymaker said. “I turned out OK. You don’t land anywhere on your own.”

Last modified April 19, 2012

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