Teachable moments: First-year Frankfort coach refuses to play final minutes 5-on-4

Special to the Record-Eagle/Sue HammonFrankfort junior Oliver Farmer (23) stands near the Panthers bench as play continues in a Jan. 18 game against Buckley.

FRANKFORT — There's a time for pulling out all the stops.

A time for sportsmanship.

A time for doing everything possible to put your team in the best situation.

Frankfort and Dan Loney did all three about a week ago. All at the same time.

This story starts with a basketball game that wasn't particularly close. But in the end, it brought both schools closer.

Buckley entered the Jan. 18 boys basketball game with only seven healthy players.

Then one sustained an injury. One fouled out in the early fourth quarter. Then another, with about three minutes remaining.

That's when Loney and assistant coaches David Loney and Dave Jackson came up with a plan.

The Panthers opted to play the rest of the game 4-on-4 instead of having an extra player. The game wasn't close anyway, so both teams were looking to get younger players some varsity experience, and having that come while playing 5-on-4 wouldn't be beneficial to anyone.

"It just seemed to be the right thing to do," said Jackson, who is also Frankfort's athletic director. "The big thing was do we pull him off the court or have him stand on the sideline?"

After a player fouls out, the break in action is longer than a typical stoppage. That allowed Dan Loney and his staff to concoct a plan.

Junior Oliver Farmer entered the game and was instructed to stand in front of the Panthers bench and not get involved in game play.

"We knew we had more time," Dan Loney said. "Kudos to Oliver. He was very level-headed about it."

Michigan High School Athletic Association rules don't allow a team to play with less than five players unless that is all they have, so Farmer couldn't simply sit on the bench so the teams could literally play 4-on-4.

"As a coaching staff, it doesn't look right to have five kids against four," Jackson said. "I think it was neat that Oliver was cool with that. That's the way the Northwest Conference takes care of its members."

It's of note that both teams feature first-year head coaches. Would this have happened without Loney and Buckley's Marvin Jones on the sidelines? That's nearly impossible to say.

"First year, you don't want scores rung up on you," Dan Loney said.

But Loney, who worked as a Panthers assistant for years, saw the opportunity to make a statement.

Buckley's Marvin Jones, a former Marine who joined the Bears this offseason, appreciated it.

"He's not going to do anything to disrespect the game, knowing I would do the same thing," Jones said. "You can't just run up the score because you can. That sows hate and contempt. He's got good character."

Both Loney and Jones' son are Benzie Central graduates.

"I know Dan and Dan's family," Jones said. "He's a quality young man. It's a respect factor."

Jones texted Loney the next morning to thank him.

"It was a big deal to me," Buckley athletic director Heather Cade said. "We've always rivaled for a long time and are tight in the conference. That was such a classy thing to do. It impressed me."

Cade said she emailed Jackson the following morning to thank him for the gesture. He replied with an email about league schools looking out for each other.

Even in a 20-point game, the final three minutes can be used as a teaching tool. Both from an Xs and Ox standpoint, and a character one. Playing 5-on-4 doesn't teach either team's young players much about playing in normal varsity conditions, with the spacing on offense and defense completely different as one team fields one more player.

Buckley (4-8, 3-5 Northwest) has been surprisingly competitive this year. That may come as a surprise to some who witnessed the Bears advance to the Class D state championship game each of the past two years, but Buckley lost four starters and some top reserves from those those teams.

Only two players with much varsity experience are back, and that was down to one when the team's only returning starter, Ridge Beeman, suffered a torn ACL late in the soccer season. The Bears had won two in a row heading into the Frankfort matchup. The two teams — both part of a three-way tie for last season's NWC title — meet up again Feb. 19 in Buckley.

Frankfort (10-2, 7-1 Northwest) lost all five starters as well, but has been an even bigger surprise in Loney's first season at the helm.

"Dan has proven himself to be understanding the bigger picture," Frankfort principal Matt Stapleton said. "Especially with league teams. We've had some incredible games with (Buckley) over the years."