Hope and Newton Mealer love the game of basketball and it’s likely a popular topic of conversation at the Mealer dinner table.
Hope is a junior at Center Hill High School where her dad Newton coached his Mustangs to the MHSAA 5A state basketball championship last March. Hope contributed on the floor as a sophomore last season on the Lady Mustangs for coach Emily Owens and Mealer should be a bigger factor for the team in the upcoming season.
It can be exciting to share experiences for coach dad and his child who is in a sport that both enjoy. It can also be a challenging time when a youngster is learning the game and coach dad has to know when he must become more of a fan and less of a sideline coach.
That is what the Mealers dealt with this summer when Hope played for the 17U Arkansas Banshees AAU basketball team that included two other DeSoto County players.
Stepping away from the Center Hill atmosphere for the summer, Hope Mealer was quickly brought into the well-respected Banshees program.
“It was different at first but that team was very welcoming and are very family-friendly,” Hope said. “They welcomed me with open arms and we grew a bond from the very beginning.”
Hope Mealer offers an outside shooting threat on the floor and did that again for the Banshees during a season that had them going to several locations for tournaments.
“We played in Indiana, Atlanta and in Murfreesboro, Tennessee,” Hope said. “We played in Memphis once and in Arkansas.”
It meant a lot of travel time, a lot of gym time and a lot of hotel time. Newton said the summer time has also benefited Hope’s potential as a player.
“She’s done a fantastic job beginning to prepare,” Newton said. “I think the light bulb went off. All of a sudden, it’s ‘I’m playing for a scholarship opportunity. I’m playing for bigger things.’”
However, it’s not always been easy for coach dad to sit on the sideline, watching his daughter play and have to be more of a fan and less of a coach.
“It’s exciting but it also has its challenges,” Newton said. “I know how to coach boys so I know how they are going to react in certain situations. I have to be a bit more delicate when it comes to my daughter. I’ve done a whole lot better job now of just trying to be a fan and not just a coach and a dad.”
Hope played well for the Banshees and was able to show her basketball skills in front of coaches who may be offering her scholarships to play for them in the future.
“There was a whole bunch of college coaches and at one of our games there was like almost 35 college coaches there and that was one of my biggest games,” she said. “The atmosphere about it was pretty cool.”
Newton Mealer coached his son Jake when he was at Center Hill and admitted he may have put some extra pressure on his son because Jake was his son.
“I was tough on Jake,” Mealer said. “I knew the situation of ‘your son’s on the team, he can’t do anything right’ in peoples’ eyes. I don’t give anybody anything, whether it’s my son or the 15th player on the team. You’re going to earn the right to play.”
Now, as coach dad, Mealer said a routine he started last season allows him to get his team ready to play and also to follow Hope on the floor.
“I’m able to stay on the floor for the first two quarters (of the girls’ game) and watch everything she does,” Newton said. “When they go to the locker room, my guys are coming to get ready to warm up and we go through a certain routine. I see the first three quarters, I go at the start of the fourth quarter and then the mode’s got to switch to my team. When my pre-game speech is over, I go back to being dad and I watch the last 2-3 minutes of the game and when the horn blows, I go back to my team.”
It’s a special time when both dad and child have the same interests, but one thing Newton said he would not do is question Hope’s coaches about her playing time.
“I’ve only had one conversation between coach Owens and former coach (Chase) Brown,” Mealer said. “I’ve told them, ‘treat my daughter like she’s any other player on the team. If she’s good enough to play, play her. If she’s not good enough to play, sit her on the bench. I’m not going to get into their business. They’re the coaches. I don’t want my kid having a chance to play just because of my job title.”
Hope Mealer’s time on the floor this season won’t be because her dad’s the coach. It’ll be because she’s earned whatever playing time she gets. Mealer likely helped herself earn more time for the Lady Mustangs in the upcoming season after her time with the Arkansas Banshees while dad is cheering her on, but not coaching her from bleachers.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.