A knee has been replaced and a shoulder, too, but sitting around is just not the way Bev Ebbecke wants to spend her golden years.
After all, the 83-year-old Ebbecke had been a pioneer when she was a physical education teacher in the Orono School District. When Title IX legislation in the early 1970s gave girls’ sports an equal athletic platform, Ebbecke was tapped to coach the basketball team. And the volleyball team. And the softball team.
Never mind that she had little experience as a coach. Her role as a physical education teacher and a past spent playing girls’ 6-on-6 basketball made her the obvious choice to lead the school into the new world of girls’ high school competition.
“We didn’t know how to do too much,” Ebbecke recalled. “We spent most of our time working on basics, like learning how to dribble.”
Two years ago, Orono girls’ basketball coach Ellen Wiese held an alumni night. Ebbecke was invited. When the team learned her connection to the past, just giving her an appreciation plaque was not enough.
“The girls were amazed that she was the first coach the team ever had,” Wiese said. “They wanted to keep her around.”
Ebbecke, who coached the basketball team from 1975 through 1981, has been a fixture at Orono games and practices for the past two seasons. She spends most of her time simply observing, chipping in with an occasional word of encouragement. Once in a while, when her legs and shoulder are feeling particularly good, she might help round up basketballs or lend a hand in a drill.
The Spartans offer warm hugs and appreciative greetings all around when she arrives at practice — “That’s where you really get to know these girls,” Ebbecke said — and again when she leaves. She goes to most of the games, usually riding with the mother of one of the players, preferring to look like a grateful grandparent instead of matriarch of Orono basketball.
“I only have grandsons,” said Ebbecke, referring to her biological relations. “So these are all my granddaughters.”
Ebbecke marvels at the strides girls’ basketball players have made since her time as a player and a coach, “especially in the fundamentals,” she said. “They can all dribble so well, even the young ones. And we didn’t scout other teams at all. One year, we knew Mound had a really good player, so we used a box-and-one [defense] on her. That was about it.”
Bringing back Ebbecke is another in Weise’s master plan to make Orono a very good program with staying power. The Spartans, 30-2 last season, placed third in the Class 3A state tournament. Led by 6-4 senior post Meghan Mandel, a Marquette University recruit, and junior wing Tori Andrew, last season’s second-leading scorer, Orono is ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Class 3A rankings.
“Bev is a role model for the players,” Wiese said. “She really motivates us every day.”
While Ebbecke laughs off her importance to the team, the players see things differently. Ebbecke is one of them, no matter how much she shies away from praise.
“She’s amazing, and we’re so thankful to have her here,” senior forward Hannah Striggow said. “It’s really a two-way relationship. She loves to be here, and we’re in awe of everything she did for Orono girls’ sports.”
She isn’t sure how long she’ll continue to be a part of the program, but Ebbecke has no plans to stop.
“It was hard when the season was over. I couldn’t wait for it to start up again,’’ she said. “I’ll keep coming as long as they’ll let me.”