INTERVIEW WITH JOHN RINKA
College Basketball Star (NCAA Top 10 in all-time scoring) 1966-70
Former Coach at Brandeis University
David: I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to speak with my former coach, after all these years, John Rinka. I learned a lot about mentoring from Rinks, as we all call him. I just want to first introduce everybody to John Rinka, former All-American basketball player, coach and teacher and husband, father and friend. Rinks, let’s start by giving some background on when you grew up in Milwaukee, played ball in high school, your father was a coach.
John Rinka: My father was oh, it was back in the day my dad was a history teacher and he coached varsity baseball of which that was my first true sport because I was very young when I started that but he also would coach like an 8th grade basketball team, a JV football team so he was always on the field coaching and I was always around him. And I grew up in a middle class household or we had few amenities and a mother who loved to see me outdoors instead of inside so I’ll just run around all day and played whatever season it was.
David: In Milwaukee.
John Rinka: Yeah on Shorewood, Shorewood which is the first. You cross the street right next to UWM, you cross Edgewood and you’re in Shorewood which is on the North Shore. Good school, still is a good high school, but I had a chance to be around athletes, top flight athletes my whole life. You know it was just common place. I watched all the varsity athletes since I was a kid so none of that was foreign to me. So I kind of had an idea without thinking about it, the caliber of player I wanted to be. I played all sports, I was good at all sports, but in sometime in high school, probably after my freshman year, my sophomore year, I decided basketball would be the best sport to pursue because you could practice it on your own or with another friend, my backyard, at the playground, I can get into a gym about any time. So I was a gym rat and a playground player.
And it was also at that time, this would be 1964-65, when NCAA Basketball and society as a whole, was very aware of integrating and the basketball court that was not a problem. So I came from an all white neighborhood but I sought out the intercity to play ball and I had a playground call that water so all the intercity kids came up in a weekend and played. And you know it didn’t take us long, you know, before we had a circuit and probably throughout those last two or three years in high school, three summers in high school and all of college, I was just on the playgrounds and I get into a gym and work on my shot and I could play the playground game and this is before AAU, this is before anybody intervene as adults. We just played and play like crazy. I read Clad which is Out Liars and he talked about putting in 10,000 hours in 10 years. Man, I had those 10,000 hours knocked by the time I was probably a sophomore in college.
JBut we just played and when I graduated, from well at the end of my senior year, I was hoping to get a scholarship at Marquette. I was the leading scorer at a very good league.
David: What did you average in high school?
John Rinka: I only averaged 26 a game. And one of the things that I have always maintained that my growth as an athlete and as a student came in college. I graduated young. I just was 17. I entered college at 17.
John Rinka: I didn’t get to Marquette. Al thought that I was too small. He subsequently on several occasions the friends of mine said that it was a mistake but it was a mistake that benefitted me.
John Rinka: So I found the school Canyon. They contacted me and I went down there and visited. I had obviously I could have played a lot of schools in Wisconsin but I have a desire to get away, why? I don’t know but I did. And made a trip, talk to all the representatives, the admissions, my SAT scores were really strong so obviously they felt you know that I had the intelligence. It was a money issue, so they helped out with the financial.
David: I lost you.
John Rinka: Because they have never been very any good but they had a pretty good nucleus. So I went down there in ‘66 and you know for those four years, that was the best four years of basketball Canyon has ever had and we were very successful my first two years and that had a coaching change and that’s when Brandon came, my junior and senior year and by my senior year we were good again. But throughout those years I have developed as a basketball player because I got a chance to play, I was bringing a playground game to at the time an evolving college game in which coaches haven’t quite figured out a defense floor. So when I was a sophomore, the team I played on we were 23 and 5. Team average 99, 100 points a game.
David: And what did you average freshman year?
John Rinka: That year I averaged 32 that was my first year as an All-American. Next year I went to the Olympic trials and had a lot of opportunities.
David: Who did you play against in the Olympics then, just to frame it for people.
John Rinka: Well, I went through two weeks, back then the Olympic trials consisted of eight all-star teams that eventually we travelled for a week started in Indianapolis at Butler then we played down at Freedom Hall, then we played at Evansville and then we flew out to New Mexico, Albuquerque played in the Pit where we had a tournament with these eight all-star teams. One was from the military, one was from AAU, one was from NAIA, one was from JUCO. And then there were three NCAA units. Well traveling with me Rick Mount, Calvin Murphy, Charlie Scott of course Pete Maravich, friend of mine Johnny Johnson who was playing at Iowa actually he was about to enter Iowa. He just finished JUCO, Spencer Hayward, Billy Hoskett and that was the Mexico City Olympic team that went down there in ‘68. Well I went all the way through the trials, I was only a sophomore, Pete was only a sophomore, Calvin was a sophomore, Rick Mount was a sophomore. So we didn’t make the final cut but I thought it was a great experience. I played for the Evansville coach Arad McCutchan. he was the guide to coach Jerry Sloan back in the day.
John Rinka: Although he had two national championship teams, but that’s a great experience. And I came back from that and went home in the summer time, played in five leagues. Rick Majerus was by my team and my best friends played with us and we just readied around and played in playground leagues and then I had a job at a gym all day so I shot all day and work with kids which I always liked to do. Then in my junior and senior year when we weren’t. My scoring, lead the country with my junior year with about 34 game and in my senior I had 41 game.
David: Rinks, I always tell the story to people that the same weekend Pistol Pete scored his 3,000 points on a Friday, you scored it on a Sunday or the other way around. You want to tell that story?
John Rinka: Yeah. It was close. He might have been Saturday, I might have been Monday, Tuesday it was a big deal 3,000 was a pretty big deal. So that I remember we were down at West Kingdom that night. Yeah we were close. Both Pete and I had games of ‘69 those were our top games. And he was very good guy. He was a likeable guy. I went out to dinner with him and very enjoyable person to be around. And extremely entertaining basketball player.
John Rinka: So I graduated in ‘70 and that was the class that graduated probably the greatest scores of all time because Pete was averaging in the 40s, I was averaging in the 40s, Rick Mount was high 30s, Calvin was averaging high 30s and Austin Carr was a sophomore in Notre Dame and he was knocking in about 35 or 36 a game.
David: By the way there were no three point shots then also.
John Rinka: No, there were no three point shots. But the thing was you know back in ‘65 whenwe lost to Texas Western, all of a sudden the South decided they had to have some you know African-American basketball players. One of my heroes Aaron Monroe played it once to Salem State right down the road here in North Carolina. My gosh, he can’t tell me he couldn’t have played anywhere.
John Rinka: So the game was evolving was talent was coming in from the urban areas throughout the landscape. The game became I call it hyper-aggressive because that’s what playground basketball was, and I was hyper-aggressive meaning I was controlled but I would push the ball and I would do you know we would up the tempo and nobody had defenses for this. So if you look there is this nice little pair in college basketball from about ‘66 to ‘73 or 4 where offenses prevailed and coaches were trying to figure it out because we were just running. Norfolk State with Bobby Dandridge, my senior year with Bobby Dandridge, my junior year Bobby Dandridge was a senior. I think we are drafted to the Bugs together. He in Norfolk State was averaging 101 points a game. I mean it was a really exciting time to be playing basketball.
And of course that’s when the ABA came in and everybody knows the pace of the ABA. So it was a wide open fast paced but you know I look today the shooting percentages, my shooting percentages were better than most players. I shot 50% from the field. I shot 90% from of the foul line. I mean we were good shooters. The game was up tempo and extremely entertaining. But while I was at Canyon I became a student. I realized I was intelligent. I’m a dean’s list student. I, when I was in All-American my senior year I was the only All-American who was also academic. I enjoyed learning. I realized that you know given the opportunity and surrounded by intelligent people, it’s amazing just like I’m on a basketball team which is surrounded by good players, surrounded by intelligent people, a lot of things open up to you and you become curious.
David: So you were the only All-American basketball player and academic at the same time.
John Rinka: Yes.
David: Oh, wow.
John Rinka: And so I came to realize that well there’s a lot to like. Well, now I’ve got this personal development of basketball which really was just I just wanted to prove a point that I could play with anybody. Then I had this revelation, enlightening experience of academics and the wonders out there to learn and to think and to explore.
David: What were you studying? What broke you open?
John Rinka: English. I started out as a History major and I became an English major and I always, it just opened up all kinds of you know creative ideas in me, inspirational ideas in me, deep ideas. I can remember coming in to Canyon and I’m coming in from a pretty narrow background. Not well traveled, brought up in a Catholic family and you know I all of a sudden I was reading Albert Camus and Andre Gide and I’m, I took an existentialism course and I’m thinking wow, wow there’s all kinds of ways to look at this world. And the philosophy courses, I had a true liberal arts education. I minored in French and History. So that opened a lot of personal doors for me just in terms of understanding the opportunities for personal growth through you know education. And as I pointed out to the president of Canyon, you wouldn’t let me in as a high school student. And yet I grew on this campus as a student to become well my English, the head of the English department wanted to nominate me for Rhodes Scholarship. I said I didn’t think I was a great scholar. So I said don’t bother.
David: Well, Phil Bradley have already gone through that at the time you were doing that right? Or he was, he had done the Rhodes Scholar thing how many years prior to that?
John Rinka: I don’t know. He just brought it up to me his name was Garrett, he was head of the department, a flamboyant, a wonderful teacher. I wasn’t, that was something I didn’t think for me was you know, it didn’t appeal to me. I had other aspirations and I would have been a better Rhodes Scholar so by any stretch of the bed. I didn’t see myself that way. But parallel to the basketball in the personal development and the point I was trying to make and what I might say was an obsession parallel to that was this personal growth academically in which I discovered so many things that interested me and I found out this curiosity that I had particularly when it came to things in literature and then philosophy and those sorts of things, psychology.
The third rail was what happening socially in the culture, we had civil rights movement, we had the anti-war protesting and we had this counter-cultural movement and a growing environmental, Rachelle Carson had just written her book and it had become extremely, people were becoming extremely aware of what was happening on in the environment. And by the end of my college career we had the feminist movement and the growing gay movement. So there was this tremendous amount of social, I don’t know what I would say paradigm changes. In which people were becoming aware of things that had not been in our consciousness at the time. Well that had a great effect on me, a tremendous effect on me. I had friends who were hippies and counter-cultural. I did not get into drugs, I was not in any way shape performer interested in the sex, drugs and rock and roll all the day. I was extremely interested with the social consciousness of the day and that made an imprint in my own personal psyche.
So it was at that time I had already been working a lot with kids in the summer time. I had been doing it since I was in high school. I always run clinics and worked with my high school coach at, on Saturday mornings with young kids and in the summer time I ran an open gym that I created leagues and game instruction and at Canyon I always was working with the young kids in the small town, in a city which was 3 miles away, Mount Vernon. I knew I liked doing that. I wanted to affect the difference. I was against the war. Obviously I was steeply involved, deeply involved in the civil rights movement in terms of my own awareness because I had seen so much playing ball in the city and so many of my friends, in 1968 I was playing ball in the city. I was in two city leagues in Milwaukee when the riots occurred at the end of July and early August. I was at the Olympic trials when Martin Luther King was assassinated and I was starting with four Black players. So that was an interesting thing day or two that you know the whole thing we hashed out together and all of these things made impressions on me. So that by the time I graduated from Canyon College I was not anywhere close to the person that I was when I came in.
I had met my personal goal in basketball and quite frankly I was unsatisfied. Although I was drafted and I had professional opportunities I went through those just because I knew I wasn’t going to stop. I would follow the process through. My aspirations were never to be a professional player. I would have been a professional player, had it you know dropped that way. I was the last man released from my team up in Utah but that wasn’t a big deal to me. I had already decided I’m going to graduate school and I wanted and back in my mind I wanted to be a teacher. More teacher than a coach but I would coach because I knew that would offer opportunities.
David: I love you know well he could shoot, the guy could definitely shoot but you always stressed to us, and we were young kids, 18, 17, freshman at a school that was turning out professionals. I mean lawyer, CPA, a lot of doctors, a world renowned plant biologist and speaker on infectious diseases and things. You always stressed us beyond basketball. And I remember that then and I remember it now and we’ve stayed in touch for 40 years but even then when you weren’t that old, you know you were 6 years out of school, 7 years out of school you were telling us stuff.
John Rinka: Dave, I was three years out of school.
David: See you’re funny back then.
John Rinka: We’re contemporaries Dave, we’re contemporaries.
David: But now we are, now we are.
John Rinka: It’s okay. Don’t fool yourself.
David: If you get old you catch up. You at least can tell the truth you averaged 25, 30, 35 a game. It’s true. As we don’t get older you know we don’t remember you’d say yeah maybe I averaged you know we had great inflation, we have point inflation. You’re the only one that could say truthfully I haven’t forfeited a game. I had to tell a funny story. I’ve mentioned this when we were watching Bill Walton played the championship game in your house.
John Rinka: Great performance.
David: 21 out of 22 against Memphis State and our year and the year before we’re sitting there and there were 25 guys there and you and your wife right? And that was it. And there was some beers on the table. And then we’re watching, then we were watching Walton kept throwing this alley hoops and he was playing some pretty good guys on that team. There were three guys that went to the NBA. And when he scored his 40th point I screamed out Rinks he scored 40 points. And you said David, I can average that. And everybody got sober and in that one second, other than Pistol, you’re the only person in the world that I could say that and I know it’s true. So that was one of those moment I’ll never forget.
John Rinka: Well and you know when I was coach I had that opportunity. That opportunity fell in my lap and I took the opportunity and I worked hard at it and I can remember I had to make some decisions then because it was going to be my career path. I was already got a jump start because I was the assistant athletic director and the assistant basketball coach. I was coaching with a guy who had a lot of context. I was in an area there were a lot of opportunities. But something happened and it would be I think it was after my third, it was during my, after the third season in ‘73 where I started to have serious, serious doubts about wanting to do this basketball coaching at college. And there was something internally that was going on. I don’t know how to explain it but it was I just knew I was not doing what I wanted to do. So I just decided I needed to do something and juts to change, to see what a change would look like, so I enrolled at what is now UMass Boston, Boston State College at the time. And I got into their master’s program, MED program. And while for two winters and three summers, I got my master’s part time you know just go in when I could get a way to go. I don’t know that anybody knew I was in school or not all the time.
David: I did.
John Rinka: All the time I was working with this with the idea okay now there are these two parallel opportunities for me and I need and I’ll be able to make a choice because I’ve always felt that you know we don’t get to determine a lot of things in our lives but we get to make choices on how we react. So when I got my I was looking at I just finished my coursework and all I had to do is the summer practice teaching to get my certification that would have been the year ‘74, ‘75. The opportunity to coach Tufts came up. And I interviewed for the Tufts job and it was down to John White and myself as to who would be the coach.
David: And he had been a former star over there?
John Rinka: Right. But never coached.
John Rinka: And I coached and coached against them. I think it went down to Fordham.
John Rinka: And I can remember talking with Stephanie (wife), whose father was ill in DC. I was about to get this master’s degree and I can remember fantasizing about coaching and teaching in high school and that was far more a path that I thought was purposeful and had more meaning than you know chasing after that college basketball coach which demands 100% involvement in a game, that’s a beautiful game but really it’s not life serious. It’s still a game. One of the greatest quotes I ever heard about a basketball coach. Basketball coaches are smart enough to understand the intricacies of the game and dumb enough to take it seriously. And you know that kind of stuck with me. I didn’t want to be that. I don’t know why. So we had the opportunity to move to DC. I had a teaching coaching job. Steph went out to see her father and her father did die the next year, so I called up Tufts and said I’m no longer interested. I’m going on a different career path. And so I chose.
And that was the path that I maintained and still am. I mean I love working with young people, I love teaching, I loved coaching. I like particularly working with young people who may not have the you know the chances just by birth of the advantages I had. I also had in the back of my mind always like I pointed out to the president at Canyon College, put people, there are a lot of diamonds in the rough, whether they are on the Math or the Math-Science side or the English-History side, there are a lot of diamonds in the rough that go you know unrecognized or not given the opportunity had they been in a situation, in the environment like I was placed at to play basketball. They would develop and they would contribute tremendously in many ways that we don’t explore because we’re still fairly you know on the upper end of our society, we’re still pretty homogenous. So we’re losing out and I knew that that there are a lot of late bloomers like I was and that they can do the work at schools like Canyon, Brandeis, Harvard, Dartmouth and that’s what I wanted to develop when I went into education.
And I used education to work with students. I got a chance to bounce around and live different places which was nice. I worked in every possible education environment from the most exclusively boarding school in the Midwest to Appalachian poor. I worked private, public, mostly public, and of course my last stint before I had to retire to take care of Steph, I was working, I had a program of 131st generation high school students and over 95% got into four-year colleges and they were the first in their family so.
David: Largely because of you.
John Rinka: Well they were with me for four years, that was our goal and I honed in on that like I used to hone in on basketball. I mean I didn’t let that go. And we had 10 Dell scholars, I had ten students get $20,000 scholarships from Dell which is specifically a scholarship for first generation students. I had a teaching fellow and I’m hearing from all those students. I hear from students the beauty of being a teacher and of teacher who loves to teach. On my Facebook I probably have, I have got a group of 15 ex-students from 1979-80. Then I got another group from 1981-83 then I got another group that I’m in contact to see them this winter from 1985-88 then there’s a huge group. Everywhere I went I’m still in contact with some of those students and of course in this area where I’ve been now and I’ve taught for 10 years, I’ve got a, it’s just so much fun. I mean I was with a young lady the other day who graduated from DCU and who’s not going to work in AmeriCorps for a year. I was with her and her mother just two days ago because she’s making a move. She came through my program and she never thought she’d go to college. She graduated DCU. So it’s just, it was just, I love that stuff and now I still teach night side, I teach drop outs because I know there is somebody in there that you know they’re going to follow through on this. It’s going to be life changing so.
David: I do.
John Rinka: I just enjoy doing it. And I’ve never regret it. I’ve obviously turned down some fairly lucrative opportunities but I’ve never been, everything that happened at Canyon shaped what I am. And I met my wife at Canyon too
David: Now, that I didn’t know. I didn’t know.
John Rinka: Yes, Steph was a member of the first coed class. She was the first freshman girl’s class and I was a senior and I never said I thought I’d be out of there and not worry about it and there she was.
John Rinka: So that’s it then. I’m just, I slept well every night.
David: The whole idea of mentoring being that that’s been your life really you know to a large degree. I mean think about it. I look at it being that this whole idea that I have to put this book at got triggered by this kid Oliver, a former kid, I call him a kid. He’s a kiddie. He’s now Deputy Sheriff of a school outside of Atlanta literally mentoring 900 kids every year and he attributes it to me. So I, like you said, you don’t know each kid you are doing, you are helping how many hundred seats you’re helping. You’re talking thousands of multiple effect, you talk about a multi-fast break that never ends. You know so one of the things I wanted you to just address is what people should think about in terms of themselves becoming mentors for others. You’ve been doing it and you will help somebody become a writer or see themselves differently but how would you recommend people start to think about how they could turn themselves into a mini version of what you’ve been doing.
John Rinka: You know that’s right. When I was a kid, I was my dad’s bad boy. He had a varsity team, very good. Carl Sylvestri, there are two, Carl Sylvestri ended up playing at the University of Wisconsin and then he played in Indiana for the Saint Louis Cardinals at the time. And Billy ________ [00:32:51] who was drafted by the Minnesota Twins and played in their organization. I was around these guys oh, gosh four years, five years at least. And I was a little kid. You know I was probably six, seven, eight, eight, nine, somewhere in that area. And I just every move they make, everything they did, I emulated and I was quiet around them, I wasn’t annoying. I just listened and I watched and subsequently what I developed in my own life is I always looked ahead of me for mentors. I always looked ahead of me for people who were involved in doing things that I wanted to do or be. My father would have been my biggest mentor, for instance. Coach Harrison was a huge mentor, my high school coach was a huge.
David: Coach Harrison at college?
John Rinka: Yeah.
John Rinka: So I was always looking for people that I could get and it doesn’t take much. I mean it’s just you know you get verbal feedback, all you have to do is I pick people that I thought I wanted to be like and I watch them and I emulated them and you know I made note of the things they would do and they wouldn’t do. My high school coach was an incredibly good teacher. He was a great basketball coach. I’ve learned all my fundamentals from him. He was also was a good tennis player. He was a good guy. He had the whole thing so I want to be like that. That’s what I wanted to be. And then when I went to college Coach Harrison, I want to be like that. And then when I would get into teaching and coaching, I would look at the older guys because I wanted to get number one, information, I wanted to also see how they maneuvered through this field of life and I still do today. I’ve got two friends one who’s turned 91 and another one who’s 89 whom I talk to all the time because they’re my mentors and subsequently when I went into high school, I knew the power of what it was like. The influence a person can have especially athletically. My high school coach used to tell us, he’d say look, you can be the eighth, ninth kid on that team. You can be sitting on the bench but there’s somebody, there’s some kid in that stand who’s looking at you and identifying with you because maybe they’re trying to get better or maybe they’re sitting the bench in middle school or junior high. And maybe they’re looking to see how you act on the bench and what you do.
I mean so this whole idea that we all can mentor is true. And I used to tell all of my high school players this. Some kids are looking at you who wants to be like you and that’s what I believe. So you know one of the things that I’ve always felt that whenever I came in touch with I influence positively or negatively whether it’s just in passing or whether it’s in daily involvement in the classroom you know. I am going to influence them positively or negatively. Now I do have bona fides. I can always you know especially you know talking to a lot of the kids I work with you know once they found out about my basketball background all of a sudden they’ll take notice and they’ll listen. I’ve been teacher of the year in several districts, so everybody knows in the classroom I’m a good teacher, so if I can talk to a kid and I can show interest in him and I can tell him that he’s a good student and those things, they’re going to believe me because my reputation tells them okay, he’s credible. You know so I use those things to influence younger people and I’ll tell them my personal stories. I will say look you know, you don’t have to be big to be a basketball player. Everybody is intelligent. I’m convinced of that. Everybody has intelligence. It’s the environment and how it’s nurtured and it’s how it’s you know it’s the exposures that we get.
There’s so much evidence, research that the gap that we talk about in education does not occur from September until June. It occurs between June and September when the lower income kids are going home without stimulus, no internet, no opportunities to go to summer camps, no travel, no visits to museums, all of those things. And then the upper class kids or even the upper middle class kids and even middle class kids are being exposed to summer camps, academic camps. Their parents go on a vacation and they don’t go to Disney world, they go to New York and they’re in the Natural History Museum and they’re seeing the things that stimulate your mind and give you experiences, learning experiences. I’m a firm believer on those things. So when I work with kids or young adults or adults, I stay positive. I mean there’s, trust me, in there’s no life doesn’t need to have more negatives added. It will do a job and presenting the negatives there will be there. It doesn’t need help.
John Rinka: What it does need help, people need help in hearing a voice that says you can do this. You know people have done this. You’re smart enough and it, to me it’s the only, it’s the real thing that I can do that I can contribute that I think is meaningful and purposeful and it doesn’t I just its simple because I just have to go to work to do it. I’m at work. I’m working with people or now I’m working with the dropouts. I am contributing to their lives and if I’m not giving them my best and if I’m not as positive as possible then I am hurting them and even for a teacher I can remember when I first started teaching. I used to worry you know about you know my lesson and my presentation you know like every a young teacher. But I had one simple little mantra. Just don’t hurt anybody. You can go through a class and not make anyone feel bad about themselves that was number one.
You know when I was at Brandeis taking my courses at UMass Boston, I was a big behavior–behavior modification was a huge impact on my own teaching methods on the BF skinner stuff. And I really realized you know people are influenced by these things. They really are. And when I read I’m okay, you’re okay that pop psyche book back in the early 70s. I realized if you relate parent-child with a kid that’s how they’re going to act. They’re going to play the role as a child but if you can somehow establish a kind of adult, a young adult, a relationship where you’re recognizing them as someone of value, it changes because we see it all the time. Teachers walk into a work situation where they see one of their sophomore crazies at a checkout counter being all dressed up and polite and talking to customers and they don’t recognize them because those students have that capability if they are treated like young adults. I never referred to high school students as kids or children, they’re young adults and they needed to be treated as young adults. Just how I see it.
David: Rinks, I’ll never forget two stories, I mean there’s so many. When I was on the freshman team and I wasn’t a great player, I was a back up, you made me feel there was sometime I had an injured leg you sent the police of the school up to bring me down to practice just to shoot off the other leg. I got injured the left leg and you made me take 250 lay up with my right leg. Just I’m not giving up on you, you maybe hurting on one but you don’t stop working on yourself. That was number one. And number two when we were playing down in practice and nobody there you’d say you know they’re talking about up on the campus. So you have to conduct yourself a certain way when you’re up there it’s not just when you’re playing down here. So even then you were painting the picture beyond the 94 feet of the hardwood floor. And this I remember 40 years ago.
John Rinka: Yeah, well and I think the problem by making sports such a big business, the problem is that you really do lose the value of sports because there’s such a tremendous value. It teaches you so many things.
John Rinka: But those are things that should be transferred beyond the scope of the narrowness of pursuing a career and you know establishing a brand and you know all of the things that are occurring today.
David: Rinks, why don’t you go through that? Why don’t you talk about all the things what can teach not being Lebron in doing that but for a person just playing on a team because I talk about this all the time. I’m in the media quite a bit and I’m constantly mentioning the effect of sports. Look you know I read hour back so I talk about his vision. You know what he saw, how he saw people being able to develop I’m curious being that you lived it and taught about it. Why don’t you discuss all the things in sports you think someone can use to help in non-sports ways to make themselves better.
John Rinka: Well okay that’s why I ended up coaching high school instead of college because I thought the athletes I was working with, the vast majority of them were not going to go on and play college ball. So I saw the value, we used to have something called character education. And you know it was big push here in North Carolina 10 years ago. And I used to chuckle because I said the best character education program we have is athletics, band, drama, anything that involves personal commitment to a team. So you go through it. You’re working with young kids that you know aren’t going to be pros or college players but what do they get a chance to learn by playing sports?
So number one they get the obvious, they get the discipline, they get the opportunity to learn how they react and what they need to do and to control themselves so they can be at their optimum–when it comes to their own personal skills. Number two, hard work actually does pay off. There’s no question in my mind that I would rather have a hard working better than average talented player than a supremely talented not so hard working player. So there’s no question that you learn that the harder you work the better you’ll get. But then you also learn how to work with a team which I think is extremely important. You understand that you’re just heart of a whole. You are an important part but no more important than the rest. I happen to be a shooter, I happen to be the guy that was going to get the headlines but I was no more important. That’s what I did. I was with my teammate the other. He came down to visit me at Canyon. He had 30 rebounds in a game. He was 6 foot 3. Okay. So that something that doesn’t get you know no one gets excited about, there’s running no points you know. But that’s as equally valuable.
I have a friend of mine, my favorite story is Danny Schwartz who was at Canyon when I was there. He was a year ahead of me and coach told him well you’re not going to be able to play much because Rink is not going to leave the floor. So your job this year is to make his life miserable in practice. Well Danny Schwarz every time I went to practice that was his game. He dogged me throughout practice oh, my goodness gracious. He made me work so hard and for that I’m forever thankful. In fact unfortunately he died a couple of years ago but I sent him one of my All American Plaques and I signed it you know Danny this happened, it was the year that we practiced together. I said Danny this happened, this is yours, because he did it. I mean that was, but he found satisfaction in it and he was extremely helpful to me and Steph when she was ill.
So you learn that you have a role and you play the role as well as you can. That’s what’s important. That you learn how to win, you learn how to lose. Those are extremely important. Not only that, if you’re in any sport you’ll learn how to act in public, you learn how to act in front of the people. You understand that you also people are watching you, they’re not only judging you which can be good or bad but there are young people out there who are emulating you who will do what you are doing. And so it makes these impressions not the, you know plus you have the whole camaraderie that comes with sports, lifelong friends you know shared experiences, stories, I’ll guarantee you any team that’s won the championship whether they get around and they talk about that year, they never talk about the championship, they talk about the process because the process is by far in a way much more important than the end result and that’s what sports is, it’s part of a process. Just like if a kid were in a band or if a kid were part of a drama club or whatever organization where you’re asked to do your best on a consistent basis and where you’re challenged that where you can fail or succeed, you’re going to, these young people are going to reap these benefits.
And then when you get out in the world you know I can you know when I was faced with my wife’s illness and certain death and I knew all that lay ahead of me it didn’t frighten me. You know it saddened me, but I didn’t think there was anything there I couldn’t do to my optimum to help her. I had the discipline, I had the understanding of what needs to be done and I was going to do what had to be done. That’s all of the transfers of what I learned about sports.
David: That’s a lot of stuff and you know there should be lessons about that because again at being athletic naturally you tend just in playing you have to have will power, you have to be focused, you got to want to be better. People who aren’t and there are that world too, we do know people in that athletic, how do they find in their world to be able to get some of those lessons you know because sports most of the people I know who are athletes we tend to get along because of that. You know and that black, white, that’s part of the beauty of that look at international competition, look at not only San Antonio how they actually put a team together for so many years and took older players and they didn’t get rid of them. They built a team around them and made everybody else enhance which is a whole another lesson how you age, you know when Bill Bradley wrote his book Life on the Run and at the end of his career he was a star for a lot of his life, he wanted to experience being a non-starter or non-star. He actually stayed in the next three year or two to experience that. You know rather than leaving it at the top which a lot of guys like to do. So how do you recommend that for someone who’s not an athlete? How do they put that set of goals to try and grow like you’re so focused on teaching?
John Rinka: Well everybody, again I come back to two things. Everybody is naturally intelligent with the exception of obvious you know difficulties that you know we can track. Most people can learn. Number one, I believe and I believe this firmly that everybody can do something well and it’s going to be something that they love to do. It might be something that would be obscure or off the beaten path but that doesn’t matter. That’s where we get our artists. That’s where we get out actors and actresses you know our musicians. That’s where–there’s everybody has a talent and that talent they enjoy doing. I think it’s vitally important that people discover that and if it’s not a way for them to make a living, it should definitely be the way they spend their free time.
I was at a community theatre production of The Wizard of Oz and I was jaw dropping how good it was, all local people, all have full time jobs. And they all went to the rehearsals. And they all went and they did these two weeks of production and it was a spectacular performance. And I thought see, that’s what it is they love it. This is what they love. We call it an avocation. But really it’s where their heart is and where they probably have the most influence and probably leaks into their everyday job. Everybody has something they can do. That’s a talent that can influence other people and it might be just the people who have that talent. My son, one of my son’s paints miniatures as a hobby. He goes to you know we have a games shop here and he paints these miniatures. You can see my son’s Facebook he’s painted thousands of them. Only now he has a group of five people that he’s taught how to paint and they enjoy painting. Everybody there’s–we all have stuff. We just do. The important thing is to find that and then to influence those who also have the same interest. That’s first and foremost.
Secondly if you’re at a job no matter what you’re doing your job you set an example. No matter what job you have, no matter what level it is, if you work hard and you do your best and you know you are aware of you interact with people, you are influencing people. I mean we all influence people. We influence people when we pass them on the street and smile and say hi as opposed to when they say hi to us we don’t respond. There are two distinctly I learned this as a teacher my first year. If you are in a hallway and you pass a kid that you have in class, you say hi to him by hi first name or her first name, you literally change their day because there are just a numberless kid with about 1,600 students and all of a sudden in a hallway a teacher says hi by their first name. You changed their day. And if they say hi to you and you ignore them, you also change their day. It’s as simple as that. This is not rocket science
John Rinka: We’re human beings, we interact and we’re affected by our interactions. So you get to choose, are you going to be positive? Are you going to be negative? That’s just how I see life.
David: You say a lot of great things that people need to hear and effectuate you know and then you’re doing it in your own lives. You obviously influenced a lot of people be interesting to get them together. Maybe even I speak to some of them and see what effect you’ve had on them and what they’re doing in the transference because you get a lot of satisfaction from that.
John Rinka: Oh, yeah. Well students always come back. We talk and you know all the things that you know you’d expect the interaction to be from a person that’s affected somebody’s life. And I have to truly, I say it in all sincerity, I got as much out of all this is they got you know.
David: Oh, good G-d.
John Rinka: You know and they don’t owe me a thing but I do expect them to pay it forward.
John Rinka: You know and I you know that’s how that works.
David: One of my Rabbi’s telling a story his father died and he had to support the family when he was young and someone lent them money. He didn’t want to take it and the person said take it, you’ll pay me whenever. So a few years later when his mother widow went back to pay the person back he said I don’t want the money back. You lend it to the next person who’s going to need it. And that $1,500 you’re taking 40 years ago has been lent, it’s from his camp alone 13 times already. So that’s kind of what you’re talking about.
John Rinka: Yeah.
David: You know.
John Rinka: You know when a murderer came to the Buddha and asked for forgiveness and punishment the Buddha told him to go raise that family and take care of the wife.
John Rinka: That’s all he have to do.
John Rinka: I mean if people understood how much influence they have on other people in the simplistic changes and we’re conscious of it in how they affect other people I think the world would be entirely differently. But there again too you know we play athletics you have to be very self aware if you’re going to be good. You have to understand how you react and how you think and that’s other thing that athletics teaches you. You have to recognize when you’re doing something that is not in the best interests of your game let’s say and it has to be changed. Well that’s self-awareness you know.
John Rinka: You have to recognize you know how you influence your teammates because you have a collective goal. That’s self awareness that transfers and it’s also how you interact. Those are all valuable everyday for the rest of your life qualities.
David: When you’re teaching these dropouts, you’re teaching them writing.
John Rinka: Yeah, whoa.
David: You’re teaching them more than writing. Tell me what you’re teaching them about how life because if they’re drop out of school, give me some examples with no names of how they’re living their life and how you’re trying to guide them besides just how to write a sentence?
John Rinka: Well I’ve had, let’s see, three students with ankle bracelets because they are on house arrest but they are allowed to come to school. I get quite a few kids that have been through NA or young adults that been through NA. I have quite a few single moms who were teenage moms and dropped out of school to raise their kids and then now they’re coming back and trying to get their degree. A lot of them because they see their children going on in school and they are, they feel compelled themselves to either set the example or to stay with them. I see a certain amount of individuals who understand that economically they have to get a high school degree and go beyond.
David: How are they supporting themselves the ones, you know how are they getting by?
John Rinka: Well, let me give you an example. I have a woman in the class. Let’s see it would be probably over the winter time. She was pregnant with twins. She had a 14-year-old daughter and she was getting her high school diploma because she understood number one, first off they wanted to get up and number two that was the only way she was going to be able to economically make it. And she was living on $841 a month. I just about to cry. I had a young man, a Hispanic man, who had a tumor in his brain and in his side of his head you can see where it was carved out. His skull goes in, his eye doesn’t function it wanders too, and he’s in school because he wants to get an education because he wants to do something with his life because his handicap has actually made him desire to be of worth you know. It manifested in him this need to prove that he could do something.
I’ve got well last night I started my class the first thing I asked how many moms do I have because I understand that they’ve got kids, I got to recognize the fact that I let them access their text messaging just in case there’s an emergency because they’re leaving their kids somewhere.
John Rinka: But you know they’re either unemployed or they’re working minimum wage jobs and they have this opportunity and they’ve chosen to come back and it’s not easy. It’s a hard thing to do. So I think they’re tremendously courageous to do it and when I started teaching and I notice, you know, like I teach reading of course I like them to read descent literature so that they get a sense of what’s going on in a book. We write. It’s mandatory that they write and it’s a pretty good process that I’ve built in that I helped them with because it’s extremely important that they learn how to communicate in their writing. We do a certain amount of I do a lot of you know grammar spelling vocabulary stuff so that they are speaking on the presentation are appropriate for the context that they’re going to be in whether it’s applying for a job, trying to get into college or talking with their children you know correctly.
I got nice technology downtown so I can use all my PowerPoints and I’ve got good access to the internet so I could show them things and then you know we spent a lot of time discussing you know most of the things in the book or things that you know relate to our lives. So we give them some tremendous discussions about that. Right now we’re reading The Fault in Our Stars my English 2 class by John Green. Who was a kid and graduated incidentally. And it’s all about you know these two young teenagers who have cancer. They’re going to die well we had arousing discussion last night about that. And thought provoking and of course I was trying to as we read the story direct them to see how it’s actually a funny book. And why would it be funny in all of those things? So I find it tremendously stimulating and their lives are more fascinating. I have one young man who’s first, I have journals. They journal every night so I can learn about it. His first three journals were about the three, his first three experiences with someone getting shot in his presence. Two die and the other was his brother who was completely paralyzed. And just to read this stuff and recognize you know this is just everyday stuff you know and here’s this young man trying to get his high school degree and do something.
I find it meaningful and interesting and then I also work during the day, I supervise teaching interns for the university here at UNCW, University of North Carolina-Wilmington. And I like working with young teachers because there I’m the mentor and I want you know what they’re going to go through and I know what they’re going to face and I just tried and don’t worry it will all be okay and I get to observe them in the class and I get to help them along the way. I love it. In fact I just helped a young lady get a job two weeks ago and she’s going to be great for the school and I think the school is going to be great for her. So I like doing that stuff. I just like doing it. I don’t know why I do. I’m helping a person right now who wants to go to school. It’s pretty interesting thing. I’m meeting with her again tomorrow. I always like to help you know just got a dream. Okay, let’s go. She’ll probably do it too. She’s unbelievable.
John Rinka: So that’s just how it goes you know.
David: Rinks, we got to get you, your energy and your vision to a lot of people. You’re doing it local maybe this will help get in a bigger way because it’s not too many people that I know but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Just that that many people I know have the confidence and the love because you got to warn, you really love people to do this otherwise you ain’t doing it. You know you’ll be looking and saying what’s wrong with him or what’s wrong with him you’re not doing it. It’s the opposite. You’re actually helping people love themselves more because you’re telling them in effect don’t get stuck on the negativity because you got the positiveness focused on that. In essence it’s the same theme whether it’s a direct student, whether it’s a teacher to teach, whether it’s the kids throughout all the years you know would be a, it’s really a positive theme the details are the details that’s what I hear.
John Rinka: Oh, yeah. When I was working with my average students I used to say you know I have to work hard in protecting this kid from himself. You know because the beauty about teenagers David is they don’t change.
John Rinka: In the 70s, 80s, 90s, the behavior is the same. The dress is different, music is different, language is different, behavior is exactly the same.
John Rinka: 14 year-olds are still 14 year-olds and they’re going to be rebellious. They’re going to have a little sass, they’re going to experiment.
John Rinka: And you know what if they could survive it, they’ll move on. So you just got to protect from the kids themselves.
David: You know the Hebrew word for youth is Nar. It’s like N-A-R kind of and it means shaking, it’s the same word.
John Rinka: Yeah.
David: Literally the same word for youth is that with shakes because it’s a youth is a shaking being on the way to becoming something. You know it’s not there yet. It also at one stance what I hear you saying is even someone older you’re addressing the youthful part of them to the extent you could help someone older change in effect you make them more youthful into that extent an “older person” is not old. He just happens to have a lot of years of experience but he can still be youthful in his outlook, youthful in his goals, youthful in his dreams and youthful in wanting to not be well self centered but they also do like camaraderie and they do like this involvement with other people, maybe your teaching has also taught a lot of people to have a greater social skills as well.
John Rinka: You know, well you know, and I learned this from a Buddhist minister. He was in a hospital up here in Jacksonville because he was doing, I think he was a chaplain there, he was on duty and he walked into a room where there was a man who was suffering from cancer and it was filled with a bunch of the local people which is they want to do here. They fill these hospital rooms, they were country people and very, very fundamental, very, very fundamentalist. You know and he got in there and he felt like a sort of a fish out of water for a moment, then he thought but you know what this is the context I’m working at. It’s not my job to do anything but to support them in their context. Well I had a situation the other night that put me in the same, similar situation. I have a young, I have an 18-year-old African-American student who has taken both of my classes but she comes by and sees me you know because she’s at school taking other classes. She’ll drop by and see me. And she came running into my class. This was about a month ago. She came, “Mr. Rinka, Mr. Rinka, guess I’ve got the best news.” And I said oh, wow, good what is it? I’m pregnant. You know my first thought, my rational thought is oh, wow. You know I mean I could line up all the negatives that go with that because we’re talking now big time difficulties here. But what does that do? She’s pregnant, she’s happy.
John Rinka: She’s talking to me. It’s not my job to say why. My job is okay, now we got to work with this okay. And we still got to work. We’re not going to give up.
John Rinka: You know. So now you have it’s not my job. It’s not my position if I’m going to help her to tell her well are you going to get abortion? Are you up for adoption? First off it’s not her culture. That’s not happening. That’s not you know I have to go into the context of her culture and how she sees things and make sure she can still get her high school diploma and to make sure that she can still go on to school. I have got probably a five young women that I worked with that had children when they were in high school or in college. They’ve all graduated from college. So you just you just don’t say oh well you screwed. No, it’s going to work in this context. It’s hard that’s the hard part because your mind is going oh, my God why did you do that? You know why? But that’s not helping anything. This doesn’t work. So yeah, sometimes you know you got to say to yourself not my place or you’ll lose the kid or the person.
David: You had mentioned you were thinking to writing three books. You went about the experience with Stephanie, you went about teaching, you went about sports.
John Rinka: Yeah.
David: That was a while ago.
John Rinka: Yeah.
David: Anything in that or still a good idea and you’ll see how we’ll get through it.
John Rinka: I don’t know you know I got notes and stuff but then I say to myself okay, you know is that how I want to spend my time? I could still you know what I’m saying? That takes time that’s not something you write a lot. So my question becomes is that more purposeful than me getting out there and doing what I do, you know. So that’s why I have hesitate because I understand the time it would take and I know it’s the time that would be taken away from something else and you know I’m still doing what I do so I’m thinking well maybe not you know.
David: One way to do it like we’re doing this way is to talk it and maybe have it transcribed and then because that’s there will be a lot of pages from this that we can look at so that’s an idea just taking to one of it. Again, there’s plenty in each topic this will be a start you know you’ll see this also you’ll get to see quite a bit of discussion.
John Rinka: You know David you’re about there. You’re going to be what 62, 65?
David: No, 59.
John Rinka: 59. Okay so you’re not quite there.
John Rinka: But you’re getting there. You’re its so interesting how we transitioned into adulthood and we transitioned out of that professional adulthood. And I just happen to have two very significant four years that would have ended both of those. I have Canyon College that ushered me in and I had my wife that ushered me out of that you know what we call our professional lives. And then there is that post after that providing you’re healthy with I can see you will be. Then you get to choose then its okay. Now what do I do with all that I got here? Because we have tremendous resources and if your mind is good and your body is well is a lot of benefit there in my opinion.
David: Yeah. My case obviously with the music is a whole another thing because that’s an unusual gift that I found later in life and you got to see in the studio with me a little bit and it’s about to a lot of stuff to happen with that but you know there’s a lot of people. You mentioned the sunset careers. I think that was the term we’ve used.
John Rinka: Encore career.
David: Encore, you see?
John Rinka: Encore. Come out for that last foul.
David: Yeah, or the last five fouls if you have ADD. Make it five careers you know I told you, I joked I think they should have gone to schools you can’t come in unless you have ADD. And they’ll be lining up. They’ll test you, you don’t have ADD you can’t come and the whole school will be ADD the most creative place in the world because ADD which I think I have them quite a few people doesn’t mean you don’t have brains. It doesn’t mean you take into little, it means you take in too much you know and it’s just a matter of sorting and you probably seen that with that also now with days as opposed to maybe 40, 30, 20 years ago. What was ADD looked at? You know looked upon now they try to give you riddling which you know I’m not a fan of that stuff. I think occasionally it’s needed but it seems to me the diagnosis and treatment are almost of right of some wrong with you here have ADD have .. and you’re drugging these kids instead of using it. And you’ve seen it, I mean what’s your opinion about how the schools handle that over the last 30 years both in the lower and in the higher end of the society.
John Rinka: Well I, I have in my opinion I’m a firm believer that life is the best teacher and that we need to allow young people to face consequences and that we need to allow young people to see consequences and to experience them but not as just a punishment, more as a lesson learned. We talked about this the other day. We’ve talked about Bo Ryan. You know Bo Ryan, the coach of Wisconsin?
David: The name, you took it. Current?
John Rinka: University of Wisconsin right now. And if you make a mistake on the court, a turnover or commit a foul, you’re going to be taken out of the game. Now back in the day that was a coaching philosophy. You don’t want to do that right away because you’re going to psychologically hurt the kid and all that stuff and you know well Bo Ryan doesn’t do it punitively. He doesn’t do it personally. These kids are coached. They understand the philosophy that you know the ball is precious, we only make so many trips if you make a turn over or if you commit a silly foul, you’re going to be removed and someone else is going to play for you but I’m not going to be mad at you. You’ve got to understand. So it’s coached under a different attitude. Okay. That means number one, we have the fewest turnovers of any college team in the country. Number two we had given up the fewest fouls of any college team in the country. Number three he went a lot further with a lot less talent than any other team in the country and guess what? When the kid came off the floor he didn’t feel bad about himself, he knew he was going to go back in. In the meantime he got guys on the bench who know they’re going in as soon as somebody makes a mistake and I’m going to get my chance and they’re going to concentrate to not make a mistake. It wasn’t done with a punitive thing. You know it wasn’t done out of personal you know vindictiveness or anger or emotional response. Well we need to do that with our youngsters. Our youngsters have to be able to fail. They have to be able to pay consequences for things that they do that they weren’t supposed to do but it can’t be couched in a mean spirited, angry, vindictive or punitive way. It is what it is. It’s a consequence of an action. And the sooner we get back to that the less we’ll be enabling these young people to think that life is just non-consequential. It is hugely consequential. So the trick will be to be able to allow kids to fail, to be able to allow kids to get hurt, to be able to allow kids to face consequences without them feeling that somebody isn’t loving them or supporting them we’re there for them. Not protecting them from those things. But love and supporting them.
David: How do you do that outside of a sports environment? Take a kid in the classroom, give me some examples how you’re used to doing in the classroom?
John Rinka: Okay, here’s my classic example.
John Rinka: You didn’t do your homework last night David. I got to have your homework and I’m sure not going to give a zero because that’s going to screw you. So I’ll tell you what. I’m going to make you president of my homework club. So come up at my room this afternoon we’ll get your homework done. I’ll have a Coke for you. You’re going to come by my r