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Hometown Proud: Sam Sides

Back in the 1960s, one could probably find a young Sam Sides playing on a basketball court in the Jackson City Park. Fast forward six decades later, and Sides is still in the area on a court but now as the head coach of the Saxony Lutheran girls basketball team.

Sides, 65, began his coaching career at Leopold High School in 1978 after graduating from Southeast Missouri State, where he tried to continue his athletic career on the diamond. Sides attempted to walk-on as a first baseman for the Redhawks baseball team, but there were already too many players at that position.

One thing Sides will tell anyone is that he is competitive as they come, and that is one of the reasons why he decided to become a coach in the first place.

“You get to a point where you really can’t play anymore, but you still like to be involved with it,” Sides said. “I like the interaction with the players and trying to figure stuff out and get better. I still get enjoyment competing as a coach, and I kind of live through [my players] to some degree. I always enjoyed playing and the competition more than anything else.”

Another aspect of coaching Sides enjoys arguably the most now especially since, “The older you get, the more sentimental you get,” is the relationship he is able to create with his players.

One of his former players from Leopold, Leroy Jansen, passed away last year, and Jansen’s sister recently sent Sides a thank you card for the impact he had on her brother’s life.

“You don’t know what effect you have on them or what effect they have on you really,” Sides said. “Leroy loaned me his car one time when I had junkers back then. I couldn’t afford many cars on $7,000 a year, but one time he let me take his car home and back to school the next day. … To me that’s what [coaching] is all about is the relationships you have with these kids.”

Growing up, Sides was the youngest of four children, and they were raised by two, hard-working parents, who grew up during the depression era. Sides said his parents, who weren’t as interested in sports as much as Sam, allowed him to do whatever he wanted as long as he behaved himself.

Sides was a three-sport athlete during his time at Jackson High School as he played football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball during spring and was a captain for each team. Throughout those four years is when Sides was coached by some of the people who left lasting impacts on him.

One of those coaches was none other than Paul Webber, whose first year as Jackson’s football head coach was Sides’ freshman year in 1969. Webber coached at Jackson for 20 years, and in 1972 for Sides’ senior year the team went 9-1 and lost to Chaminade in the playoffs.

“[Webber] was a forceful, strong personality person,” Sides said. “He did some strange things. I remember we went to Malden one time and in the locker room there was a hangman’s noose and flowers in there. We found out later, [Webber] put them in there, but he told us they were sympathy flowers, and they were going to ‘kill you.’

“He was really good at promoting teams and getting you fired up. He would dig up dirt from our football field and take it to games on the road, so we would have home field [advantage].”

Another coach Sides had during his time in high school was Jerry Suedekum, who oversaw both the basketball and baseball teams. Sides said he had such a great relationship with Suedekum that he spent time at his house either watching games or playing pool.

Sides said he also had good relationships with his teachers in school even though he claims to not have been the best student. Neither of Sides’ parents graduated from high school, and he said they never pushed him to make good grades as long as he was passing.

After graduating from high school and even college, Sides said he put more emphasis and applied himself in the classroom because he realized education was worth more to him.

“Education is the key right now for any kid if they want to advance themselves a lot in life,” Sides said. “That’s the best way and only way really unless you’re going to inherit a bunch of money or win the lottery. You have to have something to offer in the world if you’re going to advance in it.”

In his current position at Saxony as well as his time coaching at Jackson, Sides said he has been blessed with student athletes who are motivated and want to succeed in life. Both Jackson and Saxony combined for a total of nine appearances to their respective final fours with Sides on staff.

As previously mentioned, Sides’ Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coaching career began at Leopold in 1978 where he coached “just about everything.” Sides describes Leopold as a close-knit community and that it was a great place to start his career.

In 1983, Sides moved on from Leopold and accepted a job at Meadow Heights until Jackson hired him in 1990 as an assistant for the girls basketball and baseball team as well as the coach of the junior high football team. Sides helped lead the Meadow Heights boys basketball team win a district championship in his final year as their head coach.

One saying Sides heard frequently was that people can’t go home again, but since he had already been gone for nearly 20 years, he knew it was time to return to a community he was proud of.

“I think if you are from the community in the school you work at, you have more pride and want to do a better job,” Sides said. “I know a lot of people that don’t like hiring people at a school they went to, but I think they are more conducive to want to do a better job. They know a lot of the people there.”

Sides certainly made the right decision since he became a part of something special with the Jackson girls basketball program alongside former Indians head coach and fellow MBCA Hall of Fame member Ron Cook. Up until 1990, Sides had never seen a girls basketball game in person, and at first glance of the team in practice, he told Cook, “Man, we’re slow.”

Sides was also somewhat pandered by his friends for coaching girls basketball because they didn’t understand why he would choose to coach girls over boys. Sides reply was, “If you don’t like kids that are dedicated, work their tail off for you and do what you ask them to do as hard as they can go, I can see why you wouldn’t want to coach girls either.”

The 1990-91 Jackson team Sides first described as slow advanced to the state final four and placed fourth overall, and the Indians made it six more times during Sides’ 13 years as Cook’s assistant.

Some of the players on the 90-91 Indians squad included players like Jackson’s all-time scoring leader Andrea Siemer [1,610 points], who is now Andrea Marchi. Also on the team was Crystal Hecht, now Crystal Guilliams, along with Brenda Thompson. Crystal’s daughter, Piper Guilliams, and Brenda’s niece, Brooke Thompson, both currently play for Jackson.

After the Indians took fourth in their first of seven final-four appearances, Jackson then finished third in 1995 and took second place three years in a row from 1996 to 1998. Lastly, Jackson took third both times in its final two trips to the final four in 2001 and 2003.

“You kind of take [going to state] for granted, but it’s hard to get there,” Sides said. “I’ve gone twice since I’ve been [at Saxony], and it’s a great experience. I wish more kids could experience going to state because it’s a great opportunity and learning experience. It’s something in your lifetime you’ll never forget.”

Other notable players Sides was able to coach during his time as an assistant at Jackson include sisters Christa, now Christa Turner, and Michelle Millham, who is currently fifth on Jackson’s all-time scoring list with 1,080 points and is now Michelle Rubel. Sides currently coaches Turner’s daughter Sydney Turner at Saxony, while Rubel’s two oldest daughters Lexi and Tori Rubel play for Cape Notre Dame.

Coach Cook decided to retire following Jackson’s final trip to state in the 2002-03 season as Sides stepped down from coachinig football and baseball to take over as the head coach for girls basketball in 2003-04. The Indians won 20-plus games each season with Sides as their head coach along with claiming three district titles.

After a few years of being the team’s head coach, Sides wanted to step down from teaching and primarily focus on coaching, but Jackson decided not to keep him employed as only the girls basketball head coach. Sides ultimately departed from Jackson, but he still wanted to be a basketball coach and had two schools to choose from — Saxony or Higbee near Columbia where his son lives.

“On the same day, [I interviewed for both jobs] and Higbee offered me a part-time job as an elementary P.E. teacher, and I would be the baseball coach and boys basketball coach,” Sides said. “Saxony needed a coach here, too, and I just couldn’t pull the switch to move up there. My ties were here even though my son and grandchildren lived up there. I just couldn’t make myself do it.”

Sides, who had already been the athletic director for Leopold and Meadow Heights, accepted the position of Saxony’s boys basketball coach and took over as the school’s athletic director. Sides coached the boys team for three years until making his final move to be the girls basketball coach.

In the first four years of Saxony girls basketball, the program went a combined 23-69 overall before Sides took over in the 2011-12 season. The Crusaders recorded their first 10-plus win season at 11-16 as Saxony also placed second overall in the district tournament in Sides’ first year at the helm.

The Crusaders have now won a district championship the last seven years with two trips to the Class 3 Final Four and even played for the state championship in 2016. Saxony fell in the title game 50-46 to a Strafford team that went on to win three more consecutive state titles and had a 123-game winning streak.

In the previous two seasons, Saxony lost to eventual state champions El Dorado Springs in the semifinals of the 2013-14 season and then fell to the 2014-15 state title winners Park Hills Central in overtime of the quarterfinals.

One of Sides’ key players on his state runner-up team was 2016 graduate and three-time all-state honoree Brianna Mueller, who currently holds Saxony’s all-time scoring record with 1,819 points. Mueller now plays at Lindenwood University and holds the women’s basketball team’s all-time scoring record as well.

Other players in the 2016 class include two-time all-state selection Raegan Wieser and Grace Mirly. Both players eclipsed 1,000 career points while at Saxony as Mirly and Wieser are third and fourth respectively on the program’s all-time scoring list.

Wieser currently plays basketball for Columbia College and reached 1,000 points last season during her junior campaign. While Mirly does not play college basketball, she has been a two-sport athlete at Troy University playing both soccer and softball.

Another player from the 2016 class includes Maddie Brune, who played soccer at Troy with Mirly. Mueller and Wieser also played soccer at Saxony with Brune and Mirly as the Crusaders won back-to-back Class 1 State Championships in 2015 and 2016.

Saxony girls basketball has yet to make it to the final four since the 2015-16 season, but the team has been just one win away from doing so the past three years. One of the main reasons why the Crusaders have had continued success have been players like current senior Emma Brune and 2018 graduates Laurel Mueller, Addison Beussink and Masyn McWilliams.

All of them are currently in the top seven of the program’s all-time scoring list, while Brune is second and on pace to break Brianna Mueller’s record with 1,578 points. Brune, Beussink and Laurel Mueller have also been named Class 3 All-State.

Beussink and McWilliams are currently playing college basketball as Beussink plays for Webster University, while McWilliams is in her final year at Mineral Area College, which is a two-year school.

When Saxony won its seventh district title in a row last year, it also happened to be Sides’ 500th career victory in his 28 years as a head basketball coach.

“You have to have talent — any coach will tell you that,” Sides said. “You have to have some coaching and not mess them up more than anything else, but you have to have talent. If you don’t have talent, it’s pretty hard to win no matter what you do.”

As of right now, Sides said this will be his final year coaching basketball with plans to retire after this season. Sides will continue his role as Saxony’s athletic director, but he also stated he wouldn’t be surprised if he were to return to coaching.

“I think this is it as far as coaching,” Sides said. “My energy level has gone down, and I just don’t think I do as good of a job as I used to. I don’t have the enthusiasm and passion all the time. I always told myself when I couldn’t give 100% — it’s time for somebody else to do it. … If I miss it badly enough, we’ll see what happens next year.”

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

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