BY ROBERT L. BAKER
Alan Caines has had some superlative moments in his life.
He played on the 1969 state basketball championship team at Elk Lake, played for Cavanaugh’s which won the amateur state softball title thrice in the 1980s and, in 2003, he coached the Warriors’ state baseball runner-up team. He also had a hand in steering his three daughters Becky, Kelly and Kimberly toward their own successes.
They were all team efforts, the result of practice, practice and more practice.
On Saturday night in a scrimmage which Caines was supposed to have a hand on a makeshift men’s faculty squad against the varsity boys basketball team, he entered the gym to thunderous applause but couldn’t quite figure why.
Did they notice he left his sneakers at home?
The scrimmage was held up until he got them, because little did he know, the game was really a cover for a tribute to Caines.
The veteran physical education teacher, coach, assistant principal and all-around good guy who started first grade in 1957 during the then new Elk Lake school’s first year is retiring next spring, and Warrior athletic director Tony Blaisure wanted to do something to let Caines know how much he has meant to the school.
“I had no idea, and the one thing that really threw me before the game was that I went over to the bench, messing around with the boys’ team, and out of the corner of my eye saw my brother Jack in the stands,” Caines said. “He almost never comes to a ball game, and certainly not to a facuty-student scrimmage.”
The stands were packed, to be sure, with Blaisure announcing the order of activity for the night, with an 8-minute ladies’ scrimmage, followed by 8-minute boys scrimmage, then another ladies’ scrimmage followed by a men’s scrimmage.
A 5:30 start really got going just a little after 6 after Coach Caines had his proper attire in place.
The faculty teams barely won their respective games with the varsity squads, but all eyes were on Caines, particularly in the second and fourth quarters.
As the second quarter got underway, the referee stopped the action so Blaisure could make an announcement.
The AD looked over at Caines and joked with his colleague about aspiring to be a part of Elk Lake’s 1,000 point club.
Blaisure noted that just for the night he had brought in someone who might be able to help him get his scoring right.
It was Mike Coleman from the 1969 state championship squad.
“He (Coleman) had some health issues in the last couple of weeks, and I couldn’t believe he was there,” Caines recalled Sunday evening.
Coleman passed the ball to Caines who almost on queue sunk a basket.
Then Blaisure said there was soomeone else, and he introduced Steve Prentice
And then, ditto for Jack Keeney.
And then there was, Jim Wallace, son of legendary Coach Mike ‘Red’ Wallace. The younger Wallace still towers over Caines.
All members of the 1969 state championship squad’s starting lineup were present to pay tribute “to a guy who wasn’t a big scorer, but made it all happen” in Wallace’s words.
Caines joked Sunday about especially being touched by Wallace’s passing the ball to him.
“It didn’t happen very much when we were playing, I tell you,” Caines said, of the years when Wallace amassed a career total of 2,339 points.
When the second quarter resumed Saturday, the Elk Lake men’s faculty played a gutsy game with the younger boys’ squad, and with extra opportunities to allow Caines to shoot at varying ranges.
Twice he drove in under the basket, and with a defender expecting him to pivot back for a layup and stuff him, Caines instead made a shovel behind the back shot and scored both times to the delight of the audience.
“A lot of times, I just get lucky,” he said of the move he tried to perfect years ago against the 6-12 Ray Lasher.
At halftime Saturday, Caines was given a standing ovation while being presented the game ball by Blaisure.
Its inscription: “Thanks for touching so many lives by being a teacher, coach and friend. Good luck in your retirement.”
Caines said Sunday, he was grateful for the opportunity to play one last time since his knees aren’t what they used to be, and he also had open heart surgery on June 25.
“My surgeon told me it would be 8-to-10 months before I’d be back to 100 percent, so my wife was really concerned, but it all worked out,” Caines said thankfully.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the referee was ready to toss the ball up for a jump shot between the starting centers but instead tossed it over to Caines, who took the ball down the floor and scored.
And, then as the final buzzer sounded, Blaisure made one more announcement.
He asked anyone who had played on a team with Caines, or had been coached or taught by Caines to join him on the floor for one last gesture.
Hundreds of folks, including almost the entire Elk Lake student body, emptied the stands to join Al Caines, his wife Debbie and their family for a 10-minute video tribute to the now legendary student and faculty member.
“It was an unforgettable moment to have all these people sharing in what has really been a great life,” Caines recalled. “Thanks to everyone who has made it possible.”