The players on the Regina boys basketball team are in the unusual position of trying to change a perception they helped to create.
Phil Arendt cherishes his role in the Regina football dynasty as a starting offensive lineman, but he’s also devoted to his other favorite sport, which is basketball.
“It’s the first sport I ever played,” said Arendt, a 6-foot-3, 270-pound junior.
Arendt is among 15 of the 16 players on the 18-3 Regina basketball team who also compete in football, where the Regals have won a state-record 60 consecutive games and four state titles in a row.
They’re serious about football at Regina, but not at the expense of basketball.
“In football, everybody looks at us as we’re going to be the kings of the football field,” Arendt said. “We get that notoriety during football and you get used to it, and we don’t want anybody looking down at us during basketball.”
Most teams have looked up to Regina this season, with the Regals climbing to as high as No. 6 in the Class 1A rankings.
Led by 6-5 star junior forward Drew Cook and a coach who resents the notion that he isn’t obsessed with basketball, the Regals are doing what Arendt expected they would do this winter.
“A lot of us have played together a long time, and we’ve been good in AAU and younger levels, and we knew,” Arendt said. “We knew everybody was going to look at us like we were a young team. The first couple games were really close and everybody thought it was a fluke. But we knew we could come out with a really good record.”
Randy Larson is in his seventh season as the Regina coach and to say that he has a passion for basketball would be putting it mildly. Larson still has time to feed his obsession with basketball despite owning his own law firm and two local restaurants.
Larson credits the people he works with on a daily basis as an attorney and as a restaurant owner for allowing him to devote the time needed to coach basketball.
“I strongly believe in hiring people, pay them a good wage and then depending on them,” said Larson, who also served on the Iowa City Council for six years from 1986-1992. “And I’ve been lucky that those positions have been filled by extraordinary people over the years.”
The 58-year old Larson has an answer for anybody who suggests that he is too busy to coach a high school basketball team. He started coaching as an assistant under Steve Bergman at West High a decade ago.
“When I was at West High for seven years, I was the assistant coach. I didn’t get to choose when practice was, but never missed a practice,” Larson said. “I was on the City Council for six years, I never missed a council meeting.
“And, so I think those things are important to show that you are committed to it. And, of course, I’ve never missed a practice or a game at Regina in this seven years.”
Senior forward Mike Sehl admires Larson’s dedication to the team.
“He’s got a lot do and he still has enough time to come to practice, and he has a lot to teach us every day,” Sehl said. “He’s just a great guy.
“Every day in practice we’re determined to practice really hard and we just get a lot of work done. The coaches are great coaches and they do a lot to help us out. Ultimately, we’re just working hard for a goal.”
Larson believes strongly in how the game should be played. He constantly preaches about being unselfish and about making the whole better than the parts.
“A fist is so much stronger than the individual fingers,” Larson said. “And I think that’s a great lesson for kids to learn.”
Larson’s players apparently have learned that lesson.
“They’ve bought into playing the right way,” Larson said. “They love each other, which is always important. I don’t think you’re ever as good if you begrudgingly pass the ball. You just do it because it’s the right play. I think they do it because they want the joy of having their teammates score as well as the joy of playing the right way. And they’re good basketball players. You know it’s amazing how much better a coach you are when you have some good basketball players.”
That’s especially true in the case of Cook, who also doubles as an all-state quarterback in football. Larson credits Cook for helping to establish a mindset in which football and basketball deserve equal respect.
Cook trains for football year-round, but that didn’t stop him from competing in the Prime Time League this past summer in North Liberty. The Prime Time League is a summer basketball league that Larson started in 1987, and has served as its commissioner ever since.
“I really think they’ve committed to playing basketball year-round,” Larson said. “Drew Cook kind of led that. That saw that he took time out and in his football training and year-round preparation between weight lifting and going to camps and everything you do to play basketball a couple to three times a week all summer long.
“And that makes it easier for everybody else to say, ‘OK, I’m going to commit to that, too.’ There are guys on the team that have the same hunger to get better in basketball that he does. It’s great when your best player is also a guy that is committed to doing it the right way and putting in the work. But he can’t be the only one, and he’s certainly not.”
Larson is part of a trend at Regina in which head coaches are being hired from outside of the teaching profession. The list includes football coach Marv Cook, girls basketball coach Clark Anderson, boys soccer coach Rick Larew, and volleyball coach Megan Askew.
“Obviously, Regina is doing a good job of hiring the right people,” said Drew Cook, who is Marv Cook’s son. “They’re looking into their background and seeing what they can do for the programs. Regina does have outstanding coaches in every sport. It seems like across the board we have coaches that know what they’re doing, and they’re doing it right. It’s great.”
Larson credits the Regina administration for being willing to think outside the box in order to help the students excel.
“I think most administrations feel like it’s handy to have a coach on the grounds because you have a relationship with the students and you’re right there, accessible,” Larson said. “So I think the accessibility and the accountability arguments are good ones in favor of hiring teachers for coaches. But I think there is a lot to be said for the idea that you should hire the best teachers you can and you should hire the best coaches you can.
“And Regina has certainly been a leader in the idea that our coaches don’t have to be teachers. Many school administrators just flat out say we’re not hiring a non-teacher coach. And I understand that. But on the other hand, whenever they’ve hired a teacher who ended up not being as good a coach as they could’ve gotten, I’m not sure that they’ve done all they can to make the experience for their players the best it could be. So I really like the attitude that Regina has, which is ‘Let’s find the best teachers we can, let’s find the best coaches we can. And if the two are the same body, then great. But if not, what’s important is that we get who we think is the best.’ “