Crouch, 23, was recruited 2 1/2 years ago to play basketball at the Salina junior college by longtime Brown Mackie coach Francis Flax.
came to his
rescue, Crouch said he
was headed for a life of trouble.
"I was on the streets of Gary, Indiana, before I came here, and that should say it all," Crouch said.
"When I came here, I learned so much from Coach, and not just about basketball.
I grew up a ton here."
two years at Brown Mackie
, Crouch said, Flax
became the father figure he
never had growing up.
"I don't think I could have made it through college without Coach Flax," said Crouch, who graduated from Brown Mackie in May.
firm but fair.
He'll help you if you need help, but he'll also help you help yourself.
kept me motivated doing what I love to do."
Crouch isn't the only Brown Mackie basketball player who has adopted Flax
as a father.
Each Father's Day, Flax fields dozens of calls, text messages and emails from former players wishing him a good day or telling him they miss him.
Never mention a father
After 20 seasons at Brown Mackie
, 65, has coached hundreds of players and is touched by those who make an effort to stay in contact.
Like Crouch, many of these players came from single-parent homes without a father.
"When you talk to the players during recruitment, in the majority of instances they'll never mention a father -- it's always a mother or grandmother," Flax
embraces being a father figure to young men who join his
basketball program, he
anything but easy on them.
"I demand a lot from them on and off the court," he
"These former players know exactly what I expect and how tough it is for a kid to be thousands of miles away from home and be a man," said Flax
, who also coached Salina's Kansas Cagerz professional basketball team from 2000 to 2007.
"I instill a good work ethic," he
"When players go to one of our practices, they get a well-rounded, thought-out, rigorous two hours of practice.
My motto is, 'My way or your way, and your way isn't the right way.' "
There were life lessons
Donnie Palmer played for Flax at Brown Mackie in 2004 and 2005 and remembers basketball practice as more than just practice -- they were life lessons.
"Coach Flax taught me how to work hard and never give up on anything," said Palmer, 28, who now lives in Boston and is pursuing a professional boxing career.
During his two years at Brown Mackie
, Palmer said, Flax
definitely was a father figure for him.
Spencer, 35, said his bad attitude caused Flax
to ban him from competing in a national championship tournament in 1997.
"I was being stubborn and rebellious, so Coach Flax told me I wasn't going to the national championship," said Spencer, who now lives in Hillside, N.J. "So I stayed home, and they lost.
"Coach Flax taught me to be calm, cool and collected and to approach challenges with a businesslike attitude," Spencer said.
"Coach Flax was a great mentor to me. He's a real humble man, and I learned how to be a loving person from watching him and his family.
I can apply everything I learned from him to numerous situations in life."
Oldest of 15 children
Flax was born in Ransom, the oldest son of 15 children, "so I had some early responsibilities to learn while watching my younger siblings," he said.
After high school graduation in 1964, Flax went to college at St. Mary of the Plains in Dodge City, where he joined the basketball team.
wasn't a very good player.
"But I sat right next to the coach and tried to figure out why he
called time out when he
did or substituted one player for another," he
"I loved athletics, and I loved basketball."
Flax's first basketball coaching job after college was at Spearville High School
, where he
coached two seasons before being drafted into the Army.
After leaving the Army, he taught for seven years at Ellinwood High School and then nine years at Highland Community College.
A role Dad accepted
was hired at Brown Mackie
in 1990 to start athletic programs.
After developing softball, volleyball, baseball and women's basketball programs, Flax
started a men's basketball program in 1992.
may be 65, but he
plans to continue coaching basketball for years to come or until "I get tired of going to practice."
"I love to teach and go to practice, and I love watching these guys go from here to a four-year college," he
"Some have gone beyond that.
It's very gratifying."
Coach Francis Flax (lower center), with members of his basketball team after a recent practice. (photo by Tom Dorsey / Salina Journal)