His beloved Missouri Southern basketball team had just lost by 26 points to Missouri on Tuesday night and Rob Corn wore the same demeanor as he did at the tipoff.
Smiling and holding his tie, the 20-year-old Corn, afflicted with Downs Syndrome, looks ten years younger than he is.
Because he loves the game so much, Corn has sat on the bench with his father, Missouri Southern coach Robert Corn, at every game starting during the 1999-2000 season. Starting the following season, Rob’s 12-year-old brother, Scott Corn, could be found a few feet farther down. Donning a number “3/4” jersey, Scott leads his father’s team in its sprint onto the court for pre-game warmups.
“We try to build our program around the family,” Robert Corn said. “How better to do it than include your personal family?”
Coach Corn has won more games than any other Lions’ coach and is in his 17th year. Having his family on the bench has proven rewarding, even in the face of basketball adversity, such as Missouri Southern trudging to a 87-61 loss in Missouri’s final exhibition game.
When the deficit was shortened a bit, to 19 points with 13 minutes to go, Rob grabbed a cup of water for Lion forward Dan Jones as he substituted out. He then gave half-a-dozen quick claps on his way back to his seat on the bench. He wasn’t ready to give up, and no matter the outcome, he was going to savor the experience.
Mizzou Arena was a big draw for the Lions. Despite failing to play the role of David for the evening, coach Corn said it was great experience for his players. For many it will be the biggest stage their careers allow, causing some consternation among players.
“As disappointed as we were at the way we played in the first half,” coach Corn said of the 46-19 midpoint score, “we were just that much proud at the way we played in the second half.
“After we got rid of the deer-in-the-headlight look, we were able to do some things.”
Thanks to an NCAA rule instituted in April 2004, teams are no longer allowed to schedule teams with professionals for exhibitions. The regulation was meant to deter collegiate teams from inviting opponents that might have ties to an AAU program of a targeted recruit.
It has also meant greater opportunity for smaller colleges to get bigger exposure, particularly those in-state opponents of major universities. Last year it was Central Missouri State and Northwest Missouri State who benefited by a matchup with the Tigers. This year the Lions made the trip from Joplin.
“We’re very appreciative of the opportunity to be here,” coach Corn said. “There are a lot of Division II programs that would love to be here, so we’re very appreciative to coach Snyder and his staff for supplying us the opportunity to come and play.”
For Missouri, it offers one more tune-up before Monday’s regular-season opener. Marshall Brown and Thomas Gardner scored 19 points each, and the game was never in doubt.
Rob Corn, no doubt, sat by enjoying the show. Before the game Snyder stopped to shake the hands of the Lions coaches. Hovering a couple feet below the others was one hand eagerly waiting its turn. Rob often watches Snyder’s mentor, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, and wasn’t about to miss the chance to shake the protégé’s hand.
“He’s a big Duke fan and loves Coach K, so whenever they’re on he’ll come say ‘Dad, coach Mike’s on TV’,” coach Corn said. “He loves it. Rob knows who all the coaches are — he’s probably better at knowing who they are than I am. So certainly anytime somebody of coach Snyder’s stature comes out, Rob takes notice.”
Then Rob turned to the stands and gave his mom a double thumbs up. He’s happy to be here, and though he may not show it for 40 minutes during the game, between yelling out instruction to his team, coach Corn can smile. He loves having him here too.