Beloved assistant coach Jim Underwood helps Chrisman girls' basketball reach final four
As Jim “Undie” Underwood sweeps the court inside the William Chrisman High School gym, his unofficial fan club — better known as the state final four-bound Bears basketball team — applauds the pre-practice gesture.
When asked about the impact he has had on the 23-5 Bears, who have won 16 games in a row, senior center Jacque David asks, “How much time do you have? Ohhhhh, we love him! He’s amazing. He’s a wonderful coach and a wonderful person.”
Underwood, who came to Chrisman after serving as the head baseball coach and then head girls basketball coach at Pleasant Hill High School, has helped head coach Scott Schaefer — he of 600-plus career victories — lead the Bears to two wins away from a state title this season.
“He’s the perfect coach to work with Coach Schaefer because they are both amazing,” David added. “They have different personalities, and they work perfectly together with each other and all our other amazing coaches.
“We are so lucky to play for this group of coaches. They love us as much as we love them. I think that one of the things that make Coach Schaefer such a great coach is that he values the opinion of Undie and our other coaches.”
Senior point guard Amanda Szopinski adds that Underwood is family to the players.
“Undie’s overlooked by everyone but us and Coach Schaefer,” she said. “He doesn’t have any kids, and we know he cares for us as much as he would his own kids — he loves us and we love him. I can’t imagine being at Chrisman without Undie.”
Added senior guard Gia Moore: “Coach Schaefer is the best coach in the world, but Undie is the glue who keeps us together. No one will ever know what he means to our team.”
And that includes three-year team manager Chanz Hale, who said he has been “appreciating the coaching genius” of Underwood and Schaefer.
“Coach Underwood is so dedicated to these girls and would do anything to help them get better,” Hale said. “He spends hours watching film, scouting and preparing for games every week. Every time you see him in his classroom, he has something new that he has found. We like to make fun of the amount of clips he saves to show the team. It has been the pleasure of my life learning from Underwood — not only about basketball, but about life in general.”
Schaefer, who along with his staff, has led the Bears to their first final four appearance since 1993, certainly knows what his assistant means to the Chrisman program.
“When people ask me what is the best move I’ve made as a coach at William Chrisman,” the gentlemanly Schaefer said, “I always answer, ‘Listening to Coach Underwood.’ He deserves this recognition.
“The girls love him. They listen to him, and they respect him. I can’t imagine this journey without Coach Underwood.”
The Bears used a defensive-minded approach in the state quarterfinal matchup against Smithville Saturday and came away with a 42-23 win that punched his team’s ticket to the Class 5 state final four in Springfield.
Chrisman will play No. 5-ranked Whitfield (22-4), a 65-50 winner over Cardinal Ritter, at 7 p.m. Thursday in the state semifinals at JQH Arena.
“This is my first final four,” Underwood said, “so I’m as excited as the girls and everyone else.
“My wife and I don’t have any kids, but I tell everyone the girls on this team are our kids and I’d do anything for them.”
His respect for the players and Chrisman has grown over the years.
“I can’t imagine being anywhere else,” Underwood said. “It was just the right time for me to leave Pleasant Hill and come to a program I admire, and, quite frankly, a school district where I can make a little more money. It’s one the best decisions of my life.”
And a place where he feels fortunate to be a part of something very special.
“Coach Schaefer is the decision-maker,” Underwood said, “but it makes me proud that he respects my opinion and is not afraid to ask for it.
“All we want to do is make this team the best it can possibly and help these young ladies become the best young ladies and young adults and important parts of their community.
“I think that’s a big reason why I respect Coach Schaefer so much — what he teaches goes way beyond basketball.”