And when it was time, the longtime New London boys basketball still tried avoiding it.
His son, senior guard Karson Howell, had just scored his 1,000th career point less than five minutes into a Jan. 29 non-league game at Rocky River Lutheran West on a cold, snowy weeknight.
In fact, the elder Howell admitted the lack of fanfare on the road was exactly how he wanted it to happen. No publicity.
And even still, the instant the game was stopped, Tom Howell made a beeline walk away from his team. He couldn’t disappear out of sight fast enough as teammates congratulated Karson while the crowd applauded.
But there was no shying away from the pending embrace of father and son.
“It meant a lot … a lot,” Karson said of finally greeting his dad — and head coach. “That hug meant almost every day in the summer, when we’d come to the gym, just the two of us, and just shoot and work on ball handling.”
Parent/child combinations as coach and player in most sports are not uncommon. But the Howells represent a unique aspect to all the perceptions around it, especially in a small village of roughly 2,500 people.
The two are almost identical in personalities, and want absolutely nothing to do with the spotlight or attention. And yet both are in high-profile positions that often force just the opposite.
The reality is, even now with six-plus games left in Karson’s career, the two are still working through it.
“I know with the job I have here as athletic director and being the head coach it’s not easy to do — but I want to be completely out of the way,” Tom Howell said. “I think all the attention should be on the kids.
“Looking back, would it have been nice for Karson to do it at home with a bigger attention? Yeah, sure, I guess so,” he added. “But I think for us, it was just fine the way it was.”
Keeping their guard up
Tom Howell knows there is no point in hiding behind a facade.
His guard is always up when it comes to the chatter about New London’s top scorer also being the son of the head coach.
“Because I know he’s always going to have that attached to him,” Tom said. “‘He’s the coach’s son.’ Just because of the profession I chose to do, he gets to endure the good and bad that comes his way.
“But as a person, I think Karson has dealt with that pretty well,” he added. “He’s a player and I treat him as such at school. But hey, the reality is he’s also my son.”
Teammate Colin Cole has been a close friend with Karson since the two were very young. The guard believes his friend goes out of his way to suppress the relationship with his dad.
“He doesn’t like to think of it that way,” Cole said. “I honestly think Coach Howell is more hard on him, if anything. Karson tries to ignore it and play as hard as he can. But he definitely doesn’t acknowledge it or use it to his favor.”
For his part, Karson admits it’s not easy — but he likes challenges. And, at this point, the stigma and stereotype has faded away over time.
“Did it ever bother me? No, not really,” Karson said. “People are going to talk. That’s the reality. I probably get that trait from my dad, honestly.”
Another close teammate, Jared Ross, said Karson’s work ethic has erased any questions.
“He didn’t want to be known as Karson Howell, a really good player who had his dad as the coach,” Ross said. “He became his own self, a very good player and teammate.
“We’ve heard things from everywhere over the years, home and away,” he added. “First, it was he is only playing because his dad is the coach … then it went to him getting the most points because his dad is the coach.”
Did any of that irritate Karson’s teammates? Not a chance.
“Because it doesn’t bother him, so it doesn’t bother us,” Ross said.
One huge benefit Tom Howell acknowledges in his situation was the perfect example he received.
The NL graduate began coaching at his alma mater under Dale Marschall, who coached the Wildcats for nine seasons from 1997-2005. Dale coached his son, Erik, who graduated as the program’s all-time points leader and went on to play at Bowling Green State University.
“Watching them interact really helped,” Tom said. “I got some good advice from Dale. When you go home, you’re done. It’s off. He’s my son, not a basketball player at New London.”
Enjoying retired life, Dale was at New London last Friday for its game vs. St. Paul. Karson was honored beforehand for becoming the sixth player in program history to reach the 1,000-point milestone.
“I was thinking a bit, between myself, Tom Eibel and Coach Howell, there have only been three coaches at New London over the last 35 years,” Marschall said. “I think we’ve all had a basic philosophy, which is to pass the ball and make sure the open man gets it.
“That’s not a very easy thing to do, and it means moving without the ball and working to get open,” he added. “I see a lot of comparisons there with what Karson does and what Erik had to do. It’s a compliment to him as a player, and Coach Howell for emphasizing this is a team game — yet still having someone with the capabilities to be a proficient scorer.”
Both Karson and Tom admit to having generally reserved personalities. It’s also the reason why people don’t take the easy route and connect them as father and son during games.
“Karson plays old school to me,” New London girls basketball coach Eric Mitchell said. Mitchell was a former longtime assistant on Howell’s staff prior to taking the girls position at the school. He’s known the family since Karson was 5 years old.
Mitchell also recalls the year-end banquet when New London reached a Division III regional semifinal as Firelands Conference champions in 2011-12 under Tom Howell, who is 173-124 near the end of his 14th season.
Mitchell pointed out Howell had won FC and Northwest District Coach of the Year to the crowd gathered — and most didn’t know about it.
“He appreciated it, but he was also kind of mad at me for it, too,” Mitchell said. “That meant attention. Tom is modest and humble, and it’s carried over to Karson. He doesn’t need to throw up three fingers or make any gestures when he scores.
“Karson is just a quiet, great kid and will do anything for others,” he added. “He’s a version of his dad — just a better basketball player.”
Entering Friday’s home game vs. Mapleton, Karson is averaging 16 points, 6.8 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.5 steals per game. He is shooting 45 percent from the floor, including 44 percent from the three-point line. Howell is also an 82 percent shooter from the free-throw line.
The Wildcats are 8-8 overall (5-6 FC). Five of those losses are by six points or less, including three in league play.
“We should probably be 12-4, but haven’t had those close games go our way,” said Karson, who hit a game-winning 3-pointer in a 92-90 double-overtime win late in 2017 to give the ‘Cats the FC title as a sophomore. “But it’s not like the games aren’t fun. Hopefully we can get some momentum for the tournament.”
When it does end, Tom and Karson will be found at a tournament game somewhere, watching together in the crowd. But it will be strictly as father and son.
“We go to watch all the games, and I love that,” Tom said. “He doesn’t play football or baseball, but we go watch playoff football and tournament baseball games together. We just like sports, and that’s one bond we know we have.
“I’m pretty fortunate he likes to do it with me, because a lot of kids may not like to do that with their dads all the time,” he added. “But he and I enjoy that.”
One thing is for certain, however. One will probably have to look hard to find them among the crowd, where they can blend in and stay out of sight.
“In talking about yourself or your son, it’s hard to do,” Dale Marschall said. “You kind of force yourself to steer away from that a bit, but I was happy to see Coach Howell and Karson do that recognition before the game last week.
“But they’re not about their own accomplishments, just the team,” he added. “It’s who they are. They are more concerned with the positive aspects of everyone else at the school and community they represent.”