Tony Hillyer doesn’t know how he’ll react tonight when his son, Stephen, scores a basket.
In the past, Tony — like any other parent — stood up and cheered. After all, watching your children succeed is one of the privileges of parenthood.
Tonight, however, Tony is in a position in which few fathers ever find themselves. The first-year Atwater boys basketball coach will be coaching against his son when the Falcons host Buhach Colony.
“I don’t know how it’s going to be,” said Tony, who took over the Atwater program this year after coaching stops in Delhi and Ceres before helping out John Bliss at Buhach Colony the past couple years.
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“I’ve had thoughts run through my mind. If Stephen scores, am I going to be excited? Am I going to be mad at my team? I don’t know how I’m going to react. I knew if I took the job I would only get to see two games during league play. The two games we play against each other. Who wants to coach against their son?”
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“We’ve been talking about it since he first got the job,” Stephen said. “It’s funny, between my little brothers and my mom, half will be on my side and half will be on his side.
“It’s going to be interesting. He knows everything that we do. I think it’s going to be fun.”
On one side you have Tony, who is trying to lead the Falcons (2-2 Central California Conference, 13-8 overall) to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
With the new Sac-Joaquin Section rule that 15 wins guarantees a playoff spot, Atwater is just two wins from breaking that drought.
On the other side is Stephen, who is averaging 9.6 points per game and is second for Buhach Colony with 24 3-pointers made.
Buhach Colony (2-2, 14-7) is trying to get back in the CCC title chase with Golden Valley and Turlock.
If you think it’s an awkward situation for father and son, think about Heather Hillyer.
Does she root for her husband or oldest son?“I don’t look at it as a Buhach-Atwater thing,” Heather said. “I want to support all of them. I want to support Stephen and the rest of his team. Joe (Marquez) and Roger (Klauser) are like my sons.
“It’s awkward. People have asked me, where am I going to sit? Who am I going to root for? On one hand, I want to root for my husband to do well. I really like his players, too. They’re a good group of kids. I’m going to do my best to support everybody.”
Heather made the decision early that she was going to attend
“Tony is a big boy,” Heather said. “He doesn’t need all the support. It’s Stephen’s senior year and I don’t want to miss a bit of it.”
Heather stays busy during games, updating her husband with text messages about how the Thunder and Stephen are doing.
Tony says by the time he gets to the locker room after games, he’ll go through about 30 text messages.
That’s been the toughest part of coaching at Atwater, not being able to watch his son play.
One of the first things Tony did when he was offered the job was gather his family together to talk about the ramifications of him taking the Atwater job.
"It wasn't just Stephen we talked to, it was Roger and Joe, too," Heather said "When we first told them that this was a possibility I think they were in shock.
"They weren't happy. Once we told them the pros of the decision, they said we have to do what's best for our family."
Now Tony has two teams he cares about. It was tough when Buhach Colony lost two straight games to Turlock and Golden Valley.
"In the past, I was there watching the game. I could give him advice," Tony said. "We could go out and work on some things in the driveway.
"Now, I don't know what happened. I'm not there. I can't give feedback. Sometimes, I feel bad that I'm not there."
Tony said he wouldn't have accepted the job if his son didn't sign off on it.
Growing up, Stephen has always been competitive with his dad. Whether it's video games or basketball in the driveway, neither one backs down.
"We competed all the time," Stephen said. "Especially when I was younger. We would play horse and he would beat me, I'm not going to lie. I beat him one time, and I'm not sure it counted. I don't know if he let me win that time."
Tonight's game takes those battles in the driveway to another level.