Basketball coach reflects on 29 years at the helm
To the editor:
When I was hired as the head girls’ basketball coach at Lewistown Area High School in the summer of 1984, I was excited about starting a new chapter in my sports career. I was just turning 24 at the time and coming up on my first wedding anniversary, and the chance to be reconnected to high school sports was a great opportunity for me. Participating in high school sports while in school was such a happy time for me, and the coaching opportunity was a vehicle for me to enjoy high school athletics once again.
The LAHS principal at the time, James Schnell, provided positive support for me, my staff, and all the players, and we were able to work together and forge a new winning tradition: Lady Panther basketball. Of course I never dreamed I would be starting down a road that would see me coach 791 varsity games (29 seasons), including two seasons at a new Mifflin County High School.
The years of coaching girls’ basketball provided me a chance to work with so many wonderful young ladies and assistant coaches, and enjoy countless supportive parents and fans. I will be forever grateful for the incredible backing and encouragement bestowed upon my teams, particularly during the “championship runs” of the late 1990s. Looking back, I still can’t believe the phenomenal outpouring of enthusiasm from the community that our teams enjoyed.
After winning state championships in 1997 and 1998, members of the team were lauded at numerous banquets and public events, and several area businesses created special T-shirts and sweatshirts to sell in recognition of the special time. I can recall players going to Walmart and signing autographs for fans that had just purchased hats and/or shirts. Krista Gingrich, Maggie Johnston and Jenna Feathers were the leaders, but they made sure all the players shared in the glory of championship basketball. The relationships with the players and the two journeys to state gold will always be cherished memories in my heart. Lewistown was seen as “the best” statewide, and our area’s people loved it. I will never forget people coming up to me on the street and giving me a hug or “high five” and recalling their favorite parts of games. Every time I see a picture or a video from that time, I can’t help but smile. There’s nothing like happy times and seeing young people enjoying their hard-earned achievements.
One of the best things I always enjoyed about coaching at Lewistown was that we represented a town/community and we played against similar towns/communities. Whether it was Huntingdon, Bellefonte, Tyrone, or Philipsburg, we competed against similar teams and kids -schools in rural areas that shared common demographic characteristics with us. Of course the annual game with Indian Valley was sheer fun for all the student athletes. It was great to experience that spirited competition with a local rival, and then return to being friends right after the final buzzer. Experiences like those are tough to replace.
The loss of the rivalry game and the other athletic ramifications (fewer students can participate) are not the only reason I glowingly reflect on the “good old days” of two high schools. Going to one high school cut everything in half all the way down the line. Whereas before 50 students (25 from each school) could be pleased with the distinction of graduating in the “Top 25” of their class, now that number is indeed 25. Instead of two class presidents, two Key Club presidents, two valedictorians, two of virtually every leadership position, now you have one. Perhaps the saddest element of the single high school is the effect on the “fringe” student – the one that is down the list somewhat but, with a little encouragement, can achieve marked improvement. Those students are pushed further down the list and oftentimes become more difficult to reach.
On the flip side, one aspect of the new high school that I enjoyed was the opportunity I had to meet many girls who would have been just rivals in prior years. I will always appreciate the chance I had to coach players like Whitney Corbin, Sammie Chestnut, Briette Treaster, Allie Sutton, Breanna Cline, Tara Kibe, Taylor Dietrich, and Grace Wagner. Our county has a lot of high quality kids from border to border, and that’s something to truly celebrate.
The one single factor that enabled me to coach for 29 consecutive years was the loving support of my family. No one can truly appreciate how much a coach’s family has to sacrifice unless they go through it. My wife, Shelly, and daughters Katy and Brooke gave up a lot of for me, and there aren’t words I can come up with that can give them their true due.
To the future athletes of Mifflin County, I ask three things:
Do your best
Treat others as you want to be treated
I humbly ask parents and athletes to remember that not everybody will be an all-conference performer. Not everyone will be a starter. Not everyone will be a great player. But everybody can do the best they can each and every day.
And, please remember this: You’re never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you’re never as bad as they say when you lose.
Thank you all past and present Mifflin County athletes.