Kodish looks to court success, again

LEWISTOWN – Kevin Kodish said Thursday night that he always wanted to coach again. He said that about a half hour after the Juniata County School District Board of Directors made him a coach, again.

Kodish, whose 29-year career at the helm of Lewistown and, for the final two seasons, Mifflin County, said he never thought he would tire of being a basketball coach.

“I was in it for the long haul,” he said.

But then, when the 2012-13 season came to an end, so did his tenure in Lewistown. Apparently, he was a little restless after a year off.

“I stepped back, stepped aside for a year and felt recharged,” Kodish said. “I felt like I had some gas left in the tank.”

It’s the second career change for Kodish in as many years – before he put his sneakers in the closet he wrote his last press release for the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties, running successfully for a seat as a Mifflin County Commissioner.

This, he says, is a good hobby – and one he is confident will neither interfere with his job, nor cause any consternation with his constituency.

“Sports is sports. It’s an extra activity,” he said. “I work hard during the day at my job. It’s a way for me to relax and blow off some steam.

“Hopefully the people will be accepting and we’ll have a nice, smooth transition.”

Kodish praised his onetime rival turned successor, Roger Herto, whom he believes is a good leader for the squad he left behind. And, he said, going to the Tri-Valley League will be a step back in time – it’s where he started, in 1984. The first three years he coached Lewistown, the Panthers were in the TVL North, contending not with Juniata, but two other Mifflin County schools – Kishacoquillas and Chief Logan – along with Middleburg and West Snyder, which also have merged to form a single school.

“It’ll be exciting. I feel like I’m going back to my roots,” Kodish said. “Why not go back where you started before?”

Juniata just finished what could arguably be called its best season in school history. The Indians swept the TVL, made it to the District 6 Class AA final and secured a state berth before exiting at the hands of then-defending state champ Bishop Canevin.

Along with Meghan Geedey – Ritzman in her playing days for the Big Red – who had been the coach since 2007, Juniata saw a trio of strong senior starters depart in Carly Burns, Joelle Winey and Maddie Zendt, along with bench players Alyssa Parson and Kristen Pray. On the plus side, Kodish will have at his disposal a reliable 3-point sniper in Victoria Varner and a veteran point guard in Janelle Swartz.

“That’s a good start,” said Kodish, who attended a pair of Juniata games this season. “They definitely will be hit hard by graduation. It’s exciting to build something.”

Prior to the past two years, Juniata was not often a contender for the TVL title, and never had the success in District 3 that it has enjoyed since transitioning to the western side of the state. Juniata also has been plagued by financial issues that forced the district several years ago to levy some of the highest athletic participation fees in the state – since reduced – and Juniata must share an athletic director with cross-county rival East Juniata.

“I know they have a lot of challenges there but we had some very lean years here in Mifflin County, too, before the merger,” Kodish said. “It’s something I’ve experienced before – a sign of the times.”

Juniata, traditionally known as a wrestling school, saw success in both of its basketball programs this year; the boys gained a new coach in Al Ream, who Kodish remembers as the football coach at East Juniata who Kodish wrote about as a freelance reporter for The Sentinel.

“I actually played on Al’s church league basketball team,” he recalls. “I’m excited to be coaching alongside Al Ream and the boys program.”

Juniata fans will undoubtedly have high expectations for Kodish, whose basketball resume includes two state championships (1997 and 1998 with Lewistown) and a third appearance in the state finals (2004, also with Lewistown), eight district titles and the same number of runner-up finishes, 10 Mountain League titles and a career record of 597-194, which represents a .755 winning percentage. His only losing seasons were his first at Lewistown and his last at Mifflin County.

“We’ll do our best,” he quipped. “We’re going to establish a fast-paced game.”