ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
It’s not unusual to have new faces on middle school basketball teams, but this year several of the new faces at Hillsboro Middle School belong to the coaches.
The boys’ team will have two new coaches at the helm in Shawn Winter and Lonnie Isaac. They succeed Dennis Boldt and Tim Kaufman, who guided the program for the past 10 years.
Meanwhile, Taryn Jost is the new head coach for the girls’ program. She is teaming with Collette Burton, who is in her second year as assistant/seventh-grade coach. Jost succeeds Dwayne Wilson, who now teaches in Sterling.
Winter and Isaac are new faces-and yet they aren’t. This is their first year of coaching middle school basketball, but both are Hillsboro High School graduates-classmates, in fact-and longtime residents.
Winter directs Main Street Ministries and is a substitute teacher in the Hillsboro school system. Isaac is the city recreation director and coaches tennis at HHS.
Winter said not having a full-time connection with middle school students hasn’t been a disadvantage.
“It’d be a little different if I walked into a new community or a different town and didn’t know the kids at all,” he said. “I’m at a little bit of an advantage because I’ve been working as a para and have been a substitute teacher at the schools for the last three years. And through the other summer (recreation) programs, I’ve gotten to know a lot of kids.”
Winter played basketball at HHS and Tabor College, but this is his first paid coaching job.
“Something I wanted to do for a while is to coach basketball at some level,” he said. “This is a good place for me to start.
“I’ve been around basketball for a long time,” he added. “I played for Darrel (Knoll, HHS head coach) and Don (Brubacher, head coach) at Tabor, and that helped prepare me for this level. But it’s still a learning experience. I think the kids realize that.”
Winter and Isaac are working with 30 athletes this winter. Managing the size of their roster has been the biggest challenge so far.
“When you’re limited to one gym for practice, the challenge is developing a schedule that can facilitate everybody getting a chance to do some things,” Winter said. “We’re working through it and the kids are responding well.
“The bottom line is they just want to play. But when you have 30 guys and five goals, you can’t get as much work done as you’d like to get done.”
Winter sees the primary job of a middle school basketball coach to teach his players the fundamentals of the game so they’re ready to move on to high school ball if they so chose.
“Some of the kids have them and some of the kids don’t,” he said. “You have kids from all different walks coming through the door. So the challenge is to set up a system that allows each kid the opportunity to learn those fundamentals.”
While he wants to emphasize the basics of basketball, he also wants to put the sport into perspective.
“Hillsboro’s been a basketball mecca for a long time,” Winter said. “I think the kids realize that, but we want to teach them that there are more important things than basketball and to keep it in perspective. We want the kids to have fun.”
He said he also tries not to make assumptions about the athletic future of a boy in middle school
“A lot of kids don’t peak until they’re 16 or 17 years old,” Winter said. “So you don’t want to give up on a kid because you don’t know how much he’s going to grow and how athletic he’s going to turn out.
“Your two or three best kids (in middle school) may not be your best kids in high school, and some who sit at the end of the bench now might end up being the kids who are pretty productive later.”
Winter faces one challenge most coaches don’t: a soft voice. He is still recovering his voice in the aftermath of the delicate surgery he underwent a year ago to remove a growth on his brain.
In that sense, Isaac fills a unique role on the coaching staff.
“He does all the yelling, I just tell him what to say,” Winter jokes. “My voice is starting to come back a little bit. The kids have been real good about responding to that. They know what the situation is. They know when the whistle blows, it’s time to be quiet.”
Like Winter and Isaac, Jost isn’t all that new to Hillsboro either-or even Hillsboro Middle School. She taught at HMS and was Wilson’s assistant two years ago. She resigned those positions for the 1999-2000 school year to be at home with her infant daughter.
“I missed not being in the classroom and teaching,” said the HHS and Tabor graduate. “I love being at home with my daughter, but I thought this would at least give me an opportunity to spend some time with the kids at the age I enjoy teaching.
“And it keeps me involved with basketball,” she added. “I really missed playing. I just wanted to stay in the game. I thought this would work out nice because it’s a shorter season and not as much pressure.”
The biggest challenge she faces as coach is remembering what it was like athletically to be in middle school.
“It’s sort of back to basics,” she said. “It’s kind of a rough time for girls at that age. So you try to be sensitive to that.”
The disparity in skills between girls at that age is significant, she said.
“We have girls who don’t know what a double-dribble is and girls who are ready to play in high school,” Jost said.
Another challenge, she said, is to find the balance between getting everyone involved in games while still being competitive with her top players.
“In middle school I still want it to be fun, and yet I want us to be competitive,” Jost said. “I’m very competitive. So I’m trying to find a balance between hoping the girls enjoy it and still helping everybody learn.
“Once they get to eighth grade, though, I want to help them understand the different roles there are on a team, that some girls are going to score and other girls, who are just as important, are going to handle the ball,” Jost added.
She is also trying to help them make the transition from seventh-grade, where equal playing time is emphasized, to eighth grade, where everybody plays but time on the court is not equal, to high school, where playing time is based solely on ability.
“That’s a hard concept for some of them,” she said.
As a middle school coach, she sees part of her role as preparing athletes for high school coach Becky Carlson. Jost has designed her offensive scheme and her practice drills accordingly.
“It makes me feel like I’m just doing something for more than just today,” Jost said. “I know not all the girls will go on and play in high school, but I feel I’m helping them become familiar with something so that once they move up to high school, maybe they’re one step ahead.”
Jost and Burton have 29 girls out this winter, 11 in seventh grade and 18 in eighth grade. In game situations, Collette Burton will coach the seventh-grade team, Jost the eighth-grade team and they will share duties with the C-team, which is composed of primarily eighth-grade girls.
“The eighth graders are a very athletic group of girls and there’s a lot of them,” she said. “If I can just help them to start understanding roles and to play as a team, and quit thinking individually, that’ll be a big goal accomplished.”
HMS BOYS ROSTER:
7th grade: Chad Hughbanks, Peter Fast, Tim Funk, Andrew Bina, John Vineski, Josh Jost, David Funk, Josh Boese, Kyle Kroeker, Daniel Bookless, Richard Johnson, Clinton Schneider, Josh Funk, Adam Scheele, Wade Weibert, Chris Gibson, Robert Jost, Shawon Nelson, Ben Schaefer, Macy Fadenrecht, Kurtis Shaw
8th grade: Tyler Goldsby, Kody Borg, Daniel Deckert, Ryan Kaiser, Eric Weinbrenner, Michael Schafers, Michael Roble, Derek Hamm, Trevor Heuson, Lee Sorensen.
Coaches: Head, Shawn Winter; Aide, Asst. Lonnie Isaac.
Cheerleaders: Ashley Brooks, Audrey Ediger, Anna Krich, Hilary Lelek, Sara-Jane Miller, MaDonna Schafers, Janae Wiebe.
HMS girlS ROSTER:
7th grade: Laura Neufeld, Kelsi Slayden, Danielle Hagen, Courtney Foth, Laura Skiles, Jenny Terrell, Hope Darting, Laura Lindsay, Katelin Unruh, Erika Duran, Kari Roble.
8th grade: Sara Buller, Emily Ratzlaff, Stephanie Loewen, Charity Davis, Amy Duerksen, Sara Hamm, Sarah Prieb, Emily Railsback, Niki Streeter, Erin Wiebe, Rose Vineski, Whitney Washmon, Marissa Diener, Heather Stepanek, Crystal Strotkamp, Kirsten Cederberg, Jessica Vannocker, Katie Baltzer.
Coaches: Head, Taryn Jost; Asst., Collette Burton.
Cheerleaders: Ashley Brooks, Audrey Ediger, Anna Krich, Hilary Lelek, Sara-Jane Miller, MaDonna Schafers, Janea Wiebe.