CHARLOTTESVILLE — Athletic success is nothing new for Eastern Hancock High School’s Aaron Spaulding.
The men’s basketball coach and school’s athletic director comes from a long history of basketball success stories. Growing up in Indiana, Spaulding aspired from an early age to appreciate and love the state’s favorite sport.
“My dad is kind of a sports nut,” Spaulding said. “If a game was on, he was always one to have me watch it.”
Spaulding’s dad, Bob, who keeps the scorebook at the Royals’ basketball games, may have had more of an impact on his son’s career than he could have known at the time.
It’s a learned passion that has allowed Spaulding to persevere this winter during a season that could match his worst in 14 seasons as head coach.
After a rewarding high school stint at Warren Central High School, where Spaulding played alongside future All-American and NBA player Greg Graham and several other future professional athletes, he moved on to play at the collegiate level at Olivet Nazarene University.
It was at Olivet where Spaulding made his transition from athlete to coach.
“I played for two years on very successful teams and went to the national tournament, but had some health issues and finished my senior year as an assistant coach,” Spaulding said.
That refusal to step away from the game he loved so much carried him into a profession where he could share his determination and hard work ethic with young people of central Indiana. After coaching and teaching government and economics at his alma mater for two years, he returned to his family’s roots on the east side of Indianapolis.
Now at Eastern Hancock, Spaulding balances his time between his men’s basketball team and his duties as the school’s athletic director, which he was named just three years ago.
“It’s a challenge,” Spaulding said. “I have to manage my time well and make sure that all of the other sports are getting the attention that they deserve and need.”
The challenges on the basketball court this season have been many. With four regular season games remaining, Spaulding is 153-151 in 14 seasons at the helm. The Royals entered this campaign with five straight winning seasons — a combined 71-42 over that span.
Injuries, however, have robbed the Royals (4-12) of any chance to gain traction. Of the 12 young men to see varsity action, only three have played in all 16 games.
Spaulding’s first squad, in 1999-2000, went 4-16.
A challenge, though, is something Spaulding has never been afraid of. Balancing his own team’s needs and attention with all of the other sports in the school may sound like a difficult feat, but it is evident that for Spaulding the harmony is seamless.
As a women’s varsity basketball game comes roaring to life across the hall in the gymnasium, an array of volunteers, parents, and employees come looking for Spaulding, all with varying needs and requests. What’s consistent, though, is the obvious respect and amicability his colleagues and acquaintances display for him.
Interrupted several times by friendly passersby and fragmented conversations, Spaulding decidedly makes it a priority to say hello to and get to know those around him.
Former player Kevin Wright remembers Spaulding’s efforts to get to know each player personally, both as a player and a student.
“The warm up routine before practice was always loose and a time for us to build relationships,” he said. “It was a time for coach to hear what was going on in our lives and was an opportunity for him to teach.”
Still in contact with Spaulding as an adult today, Wright said the relationship he built with Spaulding is a lifelong one.
“I see him or talk to him every few months and admittedly I wish it were more,” he said.
“However, I know without a doubt that if I ever needed anything he would be right there for me.”
It’s these personal relationships and the interest in the lives of those around him that also contribute to Spaulding’s success throughout the duration of his 13-season tenure. Sure, winning is important to Spaulding and something he strives to accomplish; that’s evident through his impressive track record as both a player and coach. But even without the trophies, medals, and congratulatory “job well dones,” Spaulding finds fulfillment in his work.
“The most rewarding part is the privilege of helping young men develop their character, work ethic, and dedication to a task,” he said. “Few of them earn athletic scholarships, and we have yet to have a player earn any money playing professionally; however, they will all be fathers, husbands, employees or employers, and men in a community in the future.”
To senior point guard Victor Vincz, Spaulding has been an incredible role model both on and off the court.
Although he’s learned many life lessons from his coach, Vincz says the greatest quality he’s developed as a result of his relationship with Spaulding is the will to keep fighting.
“He had us watch a clip from the movie Rocky after our fourth or fifth loss in a row this season,” Vincz said. “He told us we have to keep fighting. When something (bad) strikes, obviously it’s going to hurt, and you just have to get up, stay focused, and act like you never got hit in the first place.”
This is a theme which has become tradition for Spaulding and the men of Eastern Hancock’s basketball program. Take, for example, that particularly difficult season of 1999-2000, when the Royals opened the year 1-12 on the way to a 4-16 finish. Many coaches would take that as an opportunity to write the season off and begin focusing on next year. Spaulding never did. Instead, he focused on the day to day victories, however miniscule they may be.
“We use a boxing analogy; when you get knocked to the mat, you get back up and you fight,” he said.
“We don’t point fingers, we don’t blame others. We look at ourselves. How can we get better? Keep getting better.”
This mentality and the undeniable hard work that came with it carried that same 4-16 team to a semistate appearance four years later, as that group’s record progressed to 8-13, 16-7 and the semistate capping 20-5.
“That (4-16) year we had five freshmen and five sophomores on the varsity team,” Spaulding said. “When those freshmen were seniors they went on to the semistate.”
While it’s easy to be positive with a team that’s experiencing success, Spaulding maintains his supportive attitude with all of his teams, regardless of record. The will to succeed and the desire to get better is something he instills in each and every player during each and every season.
“Coach has had a lot of really good, winning teams in the past,” Vincz said. “This year we’ve been in a bad situation. We’ve lost a lot of games, but he treats us the same as he’s treated any other team and wills us to keep working.”
For Vincz, this is a lesson that has transcended off the court as well.
“Personally, I’ve had a lot of things go on, but I’ve learned through coach to just keep fighting.”
After suffering from a concussion earlier in the season, Vincz needed to see a doctor in Carmel. Trouble was, he didn’t have a ride to get there. Employing his benevolent and caring character, Spaulding offered to take Vincz to the doctor when necessary.
“I’ve known a lot of coaches who coach because they care about basketball,” Vincz said, “but coach really puts in the time and effort to make us better people each day. He just really cares about us.”
Giving inspiration to others comes easily for Spaulding, but it’s finding his own inspiration that can sometimes be difficult.
“Inevitably with coaching there are going to be some excruciating times,” he said. “It’s got to be a passion to carry you through.”
Spaulding’s family is a primary source of motivation.
With his wife, Jennifer, the couple has four children: Hope, 14, Alyson, 10, Jacob, 8, and Silas, 8.
A passion for the sport and influencing young people is evident in Spaulding. Those combined with his Christian beliefs and faith in God and family, help Spaulding maintain a sunny disposition which is infectious to all those around him. He attributes much of his success and good fortune to his faith, which he says has gotten him through the best of times as well as the troubled ones.
When things are good, Spaulding remembers to be thankful, and when times are tough, he uses his faith to focus on the future and its potential, a lesson he instills in the youth around him.
“You have to encourage kids to get up. When something bad happens, you keep going.”
There is no doubt that coach Aaron Spaulding has fought for the immensely successful career he has built for himself. There is even less of a doubt, perhaps, that those around him are thankful for his dedication. Near the end of a recent day at school, several young girls from the nearby EH Elementary enter the high school athletic office. The girls are clearly far too young to be high school students, but seem to know Spaulding well. They giggle their greetings as they scamper off to the women’s basketball game next door in the gym.
Though they’re not high school athletes yet, the grins on their faces indicate the positive impact Spaulding is already having on their lives.
Down The Stretch
Eastern Hancock’s string of five straight winning seasons has likely been snapped, but there’s still time to turn things around before the sectional. Here are the remaining regular season games for EH, as well as Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon and New Palestine.
Eastern Hancock (4-12, 1-4 MHC)
vs. Hauser (0-16, 0-7 MHC), Thursday
at Edinburgh (11-4, 3-2 MHC), Tuesday
vs. Morristown (11-5, 5-2 MHC), Feb. 15
at Hagerstown (14-1), Feb. 22
Greenfield-Central (2-14, 0-6 HHC)
at Knightstown (5-10), Thursday
vs. Rushville (7-9, 1-5 HHC), Feb. 15
at Cambridge City (11-5), Feb. 16
vs. Connersville (8-10), Feb. 19
Mt. Vernon (15-0, 5-0 HHC)
vs. Muncie Burris (8-7), Thursday
vs. Lawrence Central (6-8), Saturday
at New Palestine (13-4, 6-0 HHC), Feb. 15
vs. Westfield (8-9), Feb. 19
vs. Yorktown (12-5, 3-3 HHC), Feb. 22
New Palestine (13-4, 6-0 HHC)
vs. Franklin (11-4), Thursday
vs. Mt. Vernon (15-0, 5-0 HHC), Feb. 15
vs. Greenwood (4-11), Feb. 22
Sectional draw is Sunday, Feb. 17; Sectionals, Feb. 26-March 2