The Hancock County basketball tourney is a terrific reminder of the area’s coaching talent.
With the eight local boys and girls prep coaches battling on the same day, it’s easy to look at the field and marvel at how well our Hancock teams are managed.
At Mt. Vernon, you’ve got a boys coach in Steve Lynch that could (and has) contributed to the college coaching ranks and, there’s no doubt in my mind, would master coaching whatever level of basketball you threw at him. His counterpart at MV, Julie Shelton, will go down as one of the winningest girls coaches in state history, if she chooses to stay at it another 15-20 years.
New Palestine boys coach Adam Barton continues to make us (i.e., me) look foolish. Every year, he loses a bunch of talent to graduation. Every year (practically), Barton guides a team to a sectional title. With the three starters he lost this season — Josh Penley, Brandon Collins, Reid Clark — there was no one in the pipeline with the experience to fill those key roles. Yet, Barton has his mix of veteran and fresh faces two overtime losses away from an 8-0 start. It’s the very definition of “coach ’em up.” And I don’t think there’s any coach that has their finger on the pulse of their team’s collective psyche more than Barton. Among a million buttons to push, he always picks the right one.
Since the beginning of the 2007 season — a span of 120 Eastern Hancock boys games — guess how many times the Royals have lost by more than 15 points? The answer is five. It’s an amazing statistic that shows the consistently competitive nature of coach Aaron Spaulding’s teams. The next time I see an Aaron Spaulding-coached team outhustled or outworked will be the first. The EH athletic boosters do a nice job each year of selecting and honoring new members of their Hall of Fame. I know that coaches are required to be five years retired before they’re eligible, but I don’t think Spaulding (in his 14th season) is going anywhere for a while, so let’s induct him now.
Those are the four local coaches who have been at the helm for more than five seasons, which gives me a nice cutoff point to avoid leaving anyone off the list. Frankly, it’s a pleasure to speak and work with all eight of our head coaches. Win or lose, they’re always accommodating. But, with this group, the wins far outnumber the losses.
Speaking of coaches, I wasn’t able to touch base with Marian’s Todd Lickliter in time for the story published Friday highlighting Mt. Vernon graduate Jake Stafford’s success at NAIA Marian, where Lickliter is in his first year as head coach after a career that saw him guide the Butler and Iowa programs.
Lickliter had a chance to chat with me Friday evening, though, and I think his comments are worth including here:
On the importance of high school student-athletes finding the perfect college — not necessarily just at the largest program, which was the theme of Friday’s article:
“It is fit, it’s where you’re going to be comfortable. A good friend of mine, a high school coach, used to tell his players, it’s where you want to be on your toughest days. You kind of want to be around the right environment, around the right people.”
“When I came back my first year (from Iowa), I didn’t coach anywhere and so I went to some Marian games and I was impressed with him. I actually stopped his family one time before a game and kind of introduced myself … only to say that I was impressed with the way Jake played. He had good instincts, good vision. I like to watch a guy and see how he affects his teammates, and I thought Jake was really good at helping his teammates play at their highest level. He passes it well, he sees the game, he has a good understanding.
“So, he was a pleasure to watch and then as I’ve gotten to know him, coaching him is a real pleasure. He’s attentive and he’s not an overly emotional guy, but you know you’re going to get a great effort from him. He’s going to compete hard and so, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Jake and I know his teammates appreciate him.”
On Marian (Lickliter’s three sons and a daughter-in-law graduated from the school):
“It’s a good league, it’s a tough league. We’re going to lay a really good foundation this year and then keep building. These guys are very coachable and I think they’ll attract teammates that I’ll enjoy being around.
“I think having a good nucleus of individuals, not only on the court but off the court, is really important. And I’ve had that experience. I enjoyed my time at Butler and I think there are similarities between Marian and Butler, even though we’re NAIA and they’re DI. So, I’m thankful for the opportunity and I am looking forward to a bright future.
“I think that so much of what you appreciate in a situation comes down to the people. And I’ve been so impressed with faculty, staff, administrators, advisors through my years of being a parent. You can tell that the people are genuine and they care, and I think that makes an institution and sets it apart. And it’s hard to do that everywhere. At Marian we have the kind of environment that allows it.”
Brian Harmon is The Greenfield Daily Reporter Sports Editor. Contact him at (317) 477-3227 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.