ELKHART -- Gym rats don't normally come in the form of 50-year-old men, but Mark Barnhizer says he's still the former, even if in less than two weeks, he'll be the latter.
"Basketball is about it for me, that and my family," Barnhizer said by phone Tuesday night from Indianapolis shortly after being approved by the Elkhart Community Schools board as boys head basketball coach at Memorial High School.
"I'm a gym rat at heart," said Barnhizer as his two sons, Braxton, 5, and Brooks, 4, made a packed gym's worth of fun-filled noise in the background.
Barnhizer -- who coached the Indiana All-Stars in 2003, and who resigned abruptly last November three days into practices at Perry Meridian in Indianapolis -- replaces Steve Johnson, who stepped down in late May to accept a position with IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla.
"We had to get the right fit," Memorial athletic director Frank Kurth said Tuesday night of why the process of replacing Johnson took more than seven weeks. "Mark (Tobolski, principal) really wanted to get the right fit, and when you try to make sure, sometimes it takes time to work through."
Barnhizer owns a 269-195 career record over four stops and 21 years as a head coach in Indiana. He coached two All-Stars during his nine seasons at Perry Meridian -- Andre Owens (2000), now playing in the NBA, and Austin Montgomery (2003) -- as well as former Indiana University player Ryan Tapak and current University of Evansville player Justin Petty.
Barnhizer won three sectional titles with the Falcons, the most recent in 2003, before his sudden resignation from the school on the southern edge of Indianapolis.
"That was just a situation where we'd been there a long time, had a lot of success, and yet I didn't feel like there was support from our principal," Barnhizer said, alluding to Ed Henry. "It had been ongoing, but it just got to the point where I felt I needed to do that. ... It was my decision, and it got to a point where I felt I wouldn't be happy if I didn't. It was kind of an attitude where I needed to step away for a year and let somebody else do it."
"We mutually agreed this would be best for Mark," Perry Township superintendent H. Douglas Williams told The Indianapolis Star at the time. "I've never known a basketball coach more dedicated. I will do all that I can to help him find his next position."
Five Perry Meridian players then showed up at the next school board meeting in support of Barnhizer last November.
"We just want to say that at no time do any of us feel bullied ... in practices and games," senior player Ryan Heap said at the time, adding that Barnhizer's departure was "a terrible loss for us as players."
Barnhizer said he has talked with Kurth and Tobolski about administrative support, adding that he appreciates that both have athletic backgrounds.
"He's an intense guy, but he really is all about the kids," Kurth said of Barnhizer. "He's got a wealth of experience, has had great success both as a player and a coach, and people we talked to had wonderful things to say about him."
The Memorial search committee was led by Tobolski and included Kurth, assistant athletic director Phyllis Tubbs, director of business operations Bob Woods and three community members. Five of the roughly 15 applicants were interviewed.
Coming from the basketball hotbed of Indianapolis, Barnhizer said he doesn't sell short what's present in the Elkhart area.
"For the most part, you're probably not going to be overwhelmed by some of the ungodly athletes like we've had on the north side, at places like Pike and Lawrence North, North Central," Barnhizer said, "and sometimes it felt like you were banging your head against the wall trying to beat those guys, but if you get the kids to play fundamentally, play together and play hard, there's definitely talent.
"I'm not diminishing what's there at all," Barnhizer added, "because you also have some of the best coaches in the state in your area."
Barnhizer, the leading scorer in Lapel High School history with 1,829 points as a 6-foot-2 guard, said he favors man-to-man defense and variety on offense.
"If we have a really good player, we'll try to take advantage of him more," Barnhizer said. "Obviously, we had that with Andre, but he was a rare talent."
The coach acknowledged that the Crimson Chargers have lost valuable time.
"It puts us a little behind," Barnhizer said of his relatively late hiring. "If you come in in May with the rules we have now, where you can spend a month or two learning the offense and defense a little bit, that's an advantage. We'll really be starting from scratch, but we'll do the best we can."
Citing the efforts of Endesha Bonner and Jeff Blair, a pair of Memorial assistants from this past season, Kurth said that "the month of June has not been a total loss. .... Those guys have kept the gym open, and we have played some games at Midwest Sports Academy."
Kurth said Barnhizer would determine his own staff.
Barnhizer's teaching position has not been finalized, but he has previously served as a health, science, history and physical education teacher.
Barnhizer will be at Memorial today for a 10 a.m. press conference, to take care of paper work and to set a time to meet with prospective players.
The Chargers are coming off a 19-4 season with a Northern Lakes Conference title, but standouts Kevin Sindle, Ryan Strausborger and Phillip McCray are among the team's graduation losses. Center Jamaal Pittman (11.3 points, 6.8 rebounds) and guard Chris Kemp (5.6 points) are among the potential returnees.
Contact Anthony Anderson at email@example.com or (574) 296-5900.