Twine Line: Elkhart begins one search for two coaches

Central and Memorial each need new boys basketball bosses. Students will be part of the screening process; an emphasis on feeders needs to be part of the future.

Posted on May 2, 2014 at 6:13 p.m.

In a perfect world, or at least a convenient one, the coaching version of the Van Arsdale twins would walk through Elkhart's doors right now.

A couple of unassuming, unflinching stars within the realm of basketball who arrive together. And in the interest of fairness to both sides of town, a couple of individuals who can work together and can produce alike.

Don't hold your breath, though. I'm not aware of any such available twins.

So, Elkhart will likely have to search for, and hopefully land, two quality coaches who are unrelated.

Their philosophies don't really need to be identical. They just need to work.

Elkhart, steeped in basketball lore and basketball love, deserves that much.

For the first time since the city's two public high schools opened in 1972, Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial have boys basketball head coaching vacancies in the same offseason.

It's an interesting and challenging time for Elkhart Community Schools — which is taking an interesting approach to filling those two positions.

There will be just one seven-person screening committee charged with bringing recommendations for both jobs to the school board.

The committee will be headed by Bob Woods, who is director of business operations as well as athletic coordinator for ECS.

And, as was Woods' idea, a committee of this nature will for the first time include students — one returning basketball player each from Central and Memorial.

"It might be unique, but we think it's important that students have a voice, that they be able to ask questions, that we see the interaction with their (potential) coach," Woods said. "They give us another viewpoint to consider. Our whole goal is to do what's best for students."

Woods declined to identify the members of the committee other than himself, citing the possibility that some candidates might contact those members directly, but the group includes Central and Memorial administrators. Past committees also have included community members.

Woods has been with ECS for more than 40 years. He has served as athletic coordinator for about 20. He's been involved in many search committees, but not all.

He was on the committee that brought in the last Memorial coach, Mark Barnhizer in 2006. He was not on the committee that brought in the last Central coach, Troy Noble in 2012.

Woods said each candidate interviewed for the current openings will be interviewed with both positions in mind, which is kind of novel, but in keeping with an ECS mantra of providing equal resources and opportunities for both its high schools.

Some candidates may not like the concept of not being encouraged to pinpoint a school of choice, but others may love it. After all, the chances of being hired are doubled.

"If you're applying, we're taking it as you're applying for both jobs," Woods said. "I think any candidate who comes in should be willing to go to either school. If you say, 'I'll only come here if I can get get the Central job,' or 'if I can get the Memorial job,' well, you can say that, but then you run the risk of not being one of our top candidates. We're one school community."

One school community that is trying to hook two top-caliber coaches.

Which brings us to the candidates' side of the equation, and to the question of whether Elkhart is still an attractive landing spot.

Woods says Elkhart certainly ought to be. He points out that Memorial (24-2) was one narrow loss to eventual champion Carmel from playing for a Class 4A state basketball title just two years ago, and that the Central baseball team's state title run just last spring further "shows we still have the athletes who can win."

Woods calls historic North Side Gym, which the two schools share for games, another selling point. It's a point that has been especially appealing to some coaches in the past. Others have been somewhat flustered by the restrictions related to setting up North Side practice schedules.

It's a matter of embracing the venue while tolerating the logistics.

Of course, much about Elkhart basketball has involved embracing and tolerating. At Central and Memorial alike over the decades, there have been sensational years and there have been down periods.

Going forward, a key to sustained prosperity in an increasingly competitive environment for the sport probably depends in part on having coaches who will invest energy and know-how into developing a quality feeder program, a program that instills fundamentals at an early age, affords repetition, inspires joy for the game and doles out some expectations.

That's a lot easier to do, a lot less tricky, in a one-high school town than a multiple-high school town, but it needs to be aggressively pursued nevertheless.

Sure, there are challenges. In Elkhart, grade-schoolers often move among schools, and at the middle school level, there is the awkwardness of three schools for two high schools. One middle school, Pierre Moran, feeds almost entirely into Central; one, West Side, feeds almost entirely into Memorial; while the third, North Side, is split about 50-50.

"We're working very hard on getting a feeder system going," Woods said. "That's going to be one of the expectations for the new coaches, to be very involved there. I think perhaps lip service has been paid to it in the past, but I think the new coaches will find that they have great support from us in getting it going."

Why's any of this matter so much? Again, Elkhart loves its basketball, and the kids love their basketball. It has at times been a uniting passion for the community. There's a heritage here that needs to be respected, and furthered.

Not unrelated, when the teams win, there are "more butts in the seats," as Woods points out, and it is boys basketball and football that are the school corporation's revenue sports. When they succeed, other sports and students benefit as well.

Applications for the coaching positions are being accepted through May 9. There will likely be two rounds of interviews. Woods' goal is to have coaches chosen by the June 10 school board meeting, but it could be later.

As the search commences, here's hoping Elkhart can go 2-for-2.

Anthony Anderson is The Elkhart Truth's assistant sports editor. Contact him at aanderson@etruth.com or visit on Twitter @AnthonyAnders11.


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