ELKHART — Kyle Sears, a laudable leaper as a player, sprung over at least a couple historic hurdles on his way to becoming Elkhart Memorial boys basketball head coach last week.
Kareem-Abdul-Jabbar-standing-on-Wilt-Chamberlain type of hurdles. OK, maybe even Sears-Tower type of hurdles.
Not only is Sears the first coach among the eight hires in Memorial boys basketball history to land the job without previous varsity head coaching experience, but he’s the first Crimson Charger boss to be an alum of an Elkhart high school.
“Wow, I guess I am a bit of rarity,” Sears said Tuesday, June 24. “I kind of knew the history and thought maybe I was the first hired from within, but I didn’t know for sure, and I didn’t know I was the first with no experience.”
A review of archived material shows just how extremely rare the home-grown and the no-experience elements have each been in the storied history of Elkhart high school boys basketball.
There’s long been a clear lean, be it spoken or otherwise, toward bringing in an out-of-town hired gun (often well out of town, or even out of state), as well as bringing in one who’s already fired plenty of head coaching bullets.
It’s not surprising that events happened that way in the days of one Elkhart high school, when Indiana high school basketball had greater statewide allure to it, and when Elkhart High was seen as one of the state’s more attractive basketball destinations.
Be it habit, coincidence or something more, the trend has continued since the 1972 split into two schools.
Anyway, here are some of the facts.
Each of the last six coaches in Elkhart High history — starting with Chelsa Boone in 1922 and continuing with Russell Bratton, John Longfellow, Bill Milliner, Max Bell and Keith Dougherty — graduated from outside Elkhart.
And at least the final five of those men came to Elkhart having already coached varsity basketball elsewhere. Boone, likewise believed to have been a head coach elsewhere, was preceded by Ed Murphy, who started in 1920. Background material on Murphy is not readily available.
As for the post-split days, there have been 17 boys basketball hires between the two schools since Elkhart High divided into Central and Memorial. That includes Randy DeShone taking over the Blue Blazers last week.
Until Sears, just one of those hires — Dennis Nowicki at Central in 1987 — landed the job without previous varsity head coaching experience, and just one — Dean Foster at Central in 1992 — was a grad of Elkhart schools.
Sears, a 2002 Memorial graduate, was a Charger assistant for six years before being tabbed last week.
Nowicki was an assistant at Central for nine years, and an assistant for 11 overall, before becoming the Blazers’ head coach.
And when Elkhart finally gave a nod to an one of its own in Foster, it was only after he’d already spent 18 years as a head coach between Cincinnati Taft and Bremen, plus a handful of years elsewhere as an assistant.
So, putting the pre- and post-split eras together, one bottom line is this: Kyle Sears is the first Elkhart high school boys basketball head coaching hire in at least 94 years to manage the double of both graduating in Elkhart and securing the job with no varsity head coaching experience.
"That kind of baffles me,” Sears said with a laugh. “The only thing I can say is I’m very thankful to have this chance.”