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Passion for the game, passion to educate
January 21, 2011 - B.J. Lisko
Same story, different gym. That’s what it was like walking into "Ray 'Buck' Hyser' Gymnasium at Hudson High School and seeing Salem coaching legend Jeff Brink and Sebring coaching legend Brian Clark working together. The “basketball laboratory” that Clark described was going on in front of me and the dedication and respect I saw from the Explorers team to learn was a sight. In six years as sports editor of the Salem News, Brink and Clark are the two best boys basketball coaches I have ever watched courtside, first hand — coaches that get the most out of their players no matter the circumstances, and coaches that better prepare their players for the future and whatever it may bring. I played for Jeff Brink as a freshman when he was very early in his coaching career at Columbiana High School in 1996. We stunk in the regular season that year. We stunk bad. To quote the movie “Rudy,” there wasn’t a speck of athletic ability about us. But come freshman tournament time, something came over the sloppy, poor-shooting, forgetful Clipper squad. We upset No. 1 seeded East Palestine. Then we upset Sebring, and lo-and behold we found ourselves in the title game. We bought in. We played hard and some shots fell and we won. The Sebring game went to triple-overtime and I still to this day have a pain in my neck from when Brink rushed the floor after we won and nearly strangled me as he was trying to hug all of us in celebration. Brink jokingly recalled it as the “Miracle in Columbiana” when we chatted in Hudson. Eventually our lack of talent caught up with us, of course with half the town in tow, watching in Lisbon where our shots didn’t fall and we went back to playing like Neanderthals just long enough that it cost us a chance to win. But despite winning only a few games our entire regular season, it was a first-hand example of a coach getting the best out of his players and the players (finally, in our case) buying into the system. Even a coach that was so new into his career. That’s what makes Brink special. That’s what makes Clark special. It’s their passion for the game. Their youth and summer league work spawned a series of winning teams for their respective schools. They live basketball — 24/7/365. There aren’t gyms or fields full of coaches like that anymore. While I won’t go into what could ultimately be a Masters Degree dissertation on why that is given the economy, teaching positions, personal lives, the state of society and about a million other factors, it’s rare to see it. It’s downright unbelievable to see it happening in the same gym with the same team on the same bench. I wanted very badly to show this dynamic and illustrate it in the Salem News because I think it’s so important. Because unfortunately, it seems like coaches like Brink and Clark are turning into the exceptions. But in my time here I’ve also seen a number of other coaches dedicate themselves in the same manner. I have the utmost respect for a number of area basketball coaches, boys and girls coaches, foremost including Rich Hart, George Spack, Grant Spaite, Wayne Johnson, Roger Zeigler, Renee Farina, Tom Bingham and Will Klucinec just to name a few. Those are all unique circumstances in their own rights, but their passion for the game and their passion to guide their players and/or students are similar to what I’ve talked about with Brink and Clark. People always want to focus on the negative, and often we’re conditioned to look at records and statistics in such a way that we lose sight of the greater picture. We have and have had some really great coaches here in the time that I’ve been around to see it, first as a kid growing up and now as a writer. And as I’m thinking about it, every sport deserves a mention. How about Don Conser or Mike Kopachy or Lynn Grove or Jeff Andres or Aaron Alejars or Paul Cusick or Bob Spaite or Dan Yeagley or Richard Berryman or Art Rohrer or Dan Vargo or Todd Huda or Rick Brook or Eric Whitmer or Mike Helm or Derek Beck? I know I’ve left a lot out, but you get the idea. We try to give credit where it’s due whenever we can. Unfortunately there’s only so much time. But I don’t have to remind you. Most of you have already seen it for yourselves. Played for the coaches. Been a part of the communities. Sports are second. Education, values and morals are first. When those things are instilled, I don’t care what a coach’s record might be. They’ve already won. There are some good things going on around us in the classroom, in the gym, on the fields. Don’t overlook it.
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