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Unsung Heroes: Coaches shine deserved spotlight on basketball assistants

Unsung Heroes: Coaches shine deserved spotlight on basketball assistants


Mogadore head coach Russ Swartz watches the second-half action, while his brother and assistant coach Rod Swartz also looks on.
Paisley Nader/Portage Sports

By Tom Nader

Publisher and Editor


The curtain is falling on the 2022-23 high school boys and girls basketball season.

The basketball season is one of the longest in all of high school sports, with tryouts being held in October and, for some, a season that runs into late February and early March.

Any head coach will be the first to tell you that they could never make it through the long season without the help, support and advice from their coaching staff.

Typically, a program’s staff of assistants go unnoticed, working largely behind the scenes on a variety of things from game planning, in-game adjustments, practice planning and coordination or logistical and program promotion.

Today is a day they won’t go unnoticed, though.

Today is the day they get the spotlight as the area’s head coaches take a moment to provide a public thank you to their staff.



Head Coach: Joe Nowak.

Assistant Coach: Tim Keyes.

“I can’t express enough appreciation and gratitude for all the work Tim did this past season,” Nowak said. “Along with very much welcoming me from day one when I started mid-season, Coach Keyes did a phenomenal job coaching both our freshman and JV teams, in addition to serving as my assistant during varsity games.

“Coach Keyes not only has a knowledge of the game that he communicates really well to our players, they consistently meet our expectations because of how he treats them respectfully and fairly on a daily basis.

“This season could not have been possible without Coach Keyes keeping everything afloat in early to mid-December, and I am tremendously grateful for all the work he did on and off the court over the last several months.”



Head Coach: Josh Jakacki.

Assistant Coaches: Bob Lieberth, Jake Lieberth.

Middle School: Mason Jakacki, Dave Mayle.

“All of our coaches are Crestwood grads and hold the program and community in high regards,” Josh Jakacki said. “They represent everything that is right about coaches. Each of them bring a different level of value and fill in where I am weak. Collectively, we are pulling in the same directions and doing what we believe is right for our student-athletes.

“They all demonstrate a high moral compass and set good examples for our athletes. They appreciate the process of developing our players and are stake-holders in the program on equal footing.

“We are blessed to have had a lot of success and real-life experiences through the game of basketball. The success has helped ground us during the difficulties (wins and losses) the last two years. They have helped to grow our pgoram beyond the standard and haven helped to set us up for success down the road. I am thrilled with their work ethics and willingness to do what is necessary to help our kids continue to grow. All in all, I couldn’t ask for a better group of men to help me lead the program.”



Head Coach: Steve Beshara.

Assistant Coaches: Noah Dockus, Brandon Costanzo, Caleb Kaut, Alex Blake.

Middle School: Nick Pollack, Jake Williams.

“Noah is a teacher and the head soccer coach at GlenOak, but he still wants to be in the gym,” Beshara said. “He also has two young children, so I appreciate his willingness to put in the time. He does a lot of our statistical and technological stuff and on the floor, he is always looking for something to make us better.

“As our JV coach, Brandon has done a great job getting the kids to play hard and together. He coaches in a manner that allows for player development. His passion for the game keeps me going at times.

“Caleb played for us at Rootstown (2014-18). He spent his junior and most of his senior season as an assistant coach because of injury. I’ve always enjoyed having Caleb in the gym. His demeanor is good for everyone. His willingness to volunteer means a lot to us.

“Alex is a great communicator, both the guys and the community. Over the years, he has developed the trust of our players. His willingness to volunteer this year has also meant a lot, and he has been good for everyone.

“Nick is our eighth-grade coach and is committed to the development of the program. His passion for the game also keeps me going. Nick keeps our junior high organized and on track, which is so important.

“Jake is finishing his first year coaching the seventh-grade team. He also recently acquired a teaching license so his commitment is apparent. He has done a great job helping Nick keep our junior high headed in the right direction.”



Head Coach: John Misenko.

Assistant Coaches: Tessa Ludwick, Mariah Siedler.

“I want to thank both of my coaches for all the things they do to help the Field girls basketball program,” Misenko said. “Mariah has been extremely helpful in my transition at Field, because she was a coach at the middle school prior and already had a rapport with the girls, which helped us to build relationships. Tessa also needs to be recognized fo rher help this year.

“I coached Tessa in AAU, so I knew that she was a great person and knew basketball, and I jumped at the opportunity to add her to my staff. I really appreciate them both and look forward to working with them next year.”



Head Coach: Andrew Olesky.

Assistant Coaches: Tommy Bissler, Matt Hill.

“Throughout my career at Garfield, I have been very luck to have great assistants,” Olesky said. “Tommy and Matt really embody that. These two are so incredibly instrumental in literally everything we do on the court, off the court and behind the scenes. Both of these guys are fully committed to the program, the team and most importantly the kids.

“The hours they put in really is remarkable. They are fully invested in all things about this program: The kids, scouting, film study, practice planning, invetorying, fundraising, game-planning, in-game decisions, halftime adjustments and so much more.

“Their responsibilities are great because they are great. Both of them bring a tremendous background in basketball. They have grown up their whole lives in it. As a coach, I cannot begin to express my gratitude toward Matt and Tommy. I hope our players and fans know how great they are. I am lucky to have them as assistants, but even luckier to have them as friends.

“While Matt and Tommy are presently great assistants, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention other assistants I have been lucky to coach with Garfield. For three seasons, we had Randy Ward, who was tremendous. While he is definitely missed, I am proud to say that he just completed a successful first season as Bristol’s girls basketball coach.

“I was lucky to have the legendary John Herchek on staff for five years. He also brought his son, Jeff, on board for a year and Terry Peterson is another friend who came on board with me on day one and was with me the longest. He is a basketball junkie and a legend, too. His presence is missed in our program and Bob Ritchie was also a great assistant.”



Head Coach: Aaron Gilbert.

Assistant Coaches: Andy Cardinal, Taylor Smith, Madison Hartung.

“This is a hard-working staff that not only cares about the players’ development athletically, but cares about them as individuals and go above and beyond to demonstrate this quality,” Gilbert said. “Our staff is unique in that it is made up of a former player (Taylor Smith), a former opponent (Madison Hartung from Rootstown) and a former opposing coach (Andy Cardinal at Middlefield Cardinal).

“I think that gives our players a unique prospect of how our program works compared to others and why we have been so successful over the years. I truly appreciate each individual on our staff and what they do for our student-athletes. They do not receive nearly enough credit for the role they play in our program.”



Head Coach: Craig Foreman.

Assistant Coaches: Kate Swing, Jaclyn Mahoney, Jeremy  Bish, Ashley Shaheen, Leah Reeves.

“We are a long-tenured staff together that has seen it all, and I couldn’t have done it without them,” Foreman said. “Kate and I have coached together from day one and Jaclyn shortly thereafter. We are a great team of coaches that work together well and all love being around our players and helping them grow into strong women. It is great working with coaches that have the same understanding of what the true meaning of high-school athletics is all about.

“As a head coach, you take on, mentally, sometimes more than assistants just by the nature of the position. I am so thankful to have such great friends as my fellow staff members, because we truly are there for each other every step of the way. Life lessons come to all of us in different ways and to know your have a staff that would be there for you a minute, as well as be there for your players, shows what it is all about. And let us not forget the fact that my assistants buy me and the rest of us coffee before every game.”



Head Coach: Curtis Black.

Assistant Coaches: Rod Moxley Jr., Rich Graves, DJ Hickle, Will Yount.

“Rod has been a great friend and an even better coach for our student-athletes,” Black said. “If you have played any sport growing up in Kent, you know ‘Coach Mox,’ from coaching youth football, being a baseball umpire, basketball coach and father, Rod dedicates his time relentlessly to any and everything he does. The care he has for the Kent community and its student-athletes is unmatched. He has made a seamless transition into the role of an assistant coach, while motivating and bringing energy to our program every day. I couldn’t be more honored to have Rod as our assistant coach, and I know our student-athletes feel the same way.

“Rich has been my best friend for over 20 years. From growing up together, being on the same teams together and coaching together, he has always been consistent at holding me accountable. The special thing about Rich is that he brings the same energy he had as an athlete into coaching. He is a great role model for our student-athletes and has the ability to connect with everyone. I am thankful to have my point guard as part of our staff.

“DJ is someone that I have always looked up to for direction. With him being a senior when I was a freshman, I always enjoyed battling him in practice and watching him be successful on the court. He was a leader in the locker room as an athlete and is now a leader of young men in our program. He is extremely patient and extremely passionate when it comes to our athletes. He has been a great asset to our program.

“Will is a 2022 graduate of Field High School and in his first year of coaching. He has embraced his role impressively, while being a full-time college student. Will can relate to our athletes and provides great insight for all of us. I am very excited to see Will’s development in coaching, and I hope this is just the beginning for his coaching career.”



Head Coach: Jennifer Ritch.

Assistant Coaches: Bill Ritch, Erika Johnson, Tessa DiFrancesco.

“Bill comes with a lot of basketball knowledge and experience and was part of the coaching staff that won the first-ever girls basketball state championship at Walsh Jesuit. He truly loves working with the players and always has my back as both an assistant and father, which is invaluable to me,” Ritch said. “He is the one who helps me set up and tear down every practice or game, analyzes film with me and helps develop our offensive sets. It is a thankless job some days, but I am always thankful for his help.

“Erika was one of my favorite players to coach, and I am blessed that she wanted to come back and coach on our staff. She runs the JV team, handles all drama before it gets to me (if there is any), and she brings the same fiery level of competitiveness to coaching that she did as a floor general during her playing days. It is so nice to have an alumnus who has gone through the program and knows what is expected without me having to say a word. She is finishing her student teaching this semester, and I know she is going to be also be an amazing teacher.

“If Erika was my favorite player, Tessa was my favorite student and scorekeeper. She was running things for me at the age of 14 and has just never stopped and transitioned into coaching. She is the person I can call at any point, and she will get whatever it is I need done. She is a go-getter, a problem solver, a social director, a great listener and I am so blessed to have her as a colleague. She also brings a positive attitude and much needed levity to tense situations, which the girls love and we all feed off of that energy. When Tessa walks into the gym, it is hard not to automatically smile.”



Head Coach: Russ Swartz.

Assistant Coaches: Rod Swartz, Anthony Ricci, Nate Robinson.

Middle School: Jeff Fankhouser, Tom Pollock, Matt Bogner.

“All have been very loyal and committed t our players and program throughout the years,” Swartz said. “Most of these guys have been with us for the majority of my 15 years at Mogadore (including Steve Lutz for 13 years), which is one of the reasons we have had the privilege of experiencing so much success within our program. Our JV overall record is 250-60 during the 15 years while our varsity overall record is 254-108.

“Rod was my JV coach at Norton for 14 years. When I left and came to Mogadore, he became the head coach for nine years and went 133-70, with four league championships. He has been one of our assistants at Mogadore the past six years. Our time together as players at Mogadore and Hiram College was always special, and we were fortunate to be on succssful teams and experience winning as coaches together. We have created a system that has been successful and has stood the test of time. We know that if it weren’t for our players being skilled, but also them believing in our system and having confidence in our system, we would not be as fortunate as we have been in terms of wins, championships — and more importantly, the positive relationships and experiences with players. It truly has been special to experience things together.”



Head Coach: Marlon Jones.

Assistant Coaches: Jordan Jones, Devonte McKinney, Michael Boltz, Corey Gibson.

Middle School: Lynn Kelley, Lorenz Askew.

Youth: Derek Luna, Austin Robinson.

“I would like to thank all my coaches for everything that they do and the mindset and skill-sets that they bring to the program,” Jones said. “It’s great to have a strong coaching foundation around you when you are trying to run a program from the youth all the way to the main stage of varsity basketball. Without my coaches supporting us and giving back to these kids and this community, knowing they are taking away from their own family to be able to help on what might seem to be a long journey, is amazing and I don’t take that for granted.

“Jordan and Devonte do so much for this program that goes unnoticed. These two are the ones who really run this program. They handle all the day-to-day things, practice routine, uniforms, emails, schedules and so much more. They have made it to where I only have to worry about coaching because that is what they wanted me to have to worry about when we took this program over three years ago. Without them, we are not the program we are.

“With Boltz and Gibson preparing the freshman class for JV and varsity, being two former players that I had the privilege of coaching and now have on the staff giving back to the school and the community, is amazing to see. Bring that they are still young and can join our practice and get up and down with the kids helps us prepare for different teams that we play throughout the year.

“Coach Kelley and Askew also have been great additions, bringing so many years of experience and knowledge to get these young men ready for the high-school level, which is very important to this program. Not many middle-school coaches will be given their flowers, but we want to make sure that we let those guys know how much we appreciate them and think highly of them and what they do to make this a successful program.

“Austin and Derek are my coaches that get these kids when they are young they have the biggest challenge of all and that’s getting them to understand how basketball is played. What they do with the youth and being able to take those kids at this young age and implement basketball into their lives — and get the kids to enjoy and love a sport that they might have never played before or have been playing for a year or more — is awesome. The time they give to the youth is unmatched and it does not go unnoticed.”



Head Coach: Cody Calhoun.

Assistant Coaches: Chuck Palmer, Matt Patrick, Austin Nupp.

Middle School: Adam Whitacre, Joe Siciliano.

“I am very fortunate to have coaches at each level of our program that I can trust and also share the same mindset that we are in this to do what is best for kids,” Calhoun said. “Each of my assistants build great relationships with our players and strive to make them better people in addition to better basketball players.

“When there are things that I need help with, each of them are willing to provide whatever help we may need. Without quality assistant coaches at the high school or middle-school level, my job would be much more difficult. I am truly thankful for what they do for our program and our kids on a daily basis.

“Chuck Palmer has been coaching at Rootstown as a volunteer for nearly 20 years, while his wife Rose also keeps the book and washes the uniforms. Matt first started coaching at Rootstown as an assistant football coach for Mark Geis before joining me as an assistant and is someone our players all enjoy being around.

“Joe is a Rootstown graduate, who was the JV coach for my first two years than welcomely shifted to the middle school to fill a need we had.

“Adam was a senior my first year, and we immediately clicked working together. He has been a great asset to our program at the eighth-grade level. Austin joined our program this year through a connection of one of his former coaches teaching with my brother at Massillon. I have been very impressed with his coaching abilities on and off the floor in this first year as a coach.”



Head Coach: Craig Nettleton.

Assistant Coaches: Ashley Callahan, Hannah Harnar.

Middle School: Dean Dunlavy, Mike Stiles.

“I am so fortunate and blessed to have a staff that cares deeply about the girls in our program,” Nettleton said. “One of the best attributes is that they lead by example and teach the life lessons that can be learned through sports.”



Head Coach: Mike Matisi.

Assistant Coaches: Doug Craver, Tyler Chaney, Nick Dillon, Zeddie Pollock, Vince Hensperger, Bob Dunn.

“The best looking coaching staff in the state,” Matisi said. “They have provided me with so much support and guidance. They are the best people to be around during the highs, while also making the hard times more bearable. We work together and rely on each other for answers on and off the court. I am grateful for their friendship, knowledge of the game and love for our kids.

“Much of our staff provides their time, energy and effort on a volunteer basis. They show up each practice and game while getting paid absolutely nothing to provide our kids with coaching and care. I cannot thank them enough for that.”



Head Coach: Carl Singer.

Assistant Coaches: Ira Campbell, Scott Clark, Bryan Bedford.

Middle School: Kevin Kukla, Alonte Smith.

“As a leader, you are only as good as the people around you and I am lucky to have some amazing people on our staff,” Singer said. “It is very difficult anymore to find good assistant coaches because either life gets in the way or they take the opportunity to become a head coach. This group of coaches is all in on what we are doing and it makes my job so much easier. Almost all of them have coached teams throughout the youth level, so they were a part of the program before they were even on staff, which has allowed them to know our philosophy and have relationships with the players already. Besides Scott Clark, every person on the staff is either a new addition or in a new position this year — and they have done an outstanding job.

“I have to give a special shoutout to Scott, who has been a part of the basketball program for almost as long as I have and currently is not only a varsity assistant, but also our youth coordinator. Even after his daughter decided not to play basketball anymore, he has volunteered to continue helping the program in countless ways. He has put in many hours, both on the court and off of it, to keep things organized and running smoothly at the youth level, while also helping to council me on decisions at the high-school level. Until you become a head coach, you don’t realize all the extra responsibilities that go into it and Scott has done so much to make my job easier. I can’t thank him enough.”



Head Coach: Nick Marcini.

Assistant Coaches: Phil Starks, Bruce Thomas, Rocky Orr, Tyler Shank, Ron Estes.

Middle School: Carlton Lawrence, Ryan Golson, Jared Tuckery, Greg Szczecinski.

“I can’t say enough about all of these guys,” Marcini said. “I am very fortunate to work with such great coaches and people. The countless hours they put in, in the gym, watching film, in the off-season, away from their families… I am very grateful. I have been lucky to have most of these guys with me for over a decade now.

“Some were players of mine (Tucker and Orr), some dads that have moved all the way up from the youth (Ron, Ryan, Greg), some started as young college kids just trying to be involved in the game (Shank), some are just old ’Born guys (myself and Carlton), others are old head coaches that I either coached against (Phil) or coached under (Bruce).

“Each is great with the kids and brings a little something different to the table, from a different perspective, working toward a common goal. I truly appreciate everything these guys do for the program, the school and the community.”



Head Coach: Kevin Longanecker.

Assistant Coach: Leah Luli.

“Leah is a 2017 graduate of Waterloo and three-year letter winner for us,” Longanecker said. “As a player, she embodied everything that we want our program to stand for. She modeled, daily, what it is to be a great teammate and was the consummate team player. She work take initiative to do the little things that needed done and would do extra things to make the experience fo rher teammates better. Leah was such a tremendous teammate that we retired her jersey following her graduation for the next season and hung it in our locker room as a reminder of what a great teammate looks like.

“She is living out the same things as an assistant coach. She does whatever is asked of her and so much more to make this experience of our players a positive one. She is unselfish of her time and her commitment to the team is amazing. We are truly blessed to have Leah as our assistant coach.”

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