By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
In October, Crestwood coach Wanda Hoffman made Ohio volleyball history.
She became just the 32nd coach in state history to earn 500 career wins.
Only one other coach in Portage County, Mary Tarka with 750 wins, has reached the milestone.
“She is my idol. I am trying to catch her,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman’s coaching career began back in 1987 and has now spanned 31 seasons with the Red Devils, taking a small hiatus from coaching when Brittany Dye led the program for five seasons (2013-17).
“It has been a wonderful trip I have been on,” Hoffman said.
A successful one, too, pretty much from the start.
In Hoffman’s second season, Crestwood went 21-2. In year three, the Devils were 21-1.
Since then, there have not been many down years.
And when they have come, like a couple of “down years” like 1994 and 1995, Hoffman’s teams rebound big like when they went 23-2 in 1997.
“I have had wonderful athletes and hard workers,” Hoffman said. “We may have created an environment for them to improve, but they were the ones doing all the work.
“It is crazy for me to think back to all of the players that have come through the program,” Hoffman added. “A lot of girls have just simply been great players that have put in the work to get there. I feel blessed and thankful I had the opportunity to work with them and hopefully I have given them positive, good memories, because training is not always all fun and games.”
While the players, especially the opportunity to coach her own children, and winning culture have given Hoffman her own memories, so have the relationships she has built with coaches along the way. Coaches on her staff and her peers throughout Portage County, as well, like Bill Smerglia, Mike Chaffee, Brenda Ward and, of course, Tarka, who was already coaching when Hoffman was still a high-school player.
“Mary is amazing, and I think she would agree with me that we have had some unbelievable and priceless middle-school coaches,” Hoffman said. “The middle-school coaches help the girls with basic skills and to build a love and passion for the game. It makes a big difference when they get to the high school.”
Over three decades in coaching, naturally, Hoffman has seen a shift in styles and a shift in how to motivate players. She has gracefully navigated through it all.
“I think I can say that I have become softer in my years. Coaching and training in the 80’s was just a different beast. We were raised differently — to always work hard, but to also push, push and push without always getting positive feedback.
“As time has gone by, studies have been shown that youth excel with more encouragement and, honestly, the world has changed a lot since then. A lot of today’s athletes are performing at the highest level, but are also involved in a lot of different things, spread very thin and need that getaway to come enjoy playing a sport they love so much instead of feeling so much pressure. I am starting to realize where they are coming from. Maybe playing volleyball is the best part of their day before they come home and have to stay up for four more hours to finish up school work. You start to realize that you can help them succeed not only on the gym floor, but outside in the classroom and their futures.”
Along the way, the Devils just keep on winning, including a 16-9 season this year.
And so do the memories.
“Talking to former players, they share how they have introduced the game to their children. Or played volleyball in their living rooms with beach balls. I have been blessed to be invited to weddings, baby showers and birthdays. Those are the good stories. Those always mean so much to me that they still think of me.”
Which is easy to do when you are one of the best in Ohio to ever do it.
Congratulations Mrs. Hoffman. Keep up the good work.
Lookin good cuz I saw this on my face book page so I thought I would read it how great. Tell mama I been thinking of her. Love you all so much.