What is your full time profession?
Director of Sales, Frito Lay Philadelphia
Before coaching what was your basketball background?
Played at North Catholic High School in Kensington, Philadelphia. After that, played 4 years at Holy Family University in Philadelphia.
Including time as an assistant, how long have you been coaching basketball?
27 years at various levels (10 years College as assistant at Holy Family University women’s program, 4 years at Twin Valley Boys Varsity Coach, 5 years at Twin Valley Girls Varsity, AAU Coach for Lehigh Valley Fever, various youth levels in between boys and girls coaching at Twin Valley due to travel schedule at work)
Who have been some of the biggest influences on your coaching career? Dan Williams (College Coach), Joe Rapczynski (High School Coach), Mike McLaughlin (played together in college, coached together at Holy Family and now current head coach at University of Pennsylvania women’s team). All of them are still big influences in my coaching and life.
Your daughter is a player on your team. What are the advantages and disadvantages of coaching her?
I think if you ask anyone who coaches their own kid at the high school level or higher, it is probably tougher on the kid than it is on you. You end up, unconsciously, being harder on them at some point. An advantage is I think they understand you obviously at a different level than the other kids on the team and that can help bring the team along quicker. A disadvantage would be the more on your own kid and that they have different expectations at times from either you as the coach or even some of the players or fans. They sometimes can’t “just be a player on the team”, they are always the coaches kid and that may sometimes be unfair. I have to give Ava credit though, we have figured out pretty well when it is coach time and when we can be father and daughter and try not to let the two affect the other.
Tell us about your assistant coaches and how they help you and the team. I have had Nate Mensak for my entire time on the girls program and this year we were fortunate to bring on a second assistant in Mike Culbert. Any coach will tell you that your assistants are extremely important. With me not being a teacher, it is a huge advantage that both Nate and Mike are. There is definitely something to be said for having someone around the kids during the day that I can not give to the kids. During the off season, Nate will take over development of the MS players that are moving up to the HS in the fall and work with them and returning JV players during our summer leagues. Mike will work into that as well. During practice, having another voice is so important. This way, you do not become “white noise” as the head coach and both Nate and Mike can run drills, develop skills, etc. with another perspective different than my own.
Looking back on your career, what is your fondest memory so far?
Whether it is playing or coaching, it has to be the relationships that have formed over the years. Just went back to the HOF ceremony at my college the other week and when we got together with the guys I used to play with, or the girls we coached, it felt like we never left, even though years have gone by. I have felt the same thing in coaching at Twin Valley. I let them know that no matter how many wins we have, I am one phone call away if they ever need anything for the rest of their life. If they are willing to play as hard as they have for us, and commit themselves the way that they have, that is the very least I can do for them. These kids may not remember how many wins they had, but they will definitely remember how they felt going through the experience.
What do you find the most challenging about coaching? Dedicating the time that is needed to do everything that I would like to do. My brain is going all the time on what I would like to put in next, different concepts I would like to teach the girls, etc. But it takes time and sometimes there is just not enough of that.
If you could change one thing about high school basketball, what would it be? Very easy - Shot Clock!
What is your reaction to the beginning of the season, both for your team and around the Berks league? I think it is playing out the way a lot of people thought, it is wide open. You have to play your best every night or anyone can beat you and I think we have seen that already.
What advice would you have for any young coaches just getting started? This is a tough one. If it came down to one or two things, I would say forget about the phrase “when I used to play we did this” or “when I played we were more that”. A lot of times, we have revisionist history memories around our time playing and when it comes down to it, depending on when you played, the game and the athletes have changed drastically. Which leads me to my second part and that is become a student of the game. I just like going and watching games. Learn from what others are doing. There is great coaching right here in Berks County for both boys and girls. Take the time to see what others are doing well, and then figure out how you can adapt that to your own style - but definitely keep your own style and stay true to yourself. I try and teach the kids the 3 traits that I have seen that all great leaders have: 1 - Sense of Humility. There is always someone out there that is out working you or better than you. Be able to laugh at yourself at times. 2 - Sense of Loyalty. To those you play with and for. 3 - A Competitive Streak A Mile Wide. You have to have this to succeed. If you are a true competitor, you are never truly satisfied. This is the engine for it all.
What is your full-time profession?
I am in my 26th year teaching 6th grade science in the Reading School District. I currently teach at Southwest Middle School.
Including time as an assistant, how long have you been coaching basketball? This is my 24th year coaching HS basketball. I spent 3 years as the asst. varsity/head JV girls’ coach at Antietam JSHS. I then completed 4 years as the asst varsity/head JV boys’ coach at Oley Valley HS. I then took the position as varsity boys’ coach at Oley Valley HS and spent the next 13 years there. I retired from coaching for 2 years, before being hired 4 years ago as the Exeter varsity girls’ basketball coach.
Who have been some of the biggest influences on your coaching career?
John Burd, Antietam JSHS girls’ varsity basketball coach, was one of the most influential coaches I’ve ever worked with during my career. He gave me a chance to get in the gym as a college student and allowed me to be a volunteer coach in his program. He showed how much he cared for the kids. He showed how dedicated he was to the program. He spent every day teaching the girls and trying to do everything he could to make them better people and players. The other coach that influenced me early in my career was Coach Lloyd Wolf. I was a young, energetic coach looking to learn from everyone and anyone. Coach Wolf always had time to share knowledge, a kind word, and encouragement. I spent a few years working his basketball camps which gave me the opportunity to see first hand the drills and skills he used to make his teams so successful.
You had a successful run as the boys’ coach at Oley Valley before you took the girls job at Exeter. What are some of the biggest differences between coaching boys and girls?
The easy answer to this is the speed and strength. Teaching the game of basketball, dribbling, shooting, passing, rebounding, defense doesn’t change from boys to girls. However, the most difficult thing to adjust to for me was the lack of basketball IQ. Girls don’t spend enough time around the game, watching the game, playing the game for fun to understand how to be more successful on the floor.
Following up on the previous question, describe the change in going from a smaller school like Oley to a larger school like Exeter.
The level of competition and athleticism in DIV I is much different. At Oley we were always looking for ways to upgrade our schedule and face tougher competition. We needed our players to learn to play against bigger, faster, and stronger players. When I came over to Exeter, I didn’t have to do that anymore. The big schools all have players who meet that criteria, and more than just 1 or 2 players. There are no nights off in DIV I when you play Wilson, Gov. Mifflin, Twin Valley, Reading, and Muhlenberg 2 times a season.
Looking back on your career, what is your fondest memory so far?
During 24 years, I’ve had a lot of special moments. In the 2000-2001 county semifinals at Wilson we (Oley) beat Reading for the first time in school history. In 2004-2005, we set the school record for wins in a season at Oley Valley. That team went from 4 wins their freshman year to 22 wins their senior year. They culminated that season beating Wilson in the county quarterfinals on a buzzer beater, and then coming back 2 nights later and beating Holy Name at the Sovereign Center on another buzzer beater. Those wins put Oley Valley in the county finals for the time in over 33 years. It was such a wonderful ride with a great group of players. Guys who played baseball, soccer, and basketball yet found time to dedicate themselves and excel together. Today I get to make new memories which I cherish as much as all the others. Having the opportunity to coach my daughter Morgan has been a fantastic experience. My children, Ryan and Morgan, have grown up in the gyms I’ve coached in. My wife Debbie has been a part of this ride since the very beginning. My family and my basketball family has always been a part of each other. All the wins and losses are only a small part of why I’ve spent my whole adult life coaching. Being able to watch kids grow up, become adults, and be a part of their lives and their family’s lives is the most rewarding part of coaching.
What do you find the most challenging about coaching?
The hardest part for me over the last few years has been the lack of commitment and entitlement. The only way to get better in this game is to practice. You must get out on the courts, or in the gym and work on your shot, your ball handling, and your defense. Too many players today aren’t willing to do that. Yet, they still feel entitled to playing time, positions, and recognition. The only way to get better is through hard work.
If you could change one thing about high school basketball, what would it be?
AAU!!! AAU was once a blessing. It gave players the opportunity to play more games and gain more experience. Today, it is ruining the game. Players go there and don’t play team basketball. They become selfish and overhyped. The biggest problem I have with AAU basketball is the clean slate mentality. Every weekend these kids go play in a new tournament. The record is 0-0. Whatever happened the weekend before no longer matters. If they lost 3 games, they don’t care because this weekend we start all over again. Players today no longer hate losing.
What is your reaction to the beginning of the season, both for your team and around the Berks league?
The early season in Berks has gone pretty much according to expectations. The top teams in the county have risen and shown their strengths. Coach Morrow has Twin Valley riding the wave of success behind the firepower of Peyton McDaniel. Reading got off to a hot start behind Briana Seltzer and Jasmin Perez. Gov. Mifflin didn’t skip a beat and is back to winning games behind Ta’Shonna Wright-Gaskins. Coach Calabria is getting his system in place at Wilson and has them right there in the mix. Coach Birmingham and Coach Mitchell lost a ton of talent from last years teams but have started to get these new girls pointed in the right direction and will have them playing well in the 2nd half of the season.
What advice would you have for any young coaches just getting started?
Any new coach getting into coaching must be committed to the game and be willing to make sacrifices. Coaching HS basketball is not a 3-4 month commitment. It is typically 9-10 months today. Love being a part of a kid’s life and helping them achieve something they love also. Be willing to share the passion you have for the game with the kids coming up through your program. To build a great program, you need a feeder system. You need kids who want to be a part of what you are creating.
An interview by Berks County Sports correspondent, John Rissmiller
Outside of coaching, what is your profession?
I am the principal of Schuylkill Valley High School.
Including as an assistant, how many years have you been coaching?
This will be my 16th year as a basketball coach at the varsity/jv level. 7 years as an assistant varsity boys' coach at Wyomissing , 1 year head varsity boys/ coach at Wyomissing, 1 year as assistant varsity girls' coach at Wyomissing, 2 years as head varsity coach at Schuylkill Valley, and this will be my 5th year as varsity girls' coach at Wyomissing. I have coached football, basketball, and/or baseball at the junior high level and above in some capacity every year since 1994 and have a combined 43 seasons of scholastic coaching experience in junior high, jv, and varsity football, basketball, and baseball at Wyomissing, Governor Mifflin, and Schuylkill Valley.
How did you get your start in coaching?
I was a junior high baseball coach at Wyomissing my junior year in college. For basketball I was an assistant boys' coach at Wyo my senior year in college.
Your father is one of the winningest coaches in county history. How has he influenced you?
From the time I can remember I would go to all of my dad’s practices and games. I would shoot at the other end of the gym or work on my dribbling etc. He has influenced me in so many ways. His dedication and commitment are the two things that stand out the most. He put 100 percent into coaching each and every day. He also demanded the same of his players and it worked really well for him for many years. He got a lot out of a little talent so many times by outworking his opponents and pushing his girls to levels they never thought they could attain.
Besides your father, what other coaches have been influenced on you and how?
I almost hate to answer this for fear of leaving someone out. I have been blessed to have played for and coached with so many true coaching legends in Berks County and beyond. Bob Wolfrum was my high school football and baseball coach and I got to coach under him in both sports later in life. He taught me so much and has been such a positive mentor for me in all aspects of coaching. Among the many things I took from him are his team first philosophy, to value the input of your assistant coaches and let them actually coach, respect all opponents, and preparation/organization. Scott King and Bob Wheeler, my high school basketball coaches, were huge influences on me. Coach King as far as motivation, practice planning, scouting, and game preparation. Coach Wheeler’s matchup zone, and his ability to motivate players individually by challenging them each day at practice. Dave Migliore taught me a lot about running a program and fundamental drills for practice. In baseball, Ed Williamson taught me a great deal about relating to players. Steve Murray taught me a lot about practice organization and dealing with adversity. Bob Houck taught me about motivation and getting the most out of players. Yogi Lutz taught me a great deal about building and running a program as well as how to get the most out of each player individually. Frank Ferrandino has been a consistent role model for me in terms of staying positive, setting high goals, building a program, year-round weight training, and motivation. Mick Vecchio taught me a lot about dedication and commitment to a program. Coach Scot Dapp, from Moravian College, taught me a lot about player relationships, game preparation, and scouting as well. Doug Myer and Bob Birmingham have been great people to collaborate with. They both are such good fundamental coaches and I love picking their brains about the x’s and o’s of basketball. And of course, Coach Lloyd Wolf taught me countless basketball fundamentals as I attended his camps from age 7 until 9th grade. He also taught me a lot in my later years about working with parents and handling criticism. He was a very wise man when it came to coaching and dealing with people. Even though I never played for him, I always watched him deal with people and picked his brain every chance I got in my adult coaching life. I know that’s a long answer but I’ve been blessed to play for, work under, and interact with some state champion, Hall of Fame coaches. If you look at that list and know anything about Berks County sports, I have been extremely lucky.
You’ve had the opportunity to coach your daughters. What has that experience been like?
It has been absolutely tremendous. My daughters and I grew up with basketball. They both love it, and they love playing for Wyomissing. They both attended their first girls' game at Wyo under the age of 1 to watch their grandfather coach. I have loved every minute of coaching them. I just try to treat them like any other player. When we are at home basketball is an off limits topic for the most part. We don’t take it into our father/daughter relationship. I wouldn’t trade coaching them for anything. My oldest daughter has continued her love for basketball in her freshman year at West Chester, serving as a manager for the girls' basketball team. I think she will make a fine coach one day. My younger daughter Sarah is now a junior so I hopefully have two more years of coaching her.
What has been the biggest highlight of your coaching career?
To me, the best part of coaching is the relationships you develop with your players and your fellow coaches/assistant coaches. I love getting them to push themselves and achieve both on and off the court in ways they never dreamed possible. The big wins pale in comparison to the mentore relationships you develop with players. The relationships and friendships you develop through coaching are fantastic as well. Most of my good friends I met through sports and coaching.
What is the toughest part of coaching? For me it is finding the time to do it right. My job is extremely time- consuming and full of after hours commitments, as well as pressure- based decisions that affect your thinking and emotional state of mind long after the school day is done. It is tough to turn the pressure of the principal ship off a half hour after a stressful day and get right into basketball mode. I also have 6 children, so balancing everything is extremely difficult.
What are your expectations for the upcoming season? Same as they are every year. I want my team to play hard, practice hard, prepare hard every single day. When the season is over, I want them to have had a positive experience and be better people, students, and basketball players than they were at the beginning of the year.
What advice do you have for anybody trying to break into coaching? Enjoy the players and the interactions with them. Don’t get bogged down in the negative aspects of coaching. Focus on the players that you have and helping them be better people, students, and basketball players. If you do that, coaching will be extremely rewarding for you. Also, go to coaching clinics and pick the brains of successful coaches. You can always learn something new
An Interview with Berks County’s All-Time Winningest Girls' Basketball Coach
How many years have you been a head coach (Including years at Holy Name and BC):
The 2018-2019 season will be my 30th.
Overall Record (Include number of division championships, county championships and district championships)
16 Division Titles
4 County Titles
4 District Titles
I am currently the Principal at St. Ignatius Loyola Regional School.
Tell us about your family:
I am married to Amy Birmingham and we have three beautiful children; Ann who is a junior at Berks Catholic, Kyra who is a sophomore at Berks Catholic, and David who is in eighth grade at St. Ignatius Loyola. Ann and Kyra both play in the Berks Catholic Girls Basketball program.
Tell us about your biggest coaching influence(es) and why:
This is an easy one. Lloyd M. Wolf had the biggest influence on my coaching. I was lucky enough to play for Lloyd in high school and then coach at the same school with him for over 20 years. I learned that you are not a coach, but a teacher of the sport of basketball. Lloyd taught me to not just teach the game, but teach the game of life. He emphasized knowing the student-athlete outside the sport, because that is the more important thing. Basketball is just an avenue in teaching the game of Life!
You’ve been coaching for three decades. Tell us how the game has changed. Tell us what is still the same.
The biggest thing that changed in my opinion is the strength and athleticism of the female athletes. There is now an emphasis on getting stronger and it has taken the sport to a higher level.
You’ve taken two different teams to the State Championship Game. Talk about both experiences.
The biggest similarity between the two teams was the way the players in both years got along with one another. They had one united goal and that was to play the best they could every time they stepped on the floor. I was a young coach the first time we reached the championship game and everything thing went by so fast. This past year I think we, as a team, enjoyed the journey. The way the Giant Center and the PIAA treat the championship game has changed unbelievably. The hype going into it and then the introduction of the players is awesome. The way the school, the student body, and the community got behind both teams was very similar.
Talk about what the merger between Central Catholic and Holy Name was like for you as a coach. Some people think it must’ve been real easy being that you had talent from two highly successful programs coming together, which I am sure was true. However, I am sure there probably were some challenges as well. Talk about all aspects of the merger.
The merger has done wonders for the Catholic Community of Berks County. To see how everyone comes together to cheer on the school is outstanding. The first year of the school was probably my toughest year as a coach. We brought two programs together who had a rich history. Jeff Cardinal and I decided we were going to keep all of the seniors in the program because it was only fair that they all got to be part of the history of a new program. I believe we had 8 or 9 seniors that year so it was difficult trying to find the right mix especially when they were still trying to get to know one another. They went from rivals to teammates in a few months!
Since that first year, things have gone very well. The student-athletes have had great success over the past six years. The commitment to the program has been outstanding!
After all these years, what drives you to still coach?
Being in the gym with the athletes on a daily basis. You see them grow and mature from young shy freshmen to confident, mature seniors. Just knowing you are a part in shaping the lives of our future leaders. I still love when former players come back and let you know how they are doing. It is amazing how many keep in contact. I feel blessed to have coached so many wonderful young ladies!
What do you enjoy most about coaching?
I love seeing the student-athlete succeed, whether on the court, in the classroom or in some other area of their life. Nothing is better than seeing a student athlete work so hard for something and finally succeed at it.
What would be your advice to a young coach just starting out:
Try to enjoy the moments! It is the little aspects of coaching that are the most special. When it all comes down to it, the wins and losses mean very little. What means the most is the way you impact the lives of these young men and women!
If you could change one thing or rule about girls high school basketball, what would it be and why?
I wouldn’t change a rule but would love to see the way other students view girls basketball. The girls deserve to play in front of nice crowds cheering them on just like the boys do.
How many total years in coaching will this be for you?
This is year 41. Hard to believe. 8 years with Sacred Heart grade school boys. 7 years with Holy Name HS varsity girls. 25 years as head coach of Alvernia University women. That was 40 straight years followed by 4 years of retirement.
Overall Record in both high school and college
We won 116 games at Holy Name and about 450 at Alvernia
Championships won at both levels
No championships at Holy Name but we were 7 for 7 qualifying for the District 3 playoffs when there were only 3 state classifications. We qualified 3 times for the PIAA State Tournament. Best season was 24-8 when we advanced to the Eastern semi finals.
At Alvernia we won 6 league championships and qualified 6 times for the NCAA Tournament. There is nothing like playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Tell us about your family:
My wife Jeannette and I have been married for 30 years. We do not have any children. I have an older brother Greg, an older sister Alice who I visit frequently in Hawaii, and a younger sister Beth, who is an executive at the Reading Hospital.
Tell us about your hobbies:
I’m an investor in real estate and the stock market. I walk outside 4 miles a day. I write poetry and short stories. I’m working on a book. I retired from golfing a few years ago.
After I graduated from Notre Dame, I worked in the chemical industry for 20 years as a Vice President of Sales . Then I worked as a stockbroker for 5 years. After receiving my MBA, I worked full time at Alvernia where I taught Corporate Finance to undergraduates and MBA students.
Biggest coaching influence and why:
I had 3 mentors in basketball: Coach Lloyd Wolf who I played for at Holy Name for four years and where we won a state championship. He also hired me to coach the girls’ team at Holy Name. He taught me how to play with class and to coach with class. He was a very charismatic coach who I really wanted to play for.
Coach Morgan Wootten at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, MD. taught me everything I know about coaching basketball. I went to his coaching clinics for 30 straight years. We became friends. He revolutionized the way I looked at the game. He was a master on court clinician. More importantly, he taught me how to treat people. When he talked to me, he gave me his undivided attention, even if Coach Dean Smith was waiting in line. He was a basketball genius. I still use his terminology today.
The third person was my friend Coach Pat Summit of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols. She made women’s basketball what it is today. She made coaching women’s basketball big time. She put women’s basketball on the map. She was one tough coach. I loved watching her teams play.
What’s it like being back in the gym coaching high school again after all these years?
It’s been a lot of fun so far. I like having a team again. The 4 years off was good for me. I got to travel the world. During my time off, I got a chance to study the game. Every year I went to either the ACC men’s tournament or the Big East men’s tournament. I am not as agile on the court as I used to be but I now have 3 great young assistant coaches who played for me and they are much better able to demonstrate the skills of the game that we teach.
How has the game changed? How have the players changed?
The game has become a year-round sport. Many more girls are playing all year. Their skill levels are very high. AAU ball has exploded. The opportunities for scholarships are more plentiful for girls now than 30 years ago. Many more girls have goals of playing basketball in college. I’m there to help my girls achieve whatever goals they have. The kids have not changed. Some girls really want to be great players and are driven to become the best they can be. Others are playing for the wrong reason. My job is to motivate and encourage them all.
What are the biggest differences between the high school and college games?
The 30 second shot clock.
What attracted you to the Wilson job?
I was not really looking to get back into coaching. But when some folks asked me to consider looking at Wilson, I was attracted by the fact that Wilson is 6A. I knew that there were always a lot of Division 1 female athletes at Wilson and that I would have an opportunity to develop a few of them into Division 1 basketball players. If I could do that, then we could compete at the state level. So our goal is to win a 6A state championship. We must have a few Division 1 players to achieve that goal. It takes a lot of hard work but we are working toward it.
What advice would you have for a young coach just starting out?
#1. Get a psychiatry degree. #2. Get out of town and attend basketball clinics. #3. Try to hear Coach Hubie Brown at a clinic.
If you could change one rule in high school girls basketball what would it be and why?
That’s easy. Pennsylvania High School girls basketball must have a 30-second shot clock. Colleges have it and the WNBA has it. You want more fans, then get a shot clock. I want to score a lot of points. The players want to score a lot of points. It’s a lot more fun.