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Alumni return to sidelines of Rail City schools
by Damian Tromerhauser
Feb 12, 2012 | 1331 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Reed JV girls basketball coach Sara Johnson cheers on her players during a recent game. Johnson is one of a handful of former players returning to coach at their alma maters.
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Reed JV girls basketball coach Sara Johnson cheers on her players during a recent game. Johnson is one of a handful of former players returning to coach at their alma maters.
If one is to take a look around the coaching landscape of the Reed and Spanish Springs basketball programs, a lot of familiar faces will pop up. At all different levels, former Raiders and Cougars have returned to their alma maters to help coach.

At Spanish Springs, three former players are currently lending a coaching hand with the girls basketball program. Megan Hildebrand and Kyle Molino, who graduated in 2004 and 2005, respectively, are coaching the JV team while Nicole Raymond, a 2007 grad, is an assistant coach for the freshman girls team. Spanish Springs head varsity coach Christine Eckles said she has enjoyed having her old players return in a new role.

“It’s just nice seeing kids that played for you come back and want to be there and be a part of the program and continue to want to be around you,” Eckles said. “It’s fun to watch them grow up and become responsible women. It’s been real nice for me.

“It’s nice on one level because they know what you expect and are used to our personalities. It’s a huge advantage as the kids move through the program because we’re on the same page and use the same language. There’s a lot of trust just because we’ve been through a lot of stuff together. They have my back and they know I have theirs. It’s a really nice thing.”

Reed girls coach Sara Schopper echoed the same sentiments for her JV coach Sara Johnson, a 2005 Blue and Gold graduate.

“I love it,” Schopper said. “She reminds me of myself when I was young. I started about the same age that she did. I was her assistant coach here at Reed so just seeing her grow up and knowing her since she was in sixth grade and now seeing her coach basketball, it’s been fun. Coaching is so much different than playing. I kind of feel like I get to coach her at two different levels: I got to coach her as a player and now I get to coach her how to be a coach. It’s exciting. I’d like to get a few others that have been here and show them what Raider tradition is all about and see them coach.”

For Johnson, being a part of the Raider tradition was a key to her decision to returning to Reed.

“I wanted to be a part of the program because I went here and I loved playing here,” Johnson said. “I love all of the staff. I have known Sara since I was younger so it’s kind of a little bit of both my connections and I didn’t want to coach for another school.”

Another ex-Raider, Mike Powell, is helping on the boys side as an assistant on the JV team. Powell said that the nostalgia of being a Reed Raider for his high school career and the fact that it feels like a second home is what brought him back.

For Reed head varsity coach Dustin Hall, also a former Raider player, it has been entertaining having Powell return.

“He’s a fun kid,” Hall said. “It’s funny because he’ll throw some old quotes back at me that I gave him while he was playing and kind of shove it in my face. He’s a clown but he’s also a competitor. He was a two-time first-team all-region player here and it was a pleasure having him. He’s the kind of kid you dream about coaching. It’s fun to see him come back now.

“The kids love him. He’s young and they relate to him. He’s been in the same situations not too long ago, so he relates well to them. He’s great to have around. He wants to learn the game even more and he’s a real student of the game. He’s a great addition.”

Similar to the returners at Reed, the ex-Cougars didn’t have a tough time deciding whether to return to Spanish Springs or begin their coaching careers elsewhere.

“I never really had a thought about going to another school,” Molino said. “I enjoy Spanish Springs because Christine Eckles is still there and I really look up to her. It was just a nice fit to go back to Spanish Springs. I don’t really see myself anywhere else.”

Seeing so many former players return, Eckles said she believes it says a lot about the program.

“I think it shows that they had a good time and that they believe in what you do and that you had strong relationships with them,” she said. “For me, I played at Reed and then I went back and coached under Ed Shepard and it was just an honor to be able to do that back then because Shep was one of the most positive influences I had in my life after my parents. The things that athletics taught me and the things that he taught me I wanted to give back and be a part of so I hope that’s the same feeling that Megan, Kyle and Nicole are having doing that with me. It’s just an honor and you have a little bit more pride when you’re working for somebody that you know and care about.”

Being a part of their old schools’ tradition and program was not the only deciding factor for the former players.

“I love the game, but more the fact I love knowing there’s kids out there that share the same passion as me and they want to be there,” Molino said. “It is awesome being around the kids and teaching them the game. Teaching them how basketball can also be interpreted into life situations. There’s some times you think that you don’t want to be there because you had a bad day, but it’s about the kids and just being there takes all the problems you had away. I enjoy going to practice every day, even after having a bad day.”

Johnson reiterated these sentiments.

“It’s a lot of fun because I get back into basketball. It’s made me realize how hard it is to coach. I like being a positive influence on the girls and trying to help them out and teaching them what I’ve learned. It’s just a lot of fun.”

Although they are no longer playing, the coaching alumni are still learning as well, on and off the court.

“It’s definitely a lot different,” Powell said. “It’s unique. I guess the coolest part about coaching is being seen as more of an equal from a coach-to-coach relationship rather than a player-coach relationship. You can kind of learn from each other and share your experiences. The most rewarding part of coaching is after putting in the time the players and then seeing in a game how they react and just watching their growth over the year.

“It’s definitely taught me a lot about the work ethic I need to have not as a coach, but more as a student and player because when you teach your kids that they need to work hard and push forward through all of the adversities, you kind of learn yourself that you have to apply that to your life as well. It’s really helped me in my life outside of basketball.”
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