Family dynamic spills into high school basketball
To be a good father, South Fayette's Rich Bonnaure was willing to become a former coach.
With his son rising through the school's basketball program, Bonnaure offered to step aside should his son not want his coach also to be his dad.
“He asked me that multiple times,” said Evan Bonnaure, now a senior guard, “but I never really had a problem with it. I thought he gave us our best chance to win, so I wanted him to stick around for that reason.”
Spoken like a true coach's son.
The Bonnaures, like a number of others around the WPIAL, are balancing the roles of father and son with the duties of coach and player. And they're doing it with success: The Lions are unbeaten in Section 5, and point guard Evan Bonnaure ranks third among Class AAA scorers with 20.1 points per game.
“I kept hearing it would be a nightmare,” Rich Bonnaure said. “It's been a great experience, really.”
His son agreed.
“I think he pushes me a little bit harder than everybody else, but I can handle it,” Evan Bonnaure said. “I think it works out best for everybody.”
But they're not alone. West Mifflin's Ryan Maha, son of coach Lance, has averaged 19.4 points for the section-leading Titans (9-2). Chartiers Valley's Matty McConnell, son of coach Tim, has averaged 19.2 for the Colts (10-1), who lead Section 5. Both players rank among the top eight scorers in Class AAA.
Of course, Tim McConnell has done this before, with son T.J.
Mt. Lebanon's Joey David has two sons on the roster: senior Justin and sophomore Jonny. Greensburg Central Catholic junior Collin Bisignani and coach Greg have the Centurions (12-1) playing like title contenders, while Jeannette's Adrian and Julian Batts are leading the Jayhawks (11-1).
Coach's sons are often well-rounded players, know the team's strategies better than most and sometimes held to a little higher standard than the players around them. And as a result, at times they're hearing questions of favoritism.
“I think expectations are always a little higher for your own son,” Adrian Batts said, “and it's hard to show that.”
It can be a complicated relationship at times, especially when you go home together every night. Can you leave the thoughts and emotions of basketball behind at the gym?
“That's always one of the challenges,” said Hampton coach Joe Lafko, whose sophomore son Joey starts at guard. “I try to talk basketball as coach and player only in the team environment during practice. Then he's just another player for me. I try to keep that in perspective. I try to be a father outside of the court and a coach when I'm in there.”
But that's not always easy, said Jeannette coach Adrian Batts, whose point guard son Julian averages 17.1 points for the Jayhawks. Batts recalled one especially tough evening after Jeannette's only loss this season. It started when father and son tried to address the team at the same time.
“It wasn't anything major, but we kind of got into it after the game,” Adrian Batts said with laugh. “It escalated to something that once you look back was pretty stupid. We do butt heads at times, but we're after the same goal. As a coach's son, he's into the game.”
Joe Lafko can understand both sides of the father-son coaching relationship. His father was an assistant coach at Frazier during his playing days there, an experience he remembers positively. For a coach's son, he said, varsity experience often begins before reaching high school.
“I was a manager with Frazier in the 1970s when they were competing against Midland in the WPIAL playoffs,” said Hampton coach Joe Lafko, “so (as a coach's son) you're in those environments and in those locker rooms.”
That's the case in South Fayette, where Rich Bonnaure has coached 11 seasons. Evan began following him to the gym when he was 6.
“I went to as many practices as I could,” he said. “I remember going to some of the great games over the years. I was really little when they upset the team that had Darrelle Revis. I remember going to the game where they took Terrelle Pryor's team to overtime and almost won that. Knowing I'd eventually get to play in games like that was always something I looked forward to.”