Former players return to court in different roles as assistant coaches
A high school career lasts just four years, but some local girls basketball stars whose playing days have passed are helping groom a new crop of standouts.
At many schools around the Alle-Kiski Valley, top players from the past decade have returned to the high school courts in assistant coaching roles.
This season, former Ford City and Penn State player Marisa Wolfe is on the staff at Freeport, and one of her high school teammates, former IUP player Tara Powers, is in her first season with the Apollo-Ridge program.
Class AA No. 2 Burrell also has a first-year assistant in former Highlands player Courtney Kordes, who linked up with her high school coach, Meghan Ziemianski, to land a spot on the Bucs' staff.
“I ran into Meghan when I was substitute teaching. We started talking, and she asked me to join the staff,” Kordes said. “I always wanted to coach when I couldn't play anymore. I'm happy to be back out there.”
Like Kordes, Powers reconnected with a coach she knew from her high school days: former Ford City boys coach Jim Callipare.
Powers joined Callipare's staff at Elderton for her first coaching position, and when Callipare was hired last year to lead the Apollo-Ridge program, Powers came with him.
“Coaching was definitely something I wanted to get into,” Powers said. “My dad taught me the game and dedicated every free minute he had to working out with me. As I got older, his dedication to sharing his knowledge with me made we want to help others learn the game.”
A desire to stay involved in the game is a common thread among the young assistant coaches. For Wolfe, that meant getting back on the sidelines even if she wasn't going to be paid.
“I was volunteering at Ford City with the junior high program, and one of our last games was against Freeport. One player's dad somehow found out I was only a volunteer,” Wolfe said. “(Freeport varsity) Coach (Paul) Sylba asked a few days after that if I wanted to go there.”
As with anyone starting a job, young assistants are confronted with new challenges on the bench.
For former players who are used to being involved in the game, one of the biggest changes is not being able to physically impact the action.
“It's really hard,” Powers said. “It took me years to get used to it because I really get into the game. Sometimes if I think the girls aren't playing their hardest, I want to get out there and play.”
All three said they have some interest in one day becoming a head coach. For the moment, holding an assistant job is a way they can teach players and share their own experiences while learning about coaching.
“Honestly, I try to tell the girls to have fun,” Kordes said. “Sometimes they get too worked up, and that's when they make mistakes.”
“I try to share with them that if you put in the work, you get rewarded,” Wolfe said. “It may not be Division I. It may not be basketball, but there's a reward for putting in the time and work.”