Southridge assistants have coaching passion

Herald file photo
Southridge senior Jeff Tooley shows a piece of the net to fans on March 7, 1992, after the Raiders came from behind to win its second straight sectional championship, and 10th overall. Tooley is now an assistant coach at his alma mater. “I love it ... I enjoy coaching,” Tooley said. “I’ll do it all year round as long as they’ll have me.”


HUNTINGBURG — It takes a lot of people to make a team function, chief among them are the guiding hands of the coaching staff. While head coaches tend to draw most of the attention, the task of coaching a team can’t be tackled by one person. Solid assistant coaches are also vital for success as they support and reinforce the team’s charted course through a season’s grind.

Jeff Tooley, Michael Hopkins and Chad Whitehead are assistant coaches for the Southridge boys basketball team, and they love sharing their time to help develop young men through the medium of sports. They all started their love affair with basketball playing as young boys, and have transferred that passion into investing in the next generation through the court.

“I was fortunate enough to play in high school at Southridge,” Tooley said. “We had some success winning the sectional my junior and senior year (1991 and 1992). When I went off to college, I would still come home and help out.”

“I found my passion for basketball as early as second grade,” Hopkins added. “I continued to play through elementary, junior high and high school. I just loved the game, got out of high school and continued to play in men’s leagues. I realized my play was slowing down, but I still wanted to be involved in it. I happened to come across an ad in the Evansville Courier that said (Evansville) North High School was needing coaches. That’s where I got my overview of coaching and joined in.”

Whitehead shares parallels with his fellow coaches when it comes to his basketball journey to becoming a coach, but the Huntingburg Elementary School principal also brings the added benefit of his professional background to the sideline. His 20 years as an educator translate nicely in the coach’s role, and he’s always been involved with the sports teams at the different schools he’s worked in his tenure.

“As I was finishing my education degree, I got into teaching at Southridge and helped out with the football program,” Whitehead said. “Then I went on to South Knox to teach, and became the boys freshmen coach. Then I went to Pike Central and spent a year as a JV basketball coach. Then I transitioned to a varsity basketball coach for three years.”

Getting to take the floor with the kids during practice is a great way to give back, but the men also get something in return for their time. They see it as a great change of pace from their regular jobs, a brief and productive respite from a world that can be monotonous. It’s still a significant responsibility, but it’s a fun one.

“It’s a nice stress reliever for me,” said Tooley. “Especially when your job isn’t working with kids. I’ve coached anywhere from sixth grade to varsity assistant in the last 25 years.”

“You get to basketball practice, and it’s focused but it’s loose,” Hopkins added. “It’s calming and fun. I look forward to getting to practice. If you walk in there and don’t have a smile on your face, somebody is going to say something to you or make a comment (and) make you glad to be there. It’s a good feeling walking into practice and being around your friends.”

But between the fun and games, each of them had to learn different lessons about how to best connect with their players and maximize their impact as a coach. In addition, there were also the extra tasks that go along with coaching like dealing with parents or fundraising that each of them had to navigate. Plus, there’s keeping up with the steady evolution of the game itself. It’s a constant learning experience for all of them.

“It’s tough to get a handle on [the fact] I didn’t know as much as I thought I did,” Hopkins said. “I thought I knew a ton about basketball, and the more I coached, the more I realized I don’t really know that much. You have to figure out how you handle certain parental situations, interest or a lack of interest, and the business side with community involvement. All that stuff takes time to learn.”

Whitehead has the added element of coaching his four sons across the many sports they participate in. His son, Carter, plays for the varsity basketball team, but Whitehead makes sure he doesn’t single out any of his sons while he’s coaching. He wants them to experience the same process as the rest of the kids in his care.

“It has its challenges,” Whitehead admitted. “It’s nice, but when I go out and coach, my boys are like the other players. I treat them exactly the same and want them to have that same experience with the other kids. I’m out there coaching and helping the program get better. But it’s neat to have your kids involved.”

They all acknowledged it’s nice to go out and be successful during games, but the real joy of coaching comes from watching their players grow from boys into young men. Of course, there’s a balancing act for all three men when it comes to juggling careers, families and coaching responsibilities. But they figure it out and make the time to pour into their players, and they’ll continue to do so as long as they can.

“It’s a lot of weekends and time commitment during the season,” said Tooley. “If we’re not playing, we’re going somewhere and watching a team. But I love it, and my wife knows I love it. I’m not a golfer or a hunter, I enjoy coaching. I’ll do it all year round as long as they’ll have me.”

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