Pat Birch will begin his first season as Boardman boys basketball head coach when the Spartans host Youngstown East on Nov. 30.
Birch has been an assistant coach at Boardman in both basketball and football so he is very familiar with the Boardman athletic family. He is a stickler for detail and a big proponent of playing with distinct discipline. No matter what happens in Birch's first season as bench boss, his boys will surely do it with self-control.
"Discipline is the biggest thing," Birch said when he accepted the head coaching job in October. "I like to instill discipline in the classroom (as a social studies teacher) and I expect the same on the basketball court."
Running a strict ship is one thing, but picking up wins in the ultra-competitive Federal League is a totally different thing. Boardman was beaten a lot in a single-digit win 2011-2012 campaign so staying close to the likes of Canton McKinley, North Canton Hoover, Canton GlenOak and the rest of the Federal foes will require a lot of breaks bouncing Boardman's way.
"As always our schedule is very demanding," said Birch a week before the start of the season. "Twelve of our games come against Federal League opponents and a very tough non-league schedule includes the likes of Warren Harding."
To combat that strenuous slate, the rookie head coach will count on six seniors who have seen steady varsity court time in the past. Leading that sextet will be 6-foot, 3-inch swingman Jamar Steverson. The senior Steverson earned a letter last season and is a dual-threat option in the Spartans' attack because of his combination of length and quickness. He is one of only four Spartans who stand 6-3 or taller. Also in that group is 6-5 senior frontcourt player Austin Downie and 6-4 senior Dylan Bosela. Both Bosela and Downie will do as much of the dirty work under the basket as Birch's offensive strategy will allow.
The other three seniors who will vie for starting lineup time will be Michael Duda, Reggie Jones and Curtis Moses. Boardman will also bring back two juniors who were both letter winners last year in guard Sam Mathey and 6-3 forward Ryan McKeown. Having that pair playing alongside Steverson will leave the young head coach with less worries as he scrambles to find the other pieces to his rotation puzzle.
"We will count on our returning lettermen for their experience early on," Birch admitted.
Coach Birch will also be counting on his kids to play sound defense each ballgame. The Federal League is stocked with talented ballers and the only way to combat that is by forcing opponents into mistakes. Like most coaches, Birch enjoys pressing his peers into those miscues, but he thinks that swarming defense isn't always necessary if his team relies on the coach's favorite trait.
"Defense starts with discipline," Birch explained. "Our goal as a program is to establish that discipline on defense. Our belief is that being more disciplined will result in more W's."