Union City, NJ - It's the day after Christmas and I finished officiating two grade school boys games in a holiday tournament.
Getting ready to exit the gym, the Union City High School varsity girls team is on the floor limbering up. Saying goodbye to the coaches, there is one I am not acquainted with but looks very familiar.
"You officiated my games in high school," the blonde lady in her late twenties says. "I played for North Arlington with Sherry Haines and Karla Rocha."
Stay in this officiating business long enough - 23 years in my case - and that happens more frequently as the years increase.
"You played for 'Spac' (Coach Joe Specaventa)," I said, "I was one of the few officials who got along with him."
The young lady said she did as well.
'Spac' was quite vocal. Tough on players and officials but he was a very good, demanding coach who did look out for his team. He retired a few seasons ago. Courtney Ruane, the young lady here, is freshman coach at Union City High School. She was also an excellent volleyball player who attended East Stroudsburg(PA) University on a scholarship in that sport.
"I wanted to play basketball too," she said, "but being on scholarship was told I could not."
The lure of the basketball court stayed with her and when a job on the Union City staff was available she put in last year and accepted it. She will tell you in a minute, coaching freshman girls is rewarding and challenging.
"I will mention a simple drill or sprint," she said, "the girls will say they never heard of it. On this level you do not assume. You teach everything."
Practice started the Monday following Thanksgiving in New Jersey. The team has a few games under its belt. Still, Ruane is on the basics.
"We do a lot of fundamentals and ballhandling drills," she said. "We have one offensive set where the center cuts to the high post. We are using a 3-2 zone and do not full court press."
That latter point is refreshing. Too often coaches teach their teams to press. They may steal a few extra victories but the kids lose because they have not learned the half court game as well. As current Detroit Piston coach Lawrence Frank says, "learn the trade before you learn the tricks."
Beside the demands of teaching right from the basics. Ruane pointed out other considerations prevalent, not just in her program.
"Kids have so many things they can do today, sometimes they are not as passionate about the game," she said. "You see that in a lot of towns and programs . You as a coach really have to get them to be passionate on a day to day basis, about practice and playing."
Right now her team is 0-2. The schedule has some more games approaching within the next week. Practice will address the opposition but more fundamental work is on the agenda.
The varsity is on the floor as we speak. Head coach Charlie Rosseau and assistant Tom Ferreira, both long time friends in the game, put the ladies through their drills. Charlie comes over to tell Courtney there are a few league opponents playing in tournaments this week. She is asked to check the newspaper schedule in the office to set up her scouting. Advance scouting is another task, though an interesting one, for a freshman coach.
The won-lost ledger is not fair. A coach may be dealt a generous hand of talent, churn out the W's but not really be a good teacher. On the flip side, a coach can diligently get his or her team to improve and learn the game while also learning good sportsmanship and the final record could be far below .500. The latter coach will have done a better job though the record does not tell us. And if you didn't realize it already, a brief chat with Courtney makes you realize there is a lot more to coaching than just diagramming a play or set on a grease board. Many mentors on this level face the same challenges and tasks as she.
Courtney enjoys her job, realizes it isn't the easiest but performs it daily with the same enthusiasm she had in a North Arlington uniform. No matter the final record, her players stand to learn a lot and are indeed fortunate to have her on the sidelines.