In our first out of season interview, we got some excellent info from Coach Chris George of Northern Lebanon. Coach has always been very helpful in providing information to us. He seems to get out to a lot of different hoops events. Coach is active on twitter as well (@NLBallerz)
1) You have been at Northern Lebanon for a few years, what are the strengths of the program/district?
The past few years have been a great time to be a basketball fan here at NL. With the resurgence of the girl’s program, and all their success these past couple of years, it’s been cool to join them in creating some great memories for our community. Right now our numbers are really strong top to bottom in our program. We have travel teams as low as grade 3 and 4 now, and our youth program, the VYBA, has done a tremendous job in creating excitement in our lower levels, as well as supporting our varsity programs. Our youth program runs both girls and boys, which is another example of how aligned both programs are. We do our youth camps together, and we have an excellent working relationship with Coach Battlietll and his girls. Their success has helped build excitement in our program and we try to feed off each other. Our trip into leagues and districts, last year, getting within 1 game of states for the first time in school history was huge for our program and has really helped to solidly basketball as an important fixture in boy’s success at NL. In the past, our school has fed off the football, wrestling, and track programs, as well as baseball. So to be doing this for basketball now should pay dividends down the line.
2) How do you go about figuring out your off-season program?
The PROGRAM itself doesn’t really change, and is probably similar to what most coaches do. Offseason skill development, lifting, and leagues and shootouts are what most teams do. Since I’ve gotten here we’ve certainly expanded that reach into Team Camps, running our own leagues and tournaments as well. The biggest decision each year is what your style is going to be and what your current team needs to do to achieve your goals and get them where you’d like them by the start of next season. Every coach has a different approach to the off-season, but I like to take a long term view. I’d like my team figuring things out by the time we hit our official winter season, and peaking somewhere during our season. Where we go for team camp each year is also a big decision, as we’re attending West Virginia University Team Camp this summer. Should be an awesome trip and experience.
3) Did you like the 5 Section set-up for the LL this season? Why or why not?
I was fine with the setup. I was ok with 4, which we had my first season, and 3, which we had the past 2 seasons. The current one just has us playing bigger schools, and not seeing some of the smaller ones we traditionally did in the past such as Columbia, AC, Mennonite, and Lebanon Catholic. Those were fun places to play. It is odd being a Lebanon county team and having only ELCO be on our schedule, not playing any of our other 5 county teams, but it’s the way it is. Obviously, your non-league schedule gives you the freedom to accommodate those local games, and we’ve done that. Just a shame for the kids, as when I grew up playing locally, the battles with ELCO, AC, and Northern Lebanon were packed houses, and it was great to play them twice a season.
4) Who is on your staff and what are their backgrounds?
My staff has consisted of many coaches over these past few years. Neil Wolfe & Tom Borcky have been with me since Day 1. They are both former school players and have been invaluable in creating the culture we are instilling. They both worked for years in our youth program as well. Some former coaches who had a huge hand in turning our program in the right direction, are Chuck Gerberich, Dave Meyer, and Tyler George, my son. Coach Gerberich ran our JH program and did an awesome job, helping to mold my current varsity crop along with Tyler George, who also from ELCO, was a standout basketball, football, and baseball player. He attended LVC and coached football there as well as at Millersville. He continues to help with scouting and film. Coach Gerberich was a former ELCO asst, and Coach Meyer who helped me in Pine Grove as well, needs no introduction really, as the former head coach of the ELCO girls program for 20 years. He created a program that continues to shine now, and is led by his former players as we speak. Brad Kreiser, Ben Baird, and Mike Miller have worked with our JH program as well, and done a fantastic job and continue to do so. Brad is a former NL student who played alongside past star Sam Light. He’s currently our JV coach. Coach Baird comes from the Pittsburgh area where he was a 3-sport star in high school, and played college football as well at the D3 level. Mike Miller, like Coach Meyer, needs no introduction. The former Lebanon Catholic boys coach, who steered his teams to many district and state playoff successes in the 80’s and 90’s has really brought a new perspective to the program. Not to mention he put up with coaching me a long time ago! Lastly Tyler Reitz was a former player here at NL for many years, and works with our big men, doing a great job of creating toughness in our young players.
5) We see you out at various events- All-star games, NCAA games etc. …What keeps you motivated and what do you do to keep your players motivated.
I just really enjoy coaching the game. To be very honest, I don’t come from a family of coaches or anything. I never foresaw myself being a coach, and knowing how I played in HS, you would maybe be surprised to see me running the sidelines, ask my coaches, LOL! But my family has an education background, having a bunch of college professors, so giving back, and helping the next generation I think was just there. I like seeing what other coaches are doing and enjoy the competition as well. Obviously, winning is a blast if you can do it. In my 10 years, our kids and staffs have won almost 60% of our games, and have league and district titles. However, we all know, you have to get the talent to achieve those kinds of things. Obviously winning can’t be the only thing that motivates you to do this job. We all know there are going to be teams that just come along with freaky athletes and talent from time to time, as well as the private schools that tend to have those kids year in and year out. Somehow? 😉 But, helping to create better players and people, on the court, in the community, and the classroom needs to be your number one goal as a coach and staff, and we like to think that’s something we do a great job of. Along with a great group of parents, it certainly does take a village.
Bonus: If you could change anything about playoffs (LL, Districts, PIAA), what would it be? And how would you go about making the change(s)
The biggest thing I wish we could get in the LL would be a bigger venue to hold the semifinals and league finals. Other areas use Santander, or Martz, and this allows you to run your semifinals in the same gym, or boy and girls championships on the same night. It creates an electric atmosphere. In our league title year in Pine Grove, we had over 5,000 people at Martz in a standing room only frenzy. That would be really cool for this area. The LL has a great base of girls’ basketball teams, but I don’t know how well we feed off each other and help to grow the sport overall.
I think District 3 runs a great playoff, as well as the PIAA state playoffs. I’ll avoid the whole public-private thing in this discussion, as it’s kind of played out and there’s nothing really new to add there. I’ll focus on growing the game and getting more fans into our games. My biggest crusade has been to get the girls and boys games played on different nights, as other leagues do. No reason the boys couldn’t play Monday Thursdays, and the girls Tuesday Fridays. Our fans want to see both our teams play, and what about brother and sisters in the same schools? We have boys and girls at many of our local schools that have never seen the other team play. It seems kind of outdated. Especially in this day and age of revenue being an issue, it would easily boost ticket sales by probably 25-30 % at almost all home games. So all in all, I like the post-season, but I’d like to see regular season games be more local. Sections aligned based more on geography than school size. Again, with fuel costs, and trying to pack the gyms for these kids, having teams like us playing in Octorara, Solanco, and LS every year just seems silly, when Lebanon Catholic and Annville are sitting in the backyard.
I guess relating that to the district playoffs, the most interesting thing was the home games at all rounds except the finals this year. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Huge advantage for the home teams, and maybe they should get that? But then again, not everyone’s district points show a true picture of how good they are; sometimes the seeding isn’t perfect. However, if you attended any of the games, it did seem to bring much bigger crowds, as it’s not easy to get BOTH schools fans to travel midway to support their teams? Pros and cons to this policy, and will be interesting to see if the district continues with it and how other coaches feel.