It's up to new Jackson freshman basketball coach Jim KIsh to navigate the program following the arrest of former coach Steve D. Studer in connection with videotaping boys in the locker room.
Maybe it was fitting that Jim Kish was sitting in a hospital when his phone rang. That is, after all, where people go to heal.
The Jackson Middle School physical education teacher and varsity golf coach looked at the caller ID on his cellphone. He couldn’t take the call; his stepfather was undergoing heart surgery.
Across the county, in the place where Kish had grown into a man, hearts were aching.
Kish listened to the voicemail later from Jackson High School Athletics Director Terry Peterson, who needed to talk to Kish as soon as possible. There was an emergency at school.
For a second, Kish thought maybe one of his golfers got into trouble. But it wasn’t golf season.
Only when the call was returned — after a day of gut-wrenching news coming out of Jackson Local Schools — did Kish learn of the seriousness of the situation.
Jackson’s freshman boys basketball coach, Scott D. Studer, had been arrested after Jackson police and postal inspectors executed a search warrant on his home. Investigators said they found videotapes of current and former Jackson players in the locker room’s shower. Police said Studer told them that he had been secretly taping the teenagers showering after practice for years.
Studer sits in the Stark County Jail in lieu of $2 million bond, facing serious felony charges.
An entire community is trying to recover from Studer’s alleged actions. Kish may be the man who can help them through it.
On the call, Peterson wanted to know if Kish would take over the freshman boys basketball head coaching position for the season. Studer already had selected the team through tryouts.
Kish told him he needed to speak with his wife, Joellyn, before he could give Peterson an answer. Joellyn, who graduated from Jackson High School, told her husband it was the right thing to do.
“All the kids on the freshman team I had last year because I was their phys-ed teacher in middle school,” Kish said. “I know all those kids. It was basically when Terry called me, it caught me off guard like everybody else.”
Kish needed to process things.
“It would make the transition easy for the kids with me knowing them,” Kish said. “It would be a lot easier than if someone came in and they didn’t know him. It was best for the kids to have someone come in who they knew, and knew them.”
Kish is no stranger to basketball. At 6-foot-8, he starred at Malone University. He coached under former Jackson head coach Larry Taylor for a few seasons in the mid-1990s. But the time commitment — scouting, camps, clinics, practice, away games — got to be too much, especially coming off coaching golf in the fall and right into basketball in the winter.
Page 2 of 3 - Kish stepped away from basketball, but he has remained close to the program.
Trust had to be an important piece in finding a replacement for Studer. Kish had it. Players know him. They trust him.
He and Joellyn have a son, Jordan, 6. Kish understands what must be running through the minds of some of the players’ parents at times.
The players had their worlds rocked and the community’s confidence has been shaken, but make no mistake — this is not a lost season.
“Absolutely this season still matters,” Kish said. “I’m very competitive. I don’t like to lose. There are going to be days where you get outplayed and you get beat. Hopefully you learn from those mistakes and move on. I don’t believe this year will be any different than last year. These kids are getting to the high school level, where winning becomes more important. You’re starting to compete against better athletes. The kids are playing more competitive basketball.
“I think they want to win, and we’re going to do everything we can to win.”
In other words, there are no excuses.
Thursday night at Jackson High School, the healing could begin with the freshman team’s home opener, against Firestone at 7:30. The game is being moved to the main gym. Jackson youth players as well as middle school players are encouraged to attend for free as long as they wear their jerseys. Parents and coaches have to pay just $4.
The place likely will be packed. It will be like one large community hug. And if ever a community and a team needed a hug, it’s Jackson.
Winning can help.
“Winning can be a distraction,” Kish said. “Having success doesn’t get rid of all the problems, but it helps. If they’re not successful, we will deal with it like any other team that isn’t successful. Winning takes care of a lot of things. It doesn’t make problems go away, but it helps.”
BACK TO BASKETBALL
More than that, though, is what the 14 players on the freshman basketball team can learn about themselves, about others, about life.
The players have each other. They also have a former teacher who cares enough to walk into a firestorm of a situation and take over to help lead them. Kish checks on every player during practice and asks them on a one-on-one basis how things are going.
So far, there have been no issues. The school and coaching staff have told the team to let them know if there is anything they need. If they need to talk, they can talk.
“I think because of everything, these kids have a real chance to become a close-knit group of friends,” Kish said. “That’s the most important thing right now is they have each other. They can be successful and experience that. There are a lot of kids who don’t remember what their record was on a team in high school, but 20 years from now, they will remember the friendships they make. Sometimes friendships made during the most difficult times in life are when you find out who your true friends are.”
Page 3 of 3 - They are going to play basketball this season at Jackson High School. Wins and losses matter now.
Far more important, though, is how these players and this community support each other during a trying time. When rain stops and the storm goes away, there will be a calm. The sun will rise on Jackson’s program again. And 20 years from now, a close-knit group of players will be able to look around and remember who their truest friends were.