Manchester girls basketball team slowly gets back to work under new coach
Being an English teacher, A.J. Hite knows that words mean things.
As such, while always being honest, he also chooses his words carefully so his message is not misconstrued.
When he was asked how things are going a little over a month and a half after being hired as head coach of the Manchester High School girls basketball team, he made sure to repeat his answer so as to put it into its proper perspective.
“Really well,” he said, then quickly added, “Things are going really well. But I hate saying that we had a good opening week of work last week with a basketball team when there’s so much going on around us with COVID-19 and all the racial problems. You have to keep all of that in mind, that there are many more important things happening.”
That having been said, carefully so, Hite added it was “great” to finally get the girls out onto the floor as Phase I of the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s back-to-sports plan began to be implemented. “We got some good work done.”
Hite and his staff – assistants Duane and Loralee Daily and Grier Cowles – welcomed 20 players to the school gym last Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, but not all at the same time. Because of social distancing, groups of smaller numbers worked on shooting drills for 35 minutes at a time – one girl per basket -- before those players left and another group entered.
There was more of the same this week as Phase I concludes, and if everything goes well in the local area in terms of safety, then Phase II could begin next Monday.
The Panthers could move to Phase III two weeks after that, but Hite said it is a wait-and-see situation as to how far into the summer the workouts will continue. Usually in June, teams play in summer leagues, but those have been nixed and Hite is dubious that a few weekend shootouts, which are still scheduled for later in the summer, will actually be held.
“No matter what we do, we would go to mid-July at the latest,” he said. “You want to give a little rest to the kids who will be going on to play fall sports that begin at the start of August.”
The team and the school are working under the auspices of the Summit County Health Department. Before they are allowed to enter the building, players’ temperatures are taken and they are asked a short series of questions regarding their health and that of those around them.
“It’s strange,” Hite said. “It’s different for everybody. It’s not what any of us has ever had to do before, but it’s the world in which we live now.”
Hite said he thinks he has “a pretty solid” group of players, number-wise, in that he expects all of them to come out for the team later this year, which would give the Panthers more than enough girls to field both a varsity and a junior varsity team.
“We hope to keep the girls we have and maybe get a few more. We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said. “This is definitely a different summer.”
Hite, who served as Manchester athletic director for a time, is a big believer in sports programs at small schools sharing athletes. As such, he is working with girls volleyball head coach Alyson Mobley and girls soccer head coach Ed Kissner to make sure that the teams’ workouts are held at different times so athletes playing multiple sports can attend.
Though he has spent years as a boys basketball assistant, almost all of it at Manchester, this is Hite’s first job as a varsity head coach of any kind. He admits he enjoys running his own program, but, as he promised would happen when he was hired on April 21, there are some things with which he’s still getting acquainted.
“At times when practice stops and everybody is staring at me, I’ve had to say to myself, ‘They’re looking to you to lead this drill. It’s my decision now,’ ” he said.