By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
When St. John athletic director Nick Iarocci had an opening to fill at the head of the Heralds’ boys basketball program, he knew exactly the men he wanted to fill it.
Iarocci put in a call to one of Ashtabula County’s legends and soon he had Ashtabula County Hall of Famer Jon Hall at the head of the program with former Edgewood girls coach Chris Juncker and basketball guru Joe Prugar on the staff.
“Old coaches never die,” Hall said. “I received a call from Nick Iarocci not too long ago wondering if we’d be interested. We’d gotten together in the last few days and decided to solidify the deal.
“We’re certainly happy with the consideration Nick and Sister (Maureen) Burke have given us. Sometimes, it’s nice that old coaches are still wanted.”
Hall has had stops at numerous schools and has coached both boys and girls during his years on the sideline. At this point in his career, he’s happy to be at St. John.
“All three of us are looking forward to being associated with the St. John community and the leaders there. With the new school going up, we’re proud to be a part of it.”
Hall had been away from coaching for the last year, but could still be seen at gyms all across the county.
“I love the game,” he said. “I enjoyed going to see some of the girls who Chris and I had coached previously as well as my granddaughter.”
Juncker and Prugar were vital to Hall in his decision to coach the Heralds.
“Working with Chris and Joe will be a real positive,” he said. “They’re known for working with kids and for their ability to teach.
“Had those two not been willing to work with me, I would not have been able to do it. It’s good to know you’re going to have the support of the people you’re going to be working with.”
Hall and Juncker had worked together recently at Edgewood. Prugar has long been known as a great teacher of the fundamentals of the game and both know him quite well.
“We’re all on the same page for how to teach the game of basketball,” Hall said. “I know it will be a tough challenge, but I look forward to it with enthusiasm. I know we’ll all be able to work together. We all have the same goal.
“We want to make sure the players learn and have fun. It’s tough when you have people who don’t work together. Also, they’re knowledgeable. It’s not like they started coaching yesterday. They’re a proven commodity. You’re not always able to get people with experience. It’s going to be a team effort. I don’t look at them as assistant coaches. They’re co-coaches. We all have the same goal.”
Being away, even for a short time, was not easy for Hall.
“I missed it,” he said. “I love the game of basketball. Mostly, I love the interaction with the kids.”
Coaching the Heralds will be a challenge. There isn’t a lot of experience currently in the program.
“I’m told the kids we have now are young, all freshmen and sophomores,” Hall said. “There is one senior. I’m being told they’ll work hard and they’re good kids. All I want to do is make sure the kids learn the fundamentals, have fun, and, hopefully, after learning, they have some success in the win column.”
Hall, however, has yet to assess his players on his own.
“We have yet to meet the kids,” he said. “We’ll do that Thursday night. I really look forward to it.”
The Heralds have been lacking in the success department in recent years, but Hall is no stranger to taking over struggling programs.
“All through my career, I’ve taken over a program that wasn’t losing,” he said. “We’ll just have to work at it.”
But that’s where Hall believes his job comes in.
“As a coach, you have to hustle,” he said. “You can’t go to practice and work then go home and forget about it. That’s doing the kids any justice. You’ve got to work at something to be successful. You have to give the kids something.”
The kids will give something to Hall, too. The Heralds, though not successful in recent years, have exhibited an energy on the court and a desire to improve.
“If their willing to learn, we’re willing to teach,” Hall said. “Will there be instant success, I’m not sure we’ll have that. But they’re willing to learn and they are dedicated. They have to be. The whole St. John community is.”
Iarocci is part of the reason the job was appealing to Hall.
“Nick is one of the most positive people I’ve met,” Hall said. As I said, he approached us. It’s good to have people who are supportive. You have to like coming to work knowing they will be right with you. I know the parents will be right there, too. They’re bringing the school back and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
One of the challenges facing Hall is getting the numbers in the program to grow.
“We hope toget more kids interested,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll take to us and we’ll be successful in that manner.”
Hall’s wife, June, will be along for the ride, as she has always been.
“She’s excited,” Hall said. “After 55 years, she’s learned to roll with whatever I do. She’s always enthusiastic.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.