The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 17, 2014

The Force is with him

Harbor grad building tiny Lordstown into program that enjoys big-time success

Staff Writer

— When 1996 Harbor High School graduate Brian Force took over the varsity boys basketball program at Lordstown before the 2013-14 season, he had a message for his team — make the big time where you are.

Just because it had been 37 years since the small-town Red Devils had a piece of the the Northeastern Athletic Conference title didn’t mean they couldn’t in the future.

While Force wasn’t completely satisfied with his first year on the job, Lordstown went 13-9 and took a home a share of the NAC championship.

“It was a big deal,” he said. “We were only 13-9, we lost in the first round of the tournament and we had some games I think we could’ve won, but it was really successful. For a small-town like this that hadn’t seen a fun to watch basketball team in years, we filled the stands.”

Previously a coach at Berkshire and Aurora, where he currently teaches sixth grade, Force has lived in Lordstown for the past 10 years with his wife, Amanda,  and three sons — 10-year-old Aiden, Ganon (5) and Jonah (3).

It was his time living in the community and desire to build something for his children that drove Force to take the 2012-13 season off from coaching to build a youth program before taking over the varsity job this seaosn.

“Having three sons, I took this job for them, I wanted to build something that could be successful for them, too,” he said. “I also coached my son’s fifth-grade team and really tried to start that youth program. We preached that it’s a family, we’re a basketball family. This is the place I live and where my wife is from so from seniors all the way do to the first graders we felt like we had one, cohesive bond.

“The middle-school kids wore their uniforms to our games. They’d come in for practice after the high school guys and some of those guys stayed and helped with practice. I wanted to be a connection betwee them because that’s a special thing. We want the kids of Lordstown to be wrapped around something positive.”

While Force is looking to build a program that will have sustained success, it was his seven seniors who were the driving force behind the immediate success the Red Devils had this season.

“I think we had a lot of talented kids and seven seniors who had ability,” he said. “I watched for a year and I could see if these kids were put in a system where they could flourish they’d be successful. I think the biggest thing is we laid a foundation of culture and what hard work and dedication look like. With me living and being from here, I know these kids alreayd have a relationship with them. It’s a different connection, trying to make a product that the community you live in can be proud of and the kids bought into thtat.

“I think developing the culture of how hard we’re gonna work and what it’s gonna take was great. We had seven great seniors and unfortunately I can’t coach them another year, but this was a good first year to show what can happen here.”

While it’s good for players to buy into a system, it’s tough for it to truly take hold unless a team produces wins.

Force’s group did, the biggest of which was a 9-point victory over Bristol that helped them gain a share of the NAC title.

“That’s what ultimately got us the split in the league — that win was the first time anyone could remember Lordstown beating Bristol, that’s a signature win,” he said. “We went up there earlier in the year and lost by 9 then we got them by 9 in front of a huge crowd. There was a lot of excitment in the community.

“As a new coach you have to deal with a lot of things like a lack of fundamentals and knowing how to work hard. Our players put it all out there and that was win, if there was any one win that, that was the biggest.”

While Northeast Ohio is famous for its love of high school football, Lordstown is not one of those communities because, well, they don’t have a football team.

Which, by process of elimination, makes basketball is the dominant sport at the school.

So, for Force, it was inconcievable to have unsuccessful basketball and baseball — the Red Devils have had their baseball program canceled in restarted several times over the past decade.

“Being that I have three sons I thought, ‘how can we not have good baseball and basketball teams?’” he said. “I look around at it and I’m a basketball guy, I played at Hiram, my sons like the game because they’ve grown up around it so I just thought, ‘boy if we can get this going it would be great.’

“This (basketball) is what we should be about because we don’t football. Basketball can take the lead. I took it upon myself early on to show them what hard work looks like and they bought into that.”

Force said it was special for his sons to have such strong role models in his varsity basketball players.

“I do think it’s huge, when you have great kids like I had that set a great example not only as players, but as people, it’s special,” he said. “The kids in the community do things that just make you proud and that’s what I want my young kids to see and my neighbor’s kids to see. I can’t ask for better leaders and people.”

As a varsity coach as well as a fifth-grade coach and organizer of youth baseball in the community, Force said much of his success is do the support of his wife, Amanda.

“None of this is possible without the support of my wife,” he said. “She was a Lordstown athlete. She won a league title in volleyball in ’96 and softball in ’95, so she was a a compettitve, strong athlete. For her to buy in and get behind the hours I had to put in was great. She was home with the kids so much because of the hours I had to put in, none of this could have happened without her.

“I thanked her a million times because she really is the best. When we’re talking about family, my high school kids loved her because she also came around and supported us. I can’t thank her enough.”

The 2013-14 Northeastern Ohio Inland Division IV coach of the Year said the success of this past season isn’t all he’s looking at as coach of the Red Devils.

He expects even more in the future and to, as he put it, make Lordstown the big time.

“We’re going to be in this for the long haul,” he said. “This was a foundational year and I couldn’t ask fot a better start. The people supported us and they continue to and that’s an exciting thing. In a small town, you really have an ability to impact people and that’s something I think a lot of people lose sight of.

“We talk about making the big time where you are. So what, you’re not Warren G. Harding? Make this big time. Let’s have something special in this small town.

“That’s our goal.”