By: Timothy Kays
On the evening of February 8, the Ladybirds of Pettisville High School handed the Hilltop Lady Cadets a 53-9 BBC in the Birdcage. The win ran the Pettisville conference record to 9-3, but more importantly, it ran the win total for Head Coach Jason Waldvogel to an even 300, a significant watermark in what has been a distinguished career at the helm of the Lady Blackbird hoops program.
Although his coaching prowess has brought him recognition across the state, his biggest claim to fame locally is his ‘other’ job where he has spent the last 16 years as the Principal of the Pettisville Elementary School. He and his wife Brenda are the parents of six year old Keira, and two year old Will. His coaching résumé is lengthy, beginning with a five year stint as a junior high coach in Stryker. He moved to Pettisville, and coached the freshman squad for two years before taking the helm of the Ladybirds, where he has remained for the past 22 years.
Reaching 300 wins is a plateau that few can say that they have reached, and like most of his contemporaries in the Class of 300, it brought about a lot of reflection for the longtime mentor. “I guess it’s a couple things,” Waldvogel said. “The 300 means just a whole bunch of great memories of great players, teams and coaches that have been part of this program, and it probably boils down to really building this program.”
The concept of building the program is something that Coach Waldvogel holds near and dear, and it is an ongoing goal. His teams have won 7 BBC championships, 12 D-IV Sectional titles, and 3 D-IV District crowns. It wasn’t always like that in Blackbird Country, though. The 39-year old Ladybird hoops program got off to a rough start…very rough. As in 0-12 rough.
By the time that Waldvogel had hung out his head coaching shingle in 1997, the program had run up an ignominious .341 winning percentage with an overall 124-239 record, and a reputation amongst opponents as an easy win.
22 years later, he remembers those early days, and uses them as the fuel to fire his goals for the program. “My ultimate goal is that I want to make this program into an all time winning program,” Coach Waldvogel said, “… and we haven’t been that since day one.”
“We’ve been pretty much a losing program. We were 0-12 their first year in 1978, so to me that means a ton. I’m trying to turn that around. I remember when we first took the job and I remember one of the things that probably really, really bothered me – and we actually remember talk to the kids about it – was that we felt like we were a doormat for teams to come play.
They wanted to come play us because it was a win. It was a for sure win. Teams were just excited about coming to play us, and that bothered myself and my first assistant coach, Ryan Beam. That was one of the things that really stuck out to us and really bothered us. So in that first year in 1997, we turned that program around. They won three games in ‘95.”
“In ‘96 they won five games, and we won 13 that first year in ‘97. So we felt like that might have been a start to something, and I think we DID start something … and we’re on the way to flipping the program around. And that’s what we wanted … to come from that losing program, just totally flip that over to be a winning program, and keep the all time winning totals on the winning side.”
While bringing the program above the .500 level is an objective, Coach Waldvogel has not forgotten his main priority as a coach. “With all that, wins or losses don’t mean anything if you don’t get all the others,” he said. “I mean, basketball is just an avenue to teach kids and help kids to be able to handle all the different situations that they’re going to find out in life, and to be able to cope with things and to handle adversity and success. You know, basketball is an avenue for what we really should be doing.”
With the program closing in on the .500 level, Coach Waldvogel is closing fast on one of his biggest goals. After inheriting the 124-239 program, he has guided his charges to a 300-195 record, and a .606 winning percentage. When the time comes for him to step down, how would Coach Waldvogel like to be remembered? As the winningest coach in the history of the Ladybirds? Hardly. He would rather go down as the guy who loved the game … but loved teaching his kids even more.
“I’d probably like to be remembered as a person that loved the kids more than they loved the game … and that I loved the game quite a bit,” he said. “Again, it’s the game as a tool that I feel very comfortable in trying to help the kids in their maturing process, and becoming successful adults. We’re all going to hit that wall of adversity, but if we can go over it, we’ve got to try to go underneath it, around it, or whatever”.
“You know, basketball is a lot like the game of life and we’ve got to use those lessons to our advantage and succeed. Life’s not about just a bed of roses, everybody. We’ve got to work around and know that hard work and perseverance are what it’s about. At the end of the day, if we know we’ve given our best and we don’t reach the place we want to reach, we can all be comfortable with knowing that we’ve given all that we had.”
Timothy can be reached at tim@thevillagereporter
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Source: The Village Reporter