By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
The 2013-14 Sharon High boys’ basketball team may or may not qualify for the District 10 playoffs. But that’s not as important to Tigers’ taskmaster Jason Rankin as his players adhering to an honorable code of conduct.
Without reservation, Rankin suspended 7 players for Wednesday night’s Region 5-AAA showdown with Hickory.
“ ... You can’t be successful — truly successful — if winning games is more important than kids’ behavior,” Rankin remarked prior to the weather-postponed make-up.
“I’m trying to teach a certain degree of discipline — that’s not too much to ask,” he emphasized.
Tuesday, the Tigers were tattooed at Meadville (66-30). On the return trip to the Shenango Valley — delayed by a bus breakdown — what rankled Rankin was his team’s demeanor. Rankin repeatedly requested, not necessarily silence from his players, but that they observe a reserved or quiet decorum.
The disciplinary consequence, Rankin said, would be wind sprints for all team members in the gym upon returning to campus at approximately 10:30 p.m. Rankin was aware, owing to recent frigid weather, that Sharon schools would be functioning on a 2-hour delay Wednesday morning. However, essentially Sharon’s starting lineup chose not to participate; consequently, they were suspended for 1 game, pending today’s scheduled team meeting.
“This was a case where not everyone was acting up, just a select few,” Rankin explained, emphasizing, “but there are certain things we do as a team, and if I tell some of them, that means we all do it as a team. Some of the kids slept on the way home, but they got off the bus and ran, without question,” he added, noting the extent of the disciplinary measure was approximately 10 minutes worth of running.
“That’s typically the amount of time (upon arriving back on campus from a road game) that guys mill around, unloading their stuff. It’s not like we were there until midnight,” Rankin explained, noting,
“Some kids told me, ‘Coach, my ride’s here, I can’t stay,’ but I told them, ‘I’ll take you home — personally,’” Rankin related, recalling,
“When I went through the (hiring) interview process, I was somewhat oblivious to what Sharon basketball was all about. ... But it was brought to my attention that there had been an inordinate amount of misbehavior with some of the athletes, and (the school’s administration) needed somebody to put behavior on a very high list of priorities.
“I was taken aback by the lack of respect some of the players had last year,” admitted Rankin. “We had mulitiple suspensions last year ... plus the tragedy (Lee-Lee Crumby Ford’s death in an off-campus shooting incident).
“I can’t tolerate that as a person,” Rankin emphasized.
A 3-hour academic tutoring program, augmented by an early-morning running regimen, helped the basketball program “kind’ve turn the corner,” as “10 or 12 guys” last year dwindled to “four or five” this year, Rankin related.
”There’s no doubt, we take the floor with as much if not more athletic ability than anybody we play, but we have a five-hundred record,” he noted.
And winning basketball games will not take precedence over addressing disciplinary issues, principally disrespecting school personnel.
“I can’t have that, and if people have an issue with that, I’m sorry,” Rankin said. “But I’ve gotta teach these guys the right things. ... I feel better when my kids come back and tell me, ‘I learned how to become a good person, a solid citizen.’ That means more than any championship.
At today’s meeting individuals will have the opportunity to accept Rankin’s disciplinary methodology, or ...
“They’re free to walk ... they can choose not to do so and turn their uniform in,” he said, later adding, “I’m an easy guy to play for ... but I don’t have to be loved.”
Rankin recalled, following his hiring interview, “(The administration and school board) made no bones about the fact this is what they want.
“We don’t have bad kids ... but in every other walk of life, you make a mistake and there are consquences for the decisions you make,” Rankin reasoned. “Just like you or I face consequences. We all have bosses, people who are expecting things from us, and I’m expecting good behavior, first and foremost ... in the classroom, on the court, and any time we’re together as a team.
“Seven of our last eight games are on the road,” Rankin noted, “and we can’t go on the road with guys acting up like ‘banshees,’ celebrating or acting in a certain way. I just don’t go for that.
“Any discipline you achieve in life starts with you,” emphasized Rankin, who related, “I understand what some of these kids are going through ... I grew up in a public housing project. But I know you’ve gotta help yourself by turning the tables and doing the right thing.
“Whether or not we win or lose ... make the playoffs ... I have to live with myself and say I did the right thing — and this is the right thing.”