October 30, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
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Wilfong had a winning touch

Steve King

The Gazette

When she was known as Sarah Wilfong, she handed out assists in droves.

She set the single-season school record in that category (since broken) at one place and finished second career-wise at her next stop.

So it seems fitting she was the one to play such an integral role in assisting two different schools in making quantum leaps in girls and women’s basket-ball.

She led a group that took a good Wadsworth High program about two decades ago and made it great. Then she went to the University of Bridgeport (Conn.) and transformed a program that was struggling into one of the best in its region.

But don’t mention any of that to the woman now known as Sarah Wilfong-Widrig. The daughter of a basketball coach, she has that team-first attitude.

“I’ve never thought about having done that at both schools,” she said in her usual quiet, reserved way. “I’m too humble to even think about something like that.”

The Medina County Sports Hall of Fame selec-tion committee recognized her prowess on the court, however, and elected Wil-fong-Widrig to the class of 2009. On Thursday, she will return to her native Wadsworth and be inducted during the HOF’s 24th annual banquet at The Galaxy Restaurant.

The doors will open at 6 p.m., and the event, sponsored by the Medina Breakfast Kiwanis Club and The Gazette, will begin at 6:30.

Wilfong-Widrig grew up at a time when girls basketball was changing. Most players at that time came to the high school level lacking fundamentals, so youth programs were implemented to give girls a head start — just like the boys.

“Probably when I was about 10 or 11, I went to a program at Steiner Youth Center,” she said. “We were taught how to play, and it really helped. We learned the basics.”

Wilfong-Widrig was more advanced than most, though.

“My dad (Mark) was the JV coach at Norton when they went to the state tournament and lost in the finals,” she said. “When I was a little kid, I spent a lot of time hanging around with him at the Norton High School gym.”

Between what she was learning at Steiner and what was rubbing off on her at Norton, Wilfong-Widrig arrived at Wadsworth in 1989 ready to play.

The 5-foot-6 point guard started all four years and was a three-time All-Suburban League and All-Medina County selection. She scored 1,040 points during her career and set the school record for steals in a season with 174, and assists in a season with 113. The assists mark was bro-ken, twice, by Kate Lyren.

Most importantly — es-pecially in Wilfong-Widrig’s estimation — Wadsworth won three SL titles during her time there, besting, among others, Norton.

But what no one realized then was that, just as Wilfong-Widrig had done, there was a new group of eager, talented young girls learning to play at Steiner and, at the same time, watching those fundamen-tals applied by the Wadsworth High School teams.

Some of those — Lyren, Katelyn Vujas and Elisa Inman, among others — went on to win a Division I state crown and establish Wadsworth as one of the top high school programs in the state.

“Hopefully, what our teams did when I was there helped to motivate those girls to play,” Wilfong-Widrig said. “Hopefully, we inspired them. And if we did, then that’s how we are a part of what they accom-plished.”

But while the Grizzlies really got rolling after Wil-fong-Widrig graduated, so did she.

Just like at Wadsworth, she helped NCAA Division II Bridgeport get on the map. The Purple Knights had been experiencing some lean seasons, but with the red-haired young woman bringing the skills she had honed in Wadsworth, they became a force in the Northeast.

Once again, Wilfong-Widrig started all four years, spending time at all the guard spots in a three-guard set, and was named the team’s most valuable player as a senior.

Once again, she was the go-to person on offense, becoming the first in school history to go over 1,000 points, finishing with 1,309 for her career.

Once again, she was a team player, dishing out 523 assists, No. 2 in Bridgeport career annals, and grabbing 605 rebounds.

Once again, she was part of championship teams. The Knights won two New England Collegiate Confer-ence crowns and made three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament.

She graduated in 1997 with a bachelor of science degree in international business and economics.

Just as she had at Wadsworth, Wilfong-Widrig experienced so much at Bridgeport, which put her on its Wall of Fame in 1998.

“I went there because it was a different kind of place than where I grew up,” she said. “It was near New York City, and they were just building their team. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to get out of my comfort level.”

Wilfong-Widrig was married seven years ago to Jeff Widrig. He played foot-ball and ran track at Wadsworth and graduated in 1992, the year before Wilfong-Widrig.

“We knew each other in high school. We were friendly. But that was about it,” she said.

Things changed, though, when they met again at a Labor Day barbecue at the home of one of Wilfong-Widrig’s former teammates at Wadsworth, Mandy McNamara.

They live in Columbus. She works for BMW Finan-cial Services “in customer service and other areas. I have a hodge-podge of roles.”

Jeff is the general manager of a construction company. They have two children, 3-year-old Abigail and Lucia, 1.

Her dad is retired, and he and Wilfong-Widrig’s mother, Carol, have moved to the Columbus area, in Pataskala.

Life is good — really good.

“That’s not to say there haven’t been some bumps in the road in my life, because there have been,” Wilfong-Widrig said. “But everybody faces bumps in the road.

“Overall, though, I am very, very happy at how my life has turned out. I’ve always been a glass-is-half-full kind of person, and that’s how I look at things now.”

Wilfong-Widrig refuses to push her girls toward bas-ketball, or even other sports such as volleyball (she was a three-time letterwinner in that at Wadsworth) or soccer (she lettered as a freshman for the Grizzlies).

“I think they should be exposed to everything, but you have to be sensitive to what their particular inter-ests are,” she said.

However, if Abigail and Lucia take a real liking to hoops, you can expect Mom to get in there and really assist in the effort.

Contact Steve King at sports@ohio.net.