SULLIVAN TWP. — Cynthia Berry lasted little more than a calendar year as Black River’s boys basketball coach.
The 46-year-old resigned the position last week following a winless season, sending the Pirates, who have lost 43 straight games overall, into search mode for the second time in as many years.
Berry was the first female boys basketball coach in Medina County history, and was just one of three in Ohio this season.
Athletic director Bruce Lorincz asked Berry to change her mind to no avail. She was purposely vague when asked to provide an explanation, but vehemently denied the losing streak affected her decision.
“When things come up in your life, you’re like, ‘Wow, I didn’t see that coming,”’ she said. “I’ve been a head coach for a lot of years. You’re busy and that’s fine, but when you reassess some things based on ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘I can’t go on. The kids deserve better.”’
Berry, a 1985 Black River graduate who is one of the most versatile girls athletes in school history, informed her players and kept a low profile as Black River nervously attempted to pass its school levy Tuesday. The 8.7-mill, five-year emergency levy passed by a razor-thin margin, much to the delight of the physical education teacher and media specialist.
“The challenges of coaching and seeing kids get better is not an easy road, so I don’t want people to think it’s about the record,” she said. “People don’t know and like to speculate.
“The boys were very, very shocked and had a look of, ‘Why?’ It’s hard to let go, but I think for me it’s best I do that now.”
Berry led the Black River boys cross country team from 1991-2002 and worked as an assistant boys basketball coach under two different coaches, so she was no stranger to mentoring the opposite gender. The catch was she inherited a program nursing a 20-game losing streak.
Hampered by losing their starting backcourt of Gus Kazek (personal) and Andrew Vaughn (wrist surgery) in the preseason, the Pirates lost their first six games by an average of 37.2 points before nearly pulling out a victory at Mapleton.
For all its struggles, Black River showed significant improvement towards the end of the season. It took Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division champion Firelands to the limit before falling 47-39 and almost upended South Central in a 54-50 decision the next night.
Though the season ended with a 20-point loss to Orrville at the Wooster Division III Sectional, Berry is convinced the program is “a year ahead of where it was.”
“I think the world of these boys, and I had a pleasure coaching them,” Berry said. “I want that to be known.”
Berry’s resignation means the Pirates will have their 16th coach in school history next season. Black River hasn’t won a league title since taking the Firelands Conference in 1964-65 and has a 258-655 record (.283) since 1969.
The Pirates are slated to return the majority of their lineup. Post Tyler Potter is a two-year starter, forward Stephen Zumack is a two-year letterwinner, Vaughn is healthy and freshman guard Allan Benson led the team in scoring five times over the final six games.
Berry didn’t leave the program totally in the dark, as a summer schedule has been arranged.
“I want to say this: I am so grateful for having the chance to (coach),” Berry said. “I feel bad because I didn’t fulfill the commitment of doing more. One year wasn’t the plan. That would have been stupid.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.