SULLIVAN TWP. — Barry Balderson scratched a 23-year itch and applied to be a head boys basketball coach again.
His new task will be a daunting one: Put Black River back in the win column.
The 1975 Elyria Catholic graduate was selected recently to lead the Pirates, who have lost a Medina County-record 43 straight games. He replaces Cynthia Berry, who resigned for personal reasons following an 0-23 season.
“I was looking for a challenge, to be totally honest with ya,” said Balderson, an intervention specialist at Lorain High. “I wanted to get back to being a head coach. I wanted to throw my name into the hat and see what happened, and, fortunately, got the job.
“Past history doesn’t scare me at all. I’m looking forward to seeing if we can turn this thing around.”
Balderson led Wellington to a 13-8 record in 1989-90 — his lone season as a head coach — and has worked under Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Hall of Famer Rich Voiers (Bay).
For the past six years, Balderson has been Phil Schmook’s lead assistant at Amherst and Maple Heights. Schmook, best known for outstanding teams at Richmond Heights, has more than 350 career wins.
“You’ll see a lot of what we did at Maple Heights,” Balderson said. “They’re in the LEL (Lake Erie League) — one of the best leagues in the state. It’s a brutal conference. I look forward to establishing myself again in the Patriot Athletic Conference.
“Hopefully, we can turn this around quickly. I’m not sure how many wins we’re going to get, but I’m going to give them everything I’ve got for them to be successful.”
Balderson plans to run post-heavy sets designed to exploit mismatches and a matchup zone that will often change to man depending on game scenarios. He stressed Black River will be the aggressor on both ends of the court.
Most importantly, the confident speaker is zeroing in on fundamentals at a school with three winning seasons since 1969. Balderson already has been running 8 a.m. open gyms — he points out proudly roughly 20 boys have participated — with each player responsible for memorizing three positive sayings.
Little details like those are what he feels will help Black River get back on the right track.
“As long as the kids want to work and have a positive attitude, I think we can be successful this year,” he said.
“The key is for us is to get off to a good start. If we can win our first game of the year that will set a tone that we can win. The attitude will change dramatically. If we start out slow, it could turn into, ‘What is this guy teaching us?”’
Balderson inherits a team that averaged just 35.2 points per game — the lowest in the county since 1950 — but turned heads by nearly upsetting PAC Stars Division champion Firelands and non-league South Central on consecutive nights late in the season.
A whopping 17 players saw action, highlighted by returning rotation members Tyler Potter (6.4 ppg), Stephen Zumack (5.0), Allan Benson (4.5) and Anton Hsia (3.8). The Pirates also could receive a big boost from point guard Andrew Vaughn, who missed last season with a wrist injury but led Medina County in assists as a sophomore.
Black River’s recent struggles mean little to Balderson. There’s no rearview mirror in his basketball machine.
“I wasn’t around when the history was made, but I want to be around for the history to be made,” he said.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.