Gallagher column: Shoaf finds a new challenge
By Ronnie Gallagher
Jennifer Shoaf was forced to watch basketball last winter from the bleachers instead of the bench. It had been a long time since that happened.
After 11 years as head girls coach at Salisbury High, she was suspended.
There was no explanation from anyone in the school system. She still went to work every day. Just suspended from coaching ó for undisclosed reasons.
Shoaf turned the reins over to assistant Dee Miller but assumed she would be back for the 2008-09 season. When she realized that wouldn’t happen, Shoaf packed up her stuff and headed for the hills.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Shoaf was introduced as the new head girls basketball coach at Patton High School, located in Morganton.
Talk about going from one extreme to another:
– While Salisbury High is crammed in the middle of the city, Patton presents one of the prettiest settings you could imagine. The shiny, sprawling, second-year school sits at the foot of the South Mountains.
– As far as the facilities, she sees quite a difference in the gymnasiums.
“I’m not used to practicing in air-conditioning,” she laughed. “I’m used to it being 100 degrees.
– The talent level? This will be the biggest difference.
Shoaf won 127 of her last 150 games at Salisbury. Included were two appearances in the 2A state championship game. Her Hornets won it all in 2004.
At Patton, she inherits a 1-22 team.
“It will be a different kind of athlete than what I’ve had,” Shoaf understated. “How quickly can we be successful? It’s hard to say. With Hickory, St. Stephens and all those people on the schedule, it’s going to be hard. The big thing is building confidence.”
Salisbury was one of the favorites last season to win a state title. The Hornets went 29-2, but both losses were to eventual 2A champ East Davidson. Shoaf was left to watch from afar.
“I love to coach,” she said. “A year out of coaching really fueled me into wanting to get back into it.”
She looked into several jobs but when Patton came calling, Shoaf’s decision was a no-brainer, thanks to the Panthers’ football coach.
J.K. Adkins is that football coach. A Burke County native, he knows the importance of a quality girls basketball coach. He is a graduate of Freedom High and remembers the tradition set by Marsha Crump.
Adkins also happens to be a former assistant to Joe Pinyan at Salisbury. And he remembers watching Shoaf lead the Hornets to prominence.
“I would love to sit in there and watch her practice,” Adkins said of Shoaf. “Her practices were similar (to Crump’s). Anytime you hire a coach, you want to get the best. And I felt she was one of the best out there.”
Principal Shanda McFarlin didn’t hesitate when Adkins voiced his opinion.
“We have so much respect for him, and he knew what we were looking for,” McFarlin said. “He said, ‘She’s the real deal.’ ”
With those two former Hornets on the staff, Patton can now be playfully referred to as “Salisbury West.”
“We appreciate Salisbury,” athletics director Rich Linens smiled. “We’re extremely excited about having (Shoaf) here. Her resume speaks for itself. Her reputation speaks for itself.”
McFarlin echoed those sentiments. “We owe Salisbury a lot,” she said.
If Patton has some lean years ahead, Shoaf can say she’s been there, done that. At one time, her record at Salisbury was 40-100.
“This is about getting a fresh start and seeing what I can make out of a program that hasn’t been established yet,” she said. “We had five or six years at Salisbury of 7 or 8 wins before things got better. I don’t think it’s going to take that long here.”
Patton draws many of its students from Freedom, but the seniors were allowed to finish their careers as Patriots. The Panthers had only one senior in its debut season and Shoaf says most of her current players are sophomores and juniors.
“From what I’ve seen and what I’ve been told, they’re better than a 1-win team,” Shoaf said. “It’s just finding the right system and putting kids in the right spots.”
She’ll have plenty of time to think every morning. Shoaf is planning on commuting the 69 miles from Salisbury each day.
“Everybody who does it says I won’t mind the drive,” she said. “It will give me time to reflect and think and organize in my head. I go home to three small children so there’s not much time to think what just happened.”
Here’s what just happened.
One of the best coaches in North Carolina gets to watch basketball from the bench again.
“I guess I just want to prove myself all over,” Shoaf said. “I want to see what I can make out of this.”
Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287.
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