It doesn’t happen often that a high school with a lot of recent success in basketball goes looking for a new head coach.
Let alone two of them.
That's exactly where Spring Grove High School found itself, however, after a pair of successful coaches stepped down following the 2017-2018 season.
James Brooks, who led the Rocket boys to the PIAA playoffs in 2016 and 2017, and Holly Strait, who led the Spring Grove girls to the PIAA playoffs this past season, left their respective programs with big shoes to fill for next season.
The district, however, believes it's replaced both Brooks and Strait with capable replacements. Ryan Eisenhart, a 2001 graduate of Spring Grove, was tabbed to take over for Brooks, while Troy Sowers, who is best known for his highly successful run as the head coach of the York High boys’ team, was picked to replace Strait.
“It felt really good when Mr. (Greg) Wagner (the Spring Grove AD) called me,” Eisenhart said. “It’s an honor to be put into this position to run this program.”
Sowers, Eisenhart linked: While Sowers and Eisenhart will be running different programs this winter, the two are linked by more than just the approval of their hirings on Monday night by the school board.
“Not a lot of people remember this, but Troy was the coach back when I played,” Eisenhart said. “So we go back 15 to 17 years now. I’m sure I’ll probably bounce some ideas off of him and ask for some of his thoughts.”
Eisenhart, however, is not your average first-year head coach. A Kutztown University graduate, Eisenhart coached for a few years after college before transitioning to a basketball official. After 13 years as a referee, Eisenhart returned to the coaching ranks for the past few years, including the last one as an assistant to Brooks.
“I’ve known James for many years,” he said. “So I just asked him if we wanted me to be his assistant.”
While rumors swirled that Brooks was destined to step down after this past season, Eisenhart was never sold on that until he announced to the coaching staff and players that he was indeed leaving the program after the season concluded.
“I know there were rumors but I didn’t know for sure,” Eisenhart said. “It wasn’t until the meeting after the season when he told us.”
Eisenhart doesn’t figure to change too many things from what Brooks implemented. The program thrived when James Brooks' son, Eli, was a standout a couple years back, but when Eli graduated in 2017 and went to Michigan, the wins were harder to come by.
Eisenhart's main focus will be helping the development of a team that returns three starters from a 4-17 squad last year.
“I really wanted to get back into more of helping the kids,” Eisenhart said. “I think you have to be a positive role model for them so that they will hopefully be good kids both on and off the court.”
Sowers back where he wants to be: For Sowers, coaching basketball is more than just an occupation or a hobby.
“It was just like a sense of relief,” said Sowers, who spent last year as an assistant coach with the Dallastown boys’ team. “I coached for 23 years, and the first thought when I woke up and the last thought I had before I went to bed was about my team. And these past two years without that (as a head coach) just felt weird. So now I just feel like my mind is at peace and everything is back to where it should be.”
Sowers in inheriting a team with a lot of talent and expectations after last year’s successful run, that produced a 16-11 overall record. The veteran coach is perfectly fine knowing that.
In fact, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“When I was at York High, we would map out our schedule all the way up to the state finals,” he said. “And I just believe that if you are not setting that as your goal, I’m not sure why you’re playing in the first place.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.