Winning not No. 1 priority for Bankos


Now, more than any time previously, the primary goal of a sports organization often boils down to one thing — winning.

Coach Kevin Bankos led his York Catholic girls' team to York-Adams Division III and District 3 Class 3-A titles this season.
Ashton Bankos works with Jania Wright during a York Catholic practice, Wednesday January 6, 2016. (John A. Pavoncello - The York Dispatch)

Be it pro or college sports, winning is really all that fans and management seem interested in.

At the pro and semi-pro levels, that's understandable, since winning can directly impact the bottom-line. Winning and championships drive revenues, such as ticket sales and merchandising.

That "bottom-line" mentality has sometimes trickled down to the high school and youth ranks. Long known as the place for athletic development, those building-block pillars are sometimes being replaced by an attitude that seeks the instant gratification that comes with victories.

Prep coaches are sometimes hired and fired based on wins and losses.

It would seem that this new attitude would resonate well with a person such as York Catholic girls’ basketball coach Kevin Bankos. After all, no one has been as successful in York County over the past decade. Bankos has compiled a 258-34 record over his 10 years.

The Fighting Irish head coach, however, really doesn’t believe in the motto "winning is everything." Bankos doesn’t enjoy losing, but he believes that learning and growing is more important at the high school level.

“The only thing that drives me (to coach) is seeing kids become more than even they know that they can become,” Bankos said. “And I tell our coaches that our job is to make that kid into something more than they know that they can become yet.”

More than a coach: Bankos looks at himself as more than just a basketball coach.

“It’s not just basketball,” he said. “It’s also when I see them handle you (reporters) and handle the questions and communicate well and we talk about that. It’s part of my job to make them understand that this is part of their job. Then it’s to grow up into that leader and that kid that everyone wants to be around.”

Being around the coaching part of basketball for more than 30 years, Bankos has been successful in his craft because of his ability to keep up with the times. The players of today are far different than those he coached when he started a decade ago. Every year the list of alternatives to playing basketball grows, making his job tougher.

Bankos was quick to understand those dynamics. He knows that while he’s officially just a basketball coach, he’s also a counselor.

Success requires instilling a proper mindset in his players. That doesn’t come quickly or easily.

“Finding a blend of kid that can fit in mentally is the hardest part of coaching,” he said. “It’s mostly from the shoulders up. If you’re a successful coach, you’ve got to figure out how to manage between the ears and their emotion. It’s not basketball. Basketball is a simple game, but if you’re winning as a program and are successful it’s because you’ve figured out a way to deal with kids and their confidence and how to make them feel important and valued.”

Getting help from his daughter: The York Catholic head coach came to those realizations with help. His assistants have been very important in that regard. One of those assistants — his daughter, Ashton — can say that she’s almost uniquely qualified in that regard.

Ashton won three PIAA state titles at York Catholic while playing for her father. She understands what it’s like to play for him. For her, handing down practical advice is one of the most rewarding parts of coaching.

“It’s neat for me being on the other side now,” Ashton said. “Watching them and telling them, ‘hey, I told you it’s going to be OK.' And when they do, they’re like ‘you were right Coach.' Them saying that reassures me that I’m doing this for the right reasons.”

Ashton enjoyed success in college at Juniata as a player and for a couple of years as an assistant coach at Elizabethtown College. Those are experiences that are of particular interest to her father when he seeks out her input.

“My first year here, one of the first things he asked me was, ‘What did you do at the college level? What kind of drills did you run?’ Him asking me for advice was really neat. And sometimes it wasn’t really advice, but more like questions of how to do things.”

Sometimes her advice will be presented totally unsolicited, something that Ashton secretly enjoys.

“You can say that I’m his biggest pest,” she said with a smile. “Sometimes I’ll be like, ‘Dad, what are you doing? We should do this.’ And he’ll say ‘well do it’, but I’ll say, ‘no, that’s your job’. But that’s really my favorite part of this job.”

She can relate to the players: Her biggest asset to her father’s coaching staff is her ability to relate to the players. Now in her mid-20’s, Ashton is not all that far removed from being a high-school player herself.

“They know that they can come to me if they’re not sure about something,” she said. “Sometimes they’re afraid to ask him. And sometimes my dad will be like, ‘you might want to talk to them about this before I get to them.' And I’m like, ‘got it, coach.' I really do enjoy the interactions with the kids and doing that is part of me being able to give back, which is the biggest thing for me.”

Even so, Ashton can tell that things are very different now than they were back when she was a senior.

“It’s very different,” she said. “I remember the first time I came into practice and thought ‘wow, this is different.' This isn’t how I remembered it. And he just said to me, ‘you’re older now and things have to change.' And that’s something that he constantly reminds me of.

“The kids are different. They react differently. They just have a lot more stuff to deal with than I think that I did, and I think that I had a lot to deal with. Their heads are filled with 8,000 different things. They’re doing all these club sports, which is great, but their bodies get worn out and they become mentally tired. So I guess that, yeah, that’s different now.”

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