Claiborne returns to York Catholic as head coach, looks to repair the boys' basketball program
Blaine Claiborne knows better than most about the storied history of York Catholic basketball.
A 1993 grad of the school and a standout player for the Irish basketball program, Claiborne played for the team during some of its greatest heights. He was a guard on the 1990 PIAA Class AA state championship team and is a member of the York Catholic Athletic Hall of Fame.
Now, he's in charge of resurrecting a program coming off an 11-13 season — a program that has hovered around the .500 mark for most of the last decade.
Claiborne has been named the next head basketball coach at York Catholic, replacing Ryan Luckman, who was not rehired after only one season. He'll be the team's third head coach in as many seasons.
"I'm honored that the principal and the committee had the faith in me to give me the opportunity," he said. "It's special because the thing we accomplished as a program before I was there, while I was there and even afterward for a few years, they were still good and competing for district and state championships. So, it's just an honor to be given the responsibility to try to get back to those levels."
On the surface, the hiring of Claiborne looks like the typical homecoming for a former student-athlete now hoping to give back to his alma mater. But it's much more than that.
Prior experience: Claiborne is a guy with past coaching experience, spending five years as the girls' varsity coach at York High and last season as the junior varsity head coach and varsity assistant at York Suburban. But it's the job that he encountered at York High that made him seem like a good fit to become the next Irish head man.
When he first signed on to coach the Bearcats six years ago, the girls' program was in a shambles.
"I think the York High girls, which was a totally broken program when I took over, (had) maybe eight, nine or 10 girls were in the total program," Claiborne said. "We're talking about varsity, JV, junior high and freshman team. We didn't have teams, coaches, anything."
Claiborne spent five seasons at York High, eventually building the program to the point where up to 40 girls were involved from the varsity level down to the junior high level. So, while the Irish program isn't quite in the same boat the Bearcats were when Claiborne took over, it's in a state where changes need to be made.
"York Catholic is not broken at all, but it needs repaired," Claiborne said. "It's not where it should be, but it's not broken."
So, now it's up to Claiborne to repair it.
Expectations: He understands that the success he had as a player raises expectations of him as a coach, especially after showing glimpses of promise at rival schools. But nothing quite matches the intensity that comes with coaching your alma mater, and the hope that comes along with it of returning the program to its glory days, which include four state championships and 11 District 3 crowns.
"I was a little cautious of (coming home) because sometimes going home is not always the best thing," Claiborne said. "... It wasn't a large concern for me, but it was something that I did consider. Like, will that be a good move?"
If nothing else, York Catholic is hoping that Claiborne can give it some consistency. Three coaches in three years isn't the best path for success of a program.
Finding a middle ground: After Joe Keesey was let go two years ago, he said it was because he wasn't charismatic enough. Last year, the more fiery Luckman was dismissed. So, it'll be up to Claiborne to find a middle ground as he tries to turn around the program.
"My main job is to have my guys organized and ready to play and we take care of that at practice," he said. "... In a game, if it takes for me to get excited and I need to put a charge in my guys, then that's what I'll do. If they're playing well, then I'll sit down on the sidelines and watch the game as an active spectator."
Claiborne's name is part of York Catholic's lore. Some of the best years the basketball program ever had came during his time as a player.
He knew there would be expectations and pressure surrounding him when he took the job. Now, it's up to him to block all of that out and help repair the program.
"I needed to do it," Claiborne said, "and not be worried about what might go wrong and just think about the possibilities of what will go right."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org