BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – High school coaches don’t coach for money. They coach for enjoyment – the joy of watching kids grow up, the love of the game and the thrill of competition.
The Battistellis are no different. But not only do they derive more joy from coaching together, they probably wouldn’t be doing it at all if it wasn’t as siblings.
The fact that older brother Kenny counts younger brother Chris Battistelli and even-younger sister Gina Battistelli-Barb as part of his staff certainly makes the Northern Lebanon girls’ basketball coaching situation a unique one. But think of it this way: What better way to make a team feel like an extended family than through the combined efforts of one’s immediate family?
“Oh my gosh, yes. There’s no doubt about it,” said Kenny B., the Vikings’ head coach. “The people who are closest to me are enjoying this emotional roller coaster ride with me. Chris worries he’s an emotional wreck. They’ve always shared, in the good and bad. Gina is different than Chris. She’s simple emotion. I don’t think she loses any sleep over it, but she has joy and anger. Gina has always been the toughest one in our family.
“We go to camp together,” continued Kenny B. “At Sunday dinners, we’re talking basketball. In the pool over the summer, we’re talking about how we can be better next season. We’re a very close family. This is just one more level, one more thing we’re obsessed about. When we were little, we wanted to make mom and dad proud. This is the same thing.”
“I just remember us saying, ‘It’s like anything with our family, if one does it, we all do it,'” said Gina B, a Northern Lebanon assistant. “For me personally, it’s worked out really well. I love it. My husband and their wives, we all talk about basketball. It’s constant. It brings us together. We’re such a family-oriented group. We rally around each other. It’s great.”
“I probably wouldn’t be involved at all if Kenny hadn’t gotten the job,” said Chris B, a Viking assistant. “Working with your family, it just doesn’t get any better than that. We can be brutally honest, disagree and love each other at the end. Total honesty, all the time.”
Not sure that when Kenny Battistelli got the Vikings’ head coaching position seven years ago it was with the express intent of including his brother and sister in it. But when he did get it, he took a step back and realized that the perfect complements to his coaching style might be Chris and Gina.
The only female on staff, Gina thinks with her heart, takes direction and runs with it and serves as an extra set of legs in practice. Chris is the classic introverted thinker, always trying to discover new ways to make the Vikings better.
Kenny? He’s the facilitator, the communicator, the guy at the top who brings everything together with his unique personality and coaching style.
“When I knew I was going to get the job, I knew Gina would be with me,” said Kenny. “It just made sense. When I first started coaching, I didn’t think Chris would fall into it the way he has. I didn’t know he had that part of his personality in him.
“One thing that’s a little different with Gina and Chris, for good or bad, no one’s worried about stepping on anyone’s toes,” added Kenny. “There’s no chance of any resentment. It’ll always be OK. To say it’s anything other than special it’s crazy. But other than that, I’ve only ever had close friends on staff. You don’t want anyone else to see you at your worst or at your best. But they’re awesome.”
“I didn’t help out Kenny’s first year,” said Chris. “My personality is not to tell people what to do. But I couldn’t just stand by. I knew I could contribute.”
“I’m the one who can relate to the girls,” said Gina, a former star player at Cedar Crest. “I was there. I have a different perspective. They laugh because I take care of them. I’m the mom when mom isn’t around. I have a bag of hair things, one that has anything a girl could need. I just help out where I can.”
Kenny, 40, Chris, 36 and Gina, 32 are all four years apart. Growing up, sports was as much a part of their lives as family. Basketball was just one more thing.
“I wouldn’t say so much basketball as sports,” said Kenny. “My dad took sports as serious as a person possibly could. A lot of our family things were following him to softball tournaments. Our family vacations revolved around sports. We grew up with sports. When we started playing, he was our coach, and we took it seriously. That’s where the passion comes from. He instilled it in all of us.
“It’s hard to describe how you can enjoy coaching,” Kenny continued. “You don’t really enjoy it while you’re doing it. It’s when it’s over that you can reflect, and you can enjoy it astronomically. The kids are all special. When kids come to you after they have graduated and give you a hug, it’s so fulfilling. The fulfillment at certain moments is overwhelming. Something that special makes your heart grow.
“We were either playing football, baseball or basketball growing up,” said Chris. “We were always involved with sports, one way or the other. I like to see kids grow up, and grow into being competitors. You can see things change in the four years you are with them.”
“I’m eight years younger than Kenny and four years younger than Chris,” said Gina. “That’s how I learned basketball. What my brothers did, I did. Basketball has always been a big part of our family. Now it’s something we can do together.
“It’s a roller coaster,” continued Gina. “It’s so much different than playing. You have to explain. You have to break it down. It can be a great ride. It can be a scary ride. But I wouldn’t trade my brothers for the world.”
Just like they probably wouldn’t be coaching if Kenny hadn’t secured the Vikings’ head coaching job, Chris and Gina probably won’t coach again if he were to ever to leave his current position. That’s a dedication that goes beyond loyalty.
“If there’s one thing we don’t have to worry about on this staff, it’s dissension,” said Kenny. “If something would ever happen, Chris would never coach again. Under different circumstances, Gina might coach again. She loves basketball. If I wouldn’t coach here, I don’t think I’d coach anywhere else. This is my school. These are my kids.”
“I don’t know. Probably not,” said Gina. “Maybe helping with little kids, but I wouldn’t be going for a head varsity coach position.
“I just love the game and trying to help kids,” Gina added. “I remember how coaches were with me. When they come back and say, ‘I miss you’, it’s cool. It means a lot, because you actually touched their lives.”
For further proof that this Battistelli coaching experiment works, one need not look any further than the court. Currently, Northern Lebanon sports a 12-7 overall mark, a win total that is twice as many as last year’s.
“Coach (Daryl) Hess and myself watch the guards, and watch the perimeter play. I’m just another set of eyes,” said Chris. “I think the season is going pretty good. We had a couple of close games that, had they gone the other way, could’ve made it great. I’m not sure we’ve won 15 games before. But we could this year if we win the last three.”
“We’ve had our ups and downs,” said Gina. “We dropped some games that slipped through our fingers. We’re very young yet. All in all, we’re having a great season. For the most part, they’re (the players) giving what they’ve got. We’ve got fight.”
“My role is to make sure that we don’t fail, whatever that entails,” said Kenny. “I have to figure out what it takes for us to succeed. I’ve got to find a way to get the girls to give everything they’ve got. It’s my job to make sure it works out. If it’s good, I deserve some credit. If it’s bad, I deserve some blame.”
Section Three Standings