BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – It’s not a mid-life crisis. That would involve either a red convertible, a hairstyle metamorphosis or a fashion change.
But in many ways, at the age of 50, Roger Hayes is entering a new phase of his life. Hayes has become a varsity head coach for the first time, a distinction usually reserved for someone nearly half his age.
But while it may not have been his intent, being around around youth has a certain way of keeping one young.
Hayes is the Annville-Cleona girls’ basketball team’s new head coach. During the recent off season, Hayes took over for Jamie Walborn, who exited to spend more time with her immediate family.
“Jamie decided to stay at home with her kids,” said Hayes, during a break in a recent practice. “It (being a head coach on the varsity level) was something I never contemplated. When it opened up, a lot of people came up to me and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you throw your hat into the ring?’.
“I was probably the last person to apply,” continued Hayes. “I wanted to make sure I could make the commitment. It was a long process to me. It was something I gave a lot of thought. But it wasn’t something I was sure I would ever do.”
But while Hayes is new to his position, he is not new to the program. Many of the girls he is mentoring now he also coached when they were at the elementary school level.
“The biggest thing to me was I could give something back,” said Hayes. “I’ve spent a lot of time with these girls growing up. And it’s not just what happened on the court. It’s an opportunity to be involved with the kids and to help them, not only to be better basketball players, but also better people. It was very appealing to me.
“It is a challenge,” Hayes continued. “It has to be a labor of love. It’s got to be something you want to do. The question was: ‘Could I give them everything?’ Things like watching film, breaking it down, the administrative stuff. It’s a huge balancing act. But it’s been rewarding for me.”
Yet change is change. And Hayes seems acutely aware of the fact that no matter how familiar players and coaches are with one another, there will be an unspecified adjustment period.
“Things have been going well,” said Hayes. “There’s been a lot of enthusiasm. There’s a steep learning curve. There’s a big change, and the girls are very supportive of each other. One of our parents said it best, ‘It’s not so much a rebuilding year as a reunion’. I coached that core group since they were in third grade. They’ve adjusted well. We had a good summer with each other. It’s been great. They’ve (his players) done their part.
“I want to go deep,” added Hayes. “The style of game I want to play, we’re going to have to go deep. One of our strengths is their (his players’) flexibility and their interchangeability. We don’t have a six-footer, but we have players who can do different things. That’s probably our greatest strength. I also see their inclusiveness, their willingness to get everybody involved. Our juniors are inclusive of our sophomores and freshmen. Everybody enjoys being together. They genuinely like each other, and care about each other, on and off the court.”
Annville-Cleona’s efforts this season will be fronted by a strong junior class. Look for athletic 11th-grader Meredith Bachman to be assertive on both ends of the floor for the Little Dutchmen, while fellow juniors Hannah Fischer and Addison Hayes will also play key roles.
“We’re young,” said Hayes. “Where we need to be better is just getting up to speed at the varsity level, and knowing what it takes to compete at the varsity level. We’re going to have to mature quickly. This group was a supporting cast to three seniors. With Jamie, in her four years, we went to districts twice. Two years ago, we were in the league playoffs. We want to make district appearances an every year things, so that it becomes and expectation.
“We have nine keys to winning,” Hayes added. “We want to score more than 40 points each night. We want to hold our opponents to less than 30 points. We want to limit our turnovers to less than six. We’re trying to be very granular in our goals on the court.”
The Little Dutchmen have come a long way in four years, since a lack of numbers precluded them from fielding a JV program. Annville-Cleona has qualified for the last two District Three Class AA postseasons, and there’s really no reason why this current edition can’t extend that new tradition.
“We haven’t formally set goals, but they are there,” said Hayes. “Our expectations are to play well enough to earn a trip back to districts. I want to take each day at a time, and tomorrow will take care of itself. I think the general state of the program is good. We’ve got 16 girls in the ninth through the twelfth grade. In seventh and eighth grades we’ve got 20 girls.
“I’m very excited where the program is,” continued Hayes. “Jamie (Walborn) left the program on very solid footing. In small schools, sometimes you have one player in a class. We need to have five to eight players in each class every year. We’ve got a lot of work ahead, but I think we’re pointed in the right direction.”