BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – Just like Dave Meyer never set out to a be an assistant coach, Chris George never really intended to coach girls. But to each of their credits, they were flexible, went with the so-called ‘flow’ and made the best of the circumstances with which they were faced.
Besides, the alternative might have meant they would have to give up the profession they love.
Yes, after departing the Elco school district under less than ideal circumstances, George and Meyer have landed on their feet, together. In fact, they comprise an intriguing, if not surprising, coaching duo for the Pine Grove girls’ basketball program.
In their fourth season at the helm, George serves as the Cardinals’ head coach and Meyer his trusted assistant. A member of the Schuylkill County League, Pine Grove currently sports an 8-6 overall mark, a record which includes Saturday’s 43-35 triumph over Annville-Cleona at Lebanon Valley College.
“Every year I coach, I love it more and more,” said George, a resident of Myerstown who teaches computer and business in the Pine Grove school district. “I do enjoy high school coaching. But I never thought I’d coach girls. The surprising thing is girls listen, and they will apply everything they learn.
“I’m not saying I would never go back to the boys’ side,” George continued. “It’s a catch-22. I wouldn’t trade this for anything, but I don’t want to use Elco situation as motivation. I thought I was ready to be a head coach. I had a taste of success.”
“There’s a couple of factors,” said Meyer. “I enjoy being around young people, and the ability to teach them effectively and motivate them. I’m pretty much old-school, and I’m not going to apologize for that. I hate winter, and coaching basketball makes it go quicker.”
Meyer is Elco’s winningest basketball coach of all-time, girls or boys. But during his lengthy stay as the Raiders’ girls’ coach, he became cynical and disillusioned with the state of athletics in the district, before being replaced by former player Ashli Shay.
George was involved at all levels of the Elco boys’ basketball program for 16 years, the last three of which he served as head coach Chris Firestine’s varsity assistant. After Firestine left, George applied for the head coaching position that ultimately went to Brad Conners.
“When things didn’t work out at Elco, it was just timing,” said George. “The Pine Grove job opened up and the rest is history. When Chris (Firestine) left it was tough for me, because I put a lot into the program.
“At Elco, Dave and I had games on the same night,” George continued. “We had a great relationship. We’d sit in the coaches’ office and talk for hours, and he coached my sister Steph. There was a conversation. I put out a feeler. And I knew he was a good coach.”
“The summer after I was left go by Elco, Chris sent me an e-mail,” said Meyer, who still serves as Elco’s golf coach. ” ‘Hey, I’m the head coach. Would yould you have an interest in being an assistant?’ I checked out an open gym and I was very well received. Chris has been great to work for. He asks me what I want to do, and then he tells me, ‘Whatever you want to do, do it.’
“With my schedule, it’s challenging for me to make it to all the practices all the time,” continued Meyer. “There are rewards being around these kids, and the community cares deeply about the success of the basketball program. The kids have been fantastic. But for me, the number one thing, when I open my mouth, the tremendous respect I’m given.”
The Pine Grove girls’ basketball program boasts a long line of success, and George and Meyer have done everything in their power to uphold that tradition.
The Cardinals have won two PIAA Class AA championships in their history and made three other appearances in state finals. Since their arrival in Pine Grove, the George-Meyer combo has guided the Cardinals to two District Eleven Class AA titles and a Schuylkill County League crown.
“We’ve had a title every year we’ve been here,” said George. “It’s been amazing. This tradition of excellence, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And it’s devastating to see what’s happened to the (Elco) boys’ program when we left.
“I’d like to try and find Dave another head job,” George added. “But I told him, if he didn’t catch on, ‘I’d love to have you as a varsity assistant.’ To have a guy with 200 or 300 wins on your bench is priceless. Every year you coach, you see more and more.”
“Chris reminds me of the mad scientist,” said Meyer of George. “He’s drawing up plays left and right. There’s not enough magic markers for the plays he wants to draw up. He has a great mind for what he wants to do. Coach George believes in defense a lot more than most people believe. When played properly, we’re in almost every game.”
For George and Meyer, coaching still stokes the competitive flames first ignited during their playing days. It also allows them to keep connected with the game, and to feel young by being around younger people.
“I’m pretty competitive,” said George. “Every coach has their own mannerisms. You’re not going to see me get all fired up. But we want to have confidence. My message to the girls is: ‘Don’t be surprised to have success.’
“I think I’m pretty competitive,” said Meyer. “At least I was as a player. I had to work really hard to get what I got.
“I would say as a whole, this league (Schuylkill County) is much, much more physical, with fewer (officiating) calls made,” Meyer continued. “There are more wars. With the quality of play, teams are much smaller in terms of sizes of schools. But you have a lot more depth in the Lancaster-Lebanon League.”
Where exactly the Pine Grove gig will lead George or Meyer is anyone’s guess. At this point, both are having way too much fun to look too far into the future.
“I really love coaching at Pine Grove,” said George. “We had to rebuild the program from top to bottom. The program was in need of change. Being at Elco, I had some ideas. I feel like I helped get the program headed in the right direction. But if something would pop up, I would entertain anything.”
“It’s a mixed bag,” said Meyer of being an assistant coach. “It’s frustrating to some extent, but on the other hand, seeing the things he (George) has to deal with, it’s like, ‘I don’t miss that.’ After I left Elco, two people pushed me to interview at other schools. There’s no perfect situation out there. But if the right situation came along, I would certainly consider it. But if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.”