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Hutton: Valparaiso High maneuvers its way into stronger basketball programs

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Updated: June 20, 2013 4:43PM



I’ve always believed good coaches add value to the schools they work for.

I’m talking about high school coaches.

It’s a stupidly simple concept — hiring a good one — that is hard to practice these days with shrinking tax bases and a state educational philosophy that favors charter schools and choice.

It’s value that is hard to quantify with a spread sheet or a calculator, but it’s the kind of value that enhances the image of the school and makes it more attractive for all kinds of students, not just athletes.

Good coaches also set good examples.

My operating theory was proved this week, at least in my mind, when the basketball dominoes at Valparaiso High School finally fell into place.

Joe Otis took one for the school and for the team when he moved over to take the girls, position, opening the job up for junior varsity coach Matt Thomas to become the boys coach.

I mean that in the best possible way.

All the things that Otis has said publicly about taking the girls job are true.

That he is thrilled to coach them.

That he is a history teacher and legacy guy who welcomed the chance to do what former Vikings coaches Dale Ciciora and Greg Kirby did, which was to successfully coach both girls and boys.

The untold part of the story is that Otis knew the boys program was in good shape with any one of the three assistants that were up for the job, he knew that it would be incredibly complicated, if not impossible for the school to hire an outside candidate who was a teacher, and he also knew that he’d be opening up a job for Brent Kimmel, one of the three MVP assistants on staff who didn’t have a job.

Kimmel worked as a volunteer when he started then latched on as the third assistant in the Vikings program as the freshman B coach. The blade hit again this year. The school eliminated his position last spring after a contentious debate about what positions had to go. The proud Vikings program has only four paid assistant positions — all the other Duneland Conference schools, plus Munster, have five paid assistants.

Kimmel would’ve had to go back to being unpaid again next year — or just quit — and find some other way to make up the income. Otis got to keep coaching and help one of his guys — someone who truly deserved it. Otis was hired with the understanding that he was going to mentor the young guys and then probably retire.

Sometimes, plans change. After Jeanette Gray resigned from the girls’ job, Otis liked the idea of trying to get the program back on firm footing. He also knew that Kimmel was getting victimized here and that it would be a shame to lose someone as talented as he was if he couldn’t get paid.

“There were a lot of factors that I considered,” Otis said of making the switch. “But I have to tell you, I’m looking forward to coaching the girls and winning.”

The flip side of the move is that without Otis moving over, the Vikings never score a girls staff as deep and experienced as the one that lured Candy Wilson away from Boone Grove and brought Jack Gabor out of retirement. They both jumped at the chance to work for Otis.

And for Wilson, the long-term chance to take over program, assuming she wants it, is promising.

There is one troubling part to this creative solution Valparaiso worked out to essentially keep its brand solid.

The money for teaching and coaching is drying up all over the place because of the recession and tax bases that are wilting away. After a while, people get tired of the long hours and trying to be creative and they go work somewhere else.



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