Erika Pratt, Barbara Beebe and Joe Lefkowski. The assistant coaches behind the success of the THS girls basketball team.
The THS girls basketball coaching staff. (L-R) Erika Pratt, Barbara Beebe, Michael J. Fritch and Joe Lefkowski. Fritch posted his 400th win on Thursday night in a 53-21 win over Woodland.
TORRINGTON: They are the trio that sits to the right of the man who get official credit for winning 400 plus games, but without them many of those “Ws” may have gone in the other direction.
Michael Fritch Sr. is the head coach of the Torrington girls’ basketball team, a squad that just put the finishing touches on a remarkable 19-1 season and gets ready to go for their second Naugatuck Valley League Tournament title in three years when action gets underway on Saturday.
Fritch has spent 22 years on the sidelines for the Raiders and has built the program into one of the most consistent in the state, sending multiple players off to Division I schools and helping prepare young ladies for life after their playing careers end.
What the head coach wanted folks who follow Torrington girls basketball to know is that no coach stand alone and does all the work and that he has been very fortunate to have three outstanding assistants with him for a good long time.
Erika Pratt (his daughter), Barbara Beebe and Joe Lefkowski are the backbone of a program run by as fiery a competitor as you will see out there. They are the voices that help the players filter the emotion that flows freely from a coach who cares as much, if not more, about making them better people, not just better basketball players.
From a unique seat to the left of the Raiders bench, those of us who cover the team get a first- hand look at what makes this program so special.
First the order. Pratt, who played for her father during her years as a star at THS, has been the junior varsity coach for nine years and has been the one charged with feeding the varsity program players ready to play on the biggest high school level.
Teams led by Pratt don’t experience one thing very often though. They don’t lose a lot and have not during most of her tenure. That is evident in the 170-20 mark over that time period.
The passion, the focus and the attention to detail is similar to her father’s, but the voice is just a little softer.
Being in the gym and playing and coaching girls basketball is simply in Pratt's DNA.
“It’s been great being able to coach with my dad all these years,’ Pratt said. “I grew up in this gym and to be able to be part of this program is special.”
Over the last few seasons, if you’re watching, you would have noticed Pratt with the clipboard, drawing up a play at a crucial juncture of a big game. She’s taken the knowledge that she gained from her years on the hardwood, combined it with what has worked for the Raiders before and tailored it for that year’s team.
Now, in a lot of cases, like this year, there have not been a good number of close games down the stretch that have called for one play that makes the difference between winning and losing, but as the postseason rolls out next week, count on some closer contests that will require some late game tactics.
“Erica is the brains of the operation,” Fritch said. “She is very astute coach who know the game very well.”
Sitting next to Pratt is freshman coach Barbara Beebe who is in her sixth year with Torrington and has brought her own perspective to what it’s like for a student athlete in high school based on her own time playing during high school and her days playing college ball.
“Barb knows the game very well,” Fritch said. “She’s not afraid to speak up either if the need is there.”
Pratt and Beebe have a great deal in common. They were both standout high school and college players before coming to Torrington where they both started families while coaching.
“Erica and I did not have children when we started coaching,” Beebe said. “So we have gotten very close while we started our families.”
Beebe has three children while Pratt has two. On any given night, multiple kids can be seen playing behind the Raiders bench and it brings an even greater sense of family to the program.
“I love having them all here,” Fritch said. “My kids were always here when I was an assistant coach so I am glad these kids are as well. Both Erica and Barb are the best role models I have ever known for these kids. They have both been players, their great moms and terrific coaches. I am very lucky.”
The third member of the Raiders staff is a volunteer who certainly exemplifies what volunteerism is supposed to be.
Lefkowski, who is in his fourth year at Torrington, spent three years as the Litchfield High School girls coach, is the gentle giant of the group, but one who serves an invaluable role.
“Joe is the first one here and starts the practices for me,” Fritch said. “He is so good with the kids and gets them ready with pre-practice drills. In the first 30-35 minutes of practice, I don’t say boo. I just watch. I may shout an encouraging word or two if I see something I like, but for the most part, that’s their part of the practice.”
Lefkowski is the perfect, grandfather figure for the team. A big guy with a soft heart but a stern message.
All three assistants have gotten more vocal over the last few years as they developed their own chemistry with each other and with Fritch.
Throughout this 19-1 campaign that saw the Raiders win the Iron Division title, the coaches have kept the same habits after the first half of games and it has helped immensely to make theme a better second half team.
“At halftime of every game, before we go into the locker room with the players,” Fritch said, “I ask each coach what they see and then we go talk to the team. I value and consider everything they tell me. I may choose not to use some of the advice but a great deal of the time, I go with their ideas.”
Each coach has figured out a way to contribute to the overall success without stepping on each other’s or the head coaches’ toes, not always an easy task.
Each has the ability to help young players to take the overall message that is set forth by their fiery head coach. How to take the emotion out and grab a hold of the message that is within said emotion.
How many more years with this powerful foursome be together?
Nobody is saying right now but if you look at the Raiders newest star, Brie Pergola, you will see she has two more years after this one to compete.
In the meantime, next time you are catching a game, make sure to take a look at the three assistants sitting to the right of the guy jumping up and down. They are a big reason these Raiders and this program remain one of the state’s best.