Golden Bears' Coaching Staff: United for the Common Cause....By John Torsiello.
Every good team needs a good coach.
Or maybe four of them.
The Thomaston High School girls basketball team, which will play Capital Prep for the state Class S title Saturday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, is blessed by having four people who work seamlessly to make the Golden Bears more skilled, stronger, mentally tougher and more physically fit than their opponents.
The guy at the helm of the ship is Bobby McMahon, who worked under present Thomaston High School athletic director and former girls hoops chief Billy Ryan for eight years prior to assuming the head coach’s position six years ago.
Tony Geraci, a graduate of Wilby High School and played baseball at Eastern Connecticut State University, is the junior varsity mentor.
Kelly Finley, a former player for Ryan, McMahon and Geraci who went on to play softball at Eastern, is in her fourth season as freshman coach.
And Ryan, who coached the team for nine years after working seven years as an assistant under Paul Ebbs, now serves as a volunteer assistant.
It’s a group that has meshed and worked well and a big reason why the Thomaston girls are still chasing the dream Saturday.
“We work well together,” says McMahon, a fifth grade teacher at the town’s Center School who also coaches baseball at Thomaston High, leading the 2008 team (Geraci was an assistant) to a state championship title. “Tony has a good mind for the game and there is no way I’m going to let this guy walk away. Billy can coach with his eyes closed, that’s how well he knows the game and how long he has coached. And Kelly played for me my first year as head coach and her senior year of high school. We’ve been together for awhile and that helps.”
Geraci is a guy McMahon leans on during games and to scout the opponent. While winning is important for a junior varsity coach, getting kids playing time and teaching them how to play the game the right way is more important.
“Sure, we like to win but they don’t give awards to junior varsity coaches at the end of the year. On our junior varsity, everybody plays. When it gets late in the game and we’re in a position to win I may put people in to experience that situation for when it comes during a varsity game.”
Geraci was enticed to coach at Thomaston by his friend McMahon.“I was playing baseball with Bobby and he said there was an opening for an assistant coach for the girls basketball team. At the time I didn’t know if I wanted it but I have loved working with the girls. They don’t have any preconceived notions about the way the game should be played and you don’t have to deprogram them. They listen, want to learn and do what they are told.”
On his role during varsity games, Geraci says, “My job basically is to keep an eye on the flow of the game and bring things up to Bobby. Especially during timeouts, I’ll talk to him before we huddle with the girls and remind him to focus on one or two things that we need to get across.”
Finley says it’s been a joy to be a part of the magic carpet ride to the state championship game, especially given that she wore the gold and brown only a few years ago.“I would have loved being a part of it as a fan of the team but to be a coach and actually involved in the process is super.”
She says being a female allows her to be somewhat of an older sister figure for the girls.“The girls do come to me with things that they might not take to the guys. They do confide in me but we all know that Bobby is the one who makes the final decisions about things.”
Ryan, who is a gym rat of sorts--enjoying simply to be around the teams he oversees--is also having a blast with this year’s girls basketball squad. Ryan was an assistant on teams that went to three straight state championship games (in 1992, '93, and '94) and won a title in 1993.
“I remember the ride in the '90's and this one is a little different because of the length of time that has passed since the last one and the fact that it is at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Back in the 1990's it was at Central Connecticut State University, which at the time was special. But this time is different because the CIAC has made it really special for the finalists with the press conference/luncheon and playing in an 8,000-plus seat arena. The state makes a bigger deal out of it now which makes it a big deal for the kids, which is deserved. All of these teams have accomplished something that is really hard to do.”He adds, “The one thing that remains the same is our town's reaction. Any team from Thomaston that makes a state final has enormous support from the townspeople. In our run this has been no different as the crowds have grown bigger and bigger with each passing game. That is what makes our town so special. The support that these girls have received has been incredible. All the rides to the finals in all the sports are special because it is so difficult to do. Being one of the coaches just adds to my excitement but as AD any run is exciting. Watching any of our teams compete for a state championship is a really proud moment.”
On the coaching staff, Ryan comments, “The coaching staff Bobby has put together thinks the same but all respond to the players differently. Tony and Kelly relate really well with the kids besides being really knowledgeable. Both would make outstanding varsity coaches. We are all on the same page and the girls hear the same stuff from all of us. The message that we convey doesn't change. We have a very united front. Also, everyone has a chance to give his or her opinion. But the face to the team is one of a common belief.”
Thomaston’s girls, and their coaches, will take that belief into Saturday’s title game, hoping to share an incredible dream come true.