MERCERVILLE, Ohio — Kent Wolfe wanted one last opportunity at coaching boys basketball in the Ohio Valley.
He hopes to make his last stand at South Gallia High School.
That’s because Wolfe — a 1982 Southern High School graduate, a Meigs County resident and coach of the Lady Tornadoes for the past three seasons — was hired in late May as the new head boys coach of the Rebels.
Wolfe replaces Larry Howell, who resigned in March and following the completion of last year.
Wolfe, who has head coaching experience in four different districts in Ohio, will teach junior high mathematics at South Gallia — as he resigned as Southern Elementary’s (grades four thru eight) principal following nine years.
South Gallia students in grades six thru 12 are all housed in the same building in Mercerville.
But boys basketball is Wolfe’s first coaching love, and he intends —after three decades in education — to make the Rebels his final mentorship stop.
Since the opportunity never arose at his alma mater of Southern, it’s South Gallia which is giving him a chance.
Wolfe was a member of the 1980 and 1982 Tornado clubs, coached by Carl Wolfe and assisted by Howie Caldwell, which advanced to the state tournament.
He then went on to play at Rio Grande College under head coach John Lawhorn.
“I’ve wanted to be a part of the boys basketball program at Southern, but just never got that opportunity. But now I get an opportunity to run my own program in this area. I’m looking forward to it,” said Wolfe, in an interview on Tuesday. “It’s a challenge, but I’m of the philosophy that I’ve always had challenges. I was always told as a player that I was too short and too small. But I got to play basketball at Rio Grande and did well there. I was told I couldn’t win at New Knoxville and Logan Elm, but overall, we did well at both places. There are always people out there that say you can’t do this or you can’t do that. But I’ve always wanted to prove to those people that ‘yes I can’. I want this to be my last job. I want to be able to stay there and build the program up and always be a contender or highly competitive every year. That’s what we’re striving for. You can’t do that unless you build your program.”
Wolfe returns to coaching boys after leading the 2015-16 Lady Tornadoes to their first sectional championship in several seasons, part of three years with the program.
“I enjoyed every minute of my three years coaching the (Southern) girls. I was really pleased with what we did,” he said. “With Waterford and Eastern always in that league, to finish third in that league, we thought we did really well.”
His overall coaching record stands at 177-125, with 135 victories and 98 losses in coaching boys.
His first head coaching position was at New Knoxville in northwest Ohio, before moving on to Logan Elm for nine years — and to nearby Westfall for another two.
Logan Elm was in the Central District before switching to the Southeast, as Wolfe led the Braves to their first-ever appearance at the Ohio University Convocation Center and the Division II district tournament.
He then returned to Meigs County and at Southern, becoming the Southern Elementary principal — and around the same time with the passing of his father and his uncle.
However, there was no immediate boys coaching opportunity in the area —until he heard through the grapevine that the South Gallia position was open.
“After I came back to Southern, I had wanted to coach boys basketball again for a long time,” said Wolfe.
He said he applied and interviewed with the administration at South Gallia — and was “thoroughly impressed” with Gallia County Local Schools Superintendent Jude Meyers and his staff.
Speaking of staff, Wolfe — who will continue commuting from Syracuse and have a transportation pickup point to Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division tilts — is retaining the Rebels’ assistants of last season.
“I am very excited about this opportunity and couldn’t ask for a better place to be. I’ve been working with the kids for about five weeks now. They are wanting me to build this program back up,” said the coach. “We’re in a situation right now where we have some younger kids that we need to keep in the program. I’m kind of starting from scratch. We’ve got some kids that didn’t come out last year and now they are back, so you are reteaching them and they have lost a year of skill level. But they play extremely hard. When I saw them play last year, I thought they were quite competitive. Defensively, they were very aggressive and they are very well-taught. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a real big transition for me defensively. But we have to worry about playing good fundamental man-to-man defense first.”
The young Rebels of last season, which graduated just two seniors of any significant varsity playing time, went just 3-18 — but were involved in eight games in which they lost by seven points or less.
They relied heavily upon defense since they often struggled to score points —and junior-to-be Caleb Henry, who averaged a team-high 14 points per game in being named Division IV third-team all-Southeast District by the Associated Press —has transferred to Gallia Academy.
Wolfe said since he was hired so late in the last academic year, he was unable to schedule the Rebels for any team camps in the summer —but did find an opening at the University of Rio Grande shootout.
He said he expects to have between 20 and 23 kids in the entire junior varsity and varsity programs next year, with an estimated 11 or 12 players for the varsity level.
“We will have a couple of players probably float between varsity and JV, and we need to get our freshmen a few games, giving them as many quarters as possible,” said Wolfe. “We want kids that want to be here and I really like the kids that are in the gym right now. They want to be there and want to play and their ultimate goal is like mine. We want to get to the Convo (Ohio University Convocation Center for Division IV district and regional tournaments). We want to be playing in sectional finals and give ourselves a chance to go to the Convo. That’s where we need to be.”
He added that the junior high numbers “are a little low right now, but we have a lot of incoming sixth graders.”
Wolfe was concluding his youth camp on Thursday, and said “I want to put my thumbprint on the biddy ball program and get those numbers up and maintained.”
As for his upcoming varsity squad, there are eight or nine core players “who have been attending open gyms religiously.”
As of now, the nucleus includes two seniors in point guard Curtis Haner and shooting guard Austin Stapleton, junior shooter Eli Ellis and six-foot, three-inch sophomore center Austin Day.
“Offensively, we have to make sure we take care of the ball. We have to have really good ball movement and ball-handling. We can’t be taking bad shots,” said Wolfe. “Our path of winning is a little bit narrower than everybody else, but there has to be a philosophy for us. We have to shoot the ball reasonably well, we have to defend well and we have to handle the ball well, especially against presses, in order to win games. We have to continue to work on our point guard play, because we know teams are going to put pressure on us and try to tempo us. We have to get the ball across the timeline and run some good stuff and get good shots.”
While the Rebels remain youthful and undersized, Wolfe wants his squad —above all else —to play hard while working hard to improve.
“All I really want is that the kids play hard, and other coaches come to us after the game and say that our kids really got after it,” he said. “I think if you get that comment or statement, you are going to start seeing some progress. The kids are on the floor taking charges, going after loose balls. We’re going to have to get the majority of the loose balls, rebounding is going to be an issue for us, we have to get twice as many hustle plays as the opponent does in order for us to hang in. We’re going to be small size-wise. We will have Austin Day in the middle at six-foot-three, but that’s it. We have to do a better job of boxing out, limiting teams’ second-or-third opportunities, not giving up extra shots.”
One of those opponents is of course Southern, which hosts the Rebels for next year’s TVC-Hocking opener.
From now until then, though, Wolfe said he aims to see continued improvement from his newest bunch of boys.
“In the short period of time we’ve had so far, I’ve been really happy with them and have seen quite a bit of growth,” he said. “I’m antsy for the season to get here and get things going. I’ve been really pleased so far with what’ve done, our kids are getting better every week. We still have a lot of work to do, but the attitude has been tremendous, they are great listeners and real receptive, and they’ve been on task. I want our players to work harder than me. I work real hard as a coach. I hardly ever sit down on the bench during a game. I’m up and giving instructions almost all the time. If these kids can work as hard as I can, then we’ll hang in there and be okay.”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106