Coach Kori Stpehenson talking over the details of a gameplanher team during a timeout (Photo Courtesy of MCC Athletic Department)

Junior college coaches and their impacts on players

The importance of coaches in our society is something that is overlooked, especially when it comes to junior college coaches. A lot of times they are viewed as dictators who blow a whistle in their kid’s faces and yell at them when they make the smallest mistakes.  On the other end of the spectrum they can also be viewed as those who have little to no responsibility.

Recently that view has stemmed from Colin Cowherd when he spoke about the Juwan Howard and Greg Gard incident. Essentially Howard took a swipe at Gard in the handshake line after the Michigan versus Wisconsin basketball game in late February which resulted in scuffles by players and a couple staff members.

On his show, “The Herd,” Cowherd spoke on the disrespect both coaches showed to their programs and stated, “…coach junior college, this is the Big 10, these are big jobs, these are big responsibilities.” There was a large uproar on social media after these comments came out especially on Twitter when the NJCAA issued a statement denouncing the comments made by Cowherd.

Not only did the NJCAA speak out by a plethora of athletes as well including one former MCC Thunderbird baseball player, Jake Suddreth. 

Suddreth responded to the NJCAA’s statement stating, “My coaches at @mesacc were arguably the most influential coaches I had in my entire collegiate career, which includes 3 years at the D1 level (1 year in ACC). JC coaches have the ability to change the career/lives of their players.” He then went on to tag the NJCAA and the MCC athletic department.

When it comes to coaching no matter what level you’re at whether it be at a highest professional level or at a junior high level the impact and responsibilities the coaches have is immense.

 At the junior college level these coaches are tasked to work with kids who might be going there to get their athletic life back on track in order to move onto a bigger school. A lot of time they have to work within restraints like working within a budget allotted to them, or recruiting restrictions that other schools may not have to adhere to.

In many cases coaches help players find their love of the game again. Former T-Bird soccer star Annabella Bara recounts coming to MCC and being coached by current head coach Guarneri. Bara came to the program almost ready to give up on soccer altogether.

 With time on the team Bara began to find her love of the game again thanks to Guarneri, who Bara says treated the team like his daughters. He also helped Bara keep her confidence up even when she made mistakes.

“When I made mistakes he helped me realize it wasn’t the end of the world and I could still do good things for our team,” said Bara.

Good thing Bara stuck with soccer as she played incredible last season, leading the team to the ACCAC DII championship game and being named NJCAA DII All-American honorable mention. 

Junior college’s are important for players who might’ve lost their way in their athletic career get back on track. Former NFL MVP Cam Newton did this when he attended Blinn College after he faced suspension or possible expulsion at Florida University. 

The program at Blinn and coaching staff helped Newton get back on track after he dominated in his one season he transferred to Auburn where he won a national championship and would go #1 overall in the 2011 NFL draft.

With the ability for the media to document pretty much anything nowadays, something that has caught on in the last five years is a Netflix program called, “Last Chance U,” where the documentary crew takes you on a journey of select junior college programs for football and basketball detailing daily life for a season. In this series it’s evident the impact coaches have on their players as you see players who may be going down a troubled road be somewhat saved by the coach who wants them to succeed. Other times you see players go to these schools because of the coach and their ability to elevate them to the next level.

Women’s basketball coach Kori Stephenson has been the coach at MCC since the 2006-2007 season. In that time she has left an amazing impact on that record book with 325 victoires. 

She has had players come from far and wide to play for her because they know the impact she has on her players as they improve as a player and a person. This past season Jayla Johnson blossomed into a star being named to the NJCAA All-American Second Team. The usually soft spoken Johnson credits Stephenson for helping her come out of her shell, being more vocal, and a better player.

New men’s basketball head coach Lester Neal understands the responsibility that coaches have not only to the programs they work for but the players who play for them. Neal credits the coaches he played under for his success today.

“I know the importance that I play in their lives. I know I’m more than a coach. I’m a mentor always, I may have to counsel them whether it’s a bad relationship, family issues, academic struggles or their confidence. I know as a coach we wear many different hats,” said Neal.

From the outside looking in many might look at a junior college program as a last resort for players and coaches alike. However, a lot of programs and coaches are designed to not only help keep the players athletic dreams alive as well as helping to continue to shape, and guide them into productive members in society.

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