ROSCOE -- “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor echoed throughout the “Coach” Fred Ahart Gymnasium on Friday night as the Roscoe Blue Devils warmed up before their season opener against the S.S. …
ROSCOE -- “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor echoed throughout the “Coach” Fred Ahart Gymnasium on Friday night as the Roscoe Blue Devils warmed up before their season opener against the S.S. Seward Spartans.
It was the first Roscoe varsity boys basketball game in several decades not coached by Ahart, who passed away last summer. While he wasn't physically present, it was abundantly clear the Roscoe legend was there in spirit.
Prior to the start of the game, Roscoe Coach Mike Hill, his players and S.S. Seward Coach Rob Gravelle, a longtime friend of the Ahart family, all gave Fred's wife Becky (a legendary coach in her own right) a loving hug.
The team also presented her with flowers and a moment of silence was held in Fred's memory at both their home game against Seward, as well as their away game at Manor on Sunday.
Also, the chair on the bench most often used by Ahart, had a special note on it that reads: “It's game time! So, where else would he be? Coach will come down to Earth to spend this time with you. So ... save him a seat, just one empty chair, you may not see him, but he will be there!”
While Hill, a longtime assistant of Ahart, misses the banter and strategy sessions with his friend, the memories remain. Hill and Gravelle reminisced about Ahart on Friday, and with games against Livingston Manor and Tri-Valley to follow where he'd see Manor AD/Boys Basketball Coach Adam Larson who worked alongside Fred for years coordinating the districts' merged programs, and Tri-Valley AD Jason Closs, who is a Roscoe alum and played for Ahart, he expects more trips down memory lane. Further proof that Ahart's legacy remains.
“He really still is here,” said Hill.
Roscoe has yet to fill Ahart's post as athletic director. Larson has been helping out, and Hill said about 5-6 people are sharing the tasks Fred did for over 50 years.
Hill said wherever he goes, he encounters people that knew ‘Coach' and they have been very supportive. “They know it's a big change and that it's going to take awhile,” he said.
The 2021 Blue Devils' squad consists of six returning seniors and four juniors called up from JV.
Another way they pay homage to their late ‘Coach' can be heard in the huddle. The team now shouts “1-2-3 Coach” instead of Roscoe.
As for Fred's imprint on the program, Hill says, “That won't change as long as I'm the coach.”
Roscoe (1-1) started the season with games on Friday and Sunday against Seward and Manor respectively.
Against Seward, the Blue Devils remained close in the first half, only trailing 22-15 at halftime.
However, the visiting Spartans pulled away in the second half, winning 46-33. Roscoe's Alaniz Ruiz led the team in scoring with 15 points, while Aaron Steele added seven.
When asked what the team needed to work on, Hill's answer was simple: Shooting.
“Our shooting percentage was very low,” said Hill. “We took a lot more shots than Seward but we didn't make them.”
Hill did praise his team's energy, which he says they don't lack.
“They have a lot of passion,” Hill said, “and they go all over the place, causing mayhem.”
Speaking of that “mayhem,” especially on the defense end, it was a big factor in Sunday's 38-36 win over Manor. According to Wildcats' Coach Adam Larson, “Roscoe's full court press caused Manor issues and was the difference maker in the game.”
Tied at 26 with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, key buckets by Ruiz, Collin Garofolo and Aaron Steele paced the Blue Devils' offense en route to victory. Manor had a chance to tie the game with a couple seconds remaining but were unable to get up a shot attempt before the final buzzer sounded.
Ruiz led Roscoe in the win over Manor, scoring with 16 points, while Steele added 10 points. The Manor offense was paced by Case LeRoy who scored a game-high 19 points and was a dominant presence in the paint.