For first-year Bishop Carroll Catholic High School girls basketball coach Crystal Horton, as for millions of other Americans, today's celebration of Martin Luther King Day is very special.
Before the great clergyman and prominent leader in the African-American civil rights movement met a tragic death from an assassin's bullet in 1968, King's "I have a dream" speech resonated across the country, setting a shining example of hope for a better world.
King was a pioneer and trailblazer, and Horton appreciates that because he lived by the courage of his convictions, the lives of so many others - in his own day and forever more - were changed for the better.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Bishop Carroll’s Crystal Horton coaches her players during a recent drill. Horton is in her first season as BC’s coach.
People including Horton, who is one of the first African-American coaches - if not the first - in Carroll's scholastic athletic history.
"For me, as a young black coach in this area, he paved the way for me to have a job like this, and to be accepted,'' Horton said of King. "I am living the dream that I want as a coach, and this day is a reminder of the people like Martin Luther King who have gone on before us, and who have made it possible to be where we are right now.''
Horton, 30, brought a considerable amount of coaching experience to her appointment at Carroll, which she secured last spring.
The Crystal Horton file
Current position: First year as the Bishop Carroll High School girls basketball coach
Family: Horton and her husband, Timirr, 29, are the parents of sons Nehemiah, 5, and Josiah, 2, and daughter Moriyah, 3.
Coaching experience: Horton was an assistant Division I women's basketball coach under Susan Robinson Fruchtl at St. Francis University for the 2008-09 season. Before that, she was an assistant coach at Central Michigan University in 2006-07.
Education: Horton is a 2001 high school graduate of St. Michael's Academy, Austin, Texas, where she was a two-time all-state basketball player and member of three state championship-winning teams. She is a 2006 college graduate of Cedarville (Ohio) University with a degree in sports management.
A native of Texas who attended college in Ohio, Horton has Division I women's basketball coaching experience as an assistant coach at Central Michigan University and St. Francis University on her resume.
Horton was an assistant coach under Susan Robinson Fruchtl at St. Francis in the 2008-09 season. She lives in Ebensburg with her husband, Timirr, 29, who is a chef, and their three young children.
"The St. Francis job was a blessing,'' Horton said. "It opened the door for me and my husband to come here. We've found a home here, and it's a good place for us to raise our family.''
Bishop Carroll has been a good place for Horton to resume her basketball coaching career.
"It's been a smooth transition,'' Horton said. "I couldn't ask for a better group of girls with whom to start my coaching career back up. They're fun, they're energetic, they're working hard, and they have a desire to get better. That's all I believe a coach can ask for in their first year.''
Greg Snyder, who was appointed as Carroll's athletic director last June and was not part of the school's athletic committee that hired Horton, admires the coach's work ethic.
"Crystal is hard-working, and she's dedicated to the program and the kids,'' Snyder said. "She's taking all the right steps in her first year with the program, and trying to better the kids who play for her at the same time.''
The Bishop Carroll girls basketball program is currently undergoing somewhat of a rebuilding process. This year's team is 4-8 through 12 games, including an 0-6 record in Section I of the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference.
But junior shooting guard Haley Krug likes playing for Horton, and appreciates that the coach cares for her players as people.
"I really like playing for her,'' Krug said. "Our record hasn't been great, but I think that she's going to help us develop into a good program. She really helps us as people, too. She takes care of us on and off the court. I respect her a lot. She treats us like family.''
That includes Timirr Horton's preparation of pre-game meals for the squad at Carroll home games.
"I love his cooking,'' Krug said. "He's a great cook, and it's nice to be with your team for meals before the game. We all eat meals together at the top of the gymnasium.''
Among Timirr Horton's specialties are traditional pasta, baked chicken and a variety of soups.
"He's a chef in the Torvian Dining Hall at St. Francis University, and he's currently enrolled in the culinary program at Penn Highlands [Community College] main campus in Johnstown,'' Crystal Horton said of her husband. "He loves being a chef, and his goal is to someday open his own restaurant. He gets to prepare pre-game meals for the team, and they love it. They're eating gourmet meals, and it's been fun for the players to have that bonding time before the games.''
Horton and her assistant coaches, Jamie Boyles and Gabby Gueguen, are committed to the Carroll players, and they command a solid commitment in return.
"We're trying to instill in the players that when they step on the court, whether in a practice or in a game, that they give their all,'' Horton said. "We're demanding a level of excellence that includes taking care of all the little things as well as all the big things.
"These players are very coachable. I love what I do, and I came in with a lot of excitement and energy. And I think they've responded.''
Horton knows that there is still much work to be done, however. Carroll - once a perennial girls state basketball powerhouse - had no starters returning this year from last year's 8-15 team.
"It is a question of getting the kids into the right mind set and celebrating small victories,'' Horton said. "We're always the underdogs right now. We're trying to create a positive atmosphere, and we're trying to restore what Bishop Carroll basketball used to be about.''