After serving as an assistant varsity boys basketball coach at Northern Bedford High School for the past nine seasons, Jason Free won the opportunity to move up to the top level this past Tuesday night.
Free, 32, was selected as the Black Panthers' new head coach by a 9-0 vote at Northern Bedford's school board meeting. He succeeds Barry Crawford, who resigned in April after serving as the Panthers' head coach for 15 seasons and leading the program to over 200 victories.
"The biggest thing that Barry taught me is how to conduct yourself as a coach with professionalism, and how to manage the game,'' Free said. "My coaching philosophy is pretty much that we will play to our personal strengths as a team, and attack the [opposing] team's weaknesses.
"It's definitely an exciting opportunity,'' Free said of his new appointment. "It's always something that I've had in the back of my mind, and now that I've got the chance, I'd like to run with it and do the best job that I can possibly do.''
Free will have a good returning nucleus with which to work. The Black Panthers will return three key starters - Blake Over, Kyler Diehl and Zane Snyder - from last year's team that finished 19-6 and lost to Conemaugh Township in the District 5-AA championship game.
"Those three guys are going to be seniors next year, and they're definitely going to be our leaders,'' Free said of Over, Diehl and Snyder. "Pretty much what I'm looking for now is role players - other guys who can step in and contribute, and be efficient in helping us toward our goal of winning games.''
Crawford said that one of Free's strong points is that he deals with players very well.
"He's been a good asset to our coaching staff for the past nine years,'' Crawford said. "He's good with the kids, he does a real nice job with the kids, and I think that will translate into success for him as a head coach.''
Along with Crawford, Free had another excellent coaching role model in Reggie Nevins. Free was a two-year basketball starter for Nevins at Central High School, graduating in 1999.
"The biggest thing about Reggie is that he could get the most out of every player,'' Free said. "I'd like to take my playing days and my coaching ability and what I've learned from Reggie and Barry, and try to be a melting pot, blending a bunch of coaching philosophies and making it my own.''
Free is employed as logistics manager and warehouse manager at the Roaring Spring Bottling Company. He and his wife Kendra are the parents of two sons - Bryson, 6, and Jordan, 3. The family lives in the Northern Bedford School District.
"Not being from Northern Bedford originally, it took awhile for the community to warm up to me, but living in the Northern Bedford School District and raising a family now, it almost feels like I'm one of them,'' Free said.
And being the head coach of players that Free has known for years is an opportunity that he welcomes.
"Being here nine years really helps,'' he said. "I got to see this group of players come up through the elementary level, so I do have a good familiarity with them. It's going to be a pleasure and an honor to coach them.''