Heights retaining embattled coach

PATTON — After a petition was submitted by parents of current Cambria Heights High School varsity basketball players pleading for the district’s current basketball coach to be replaced, the school board ultimately voted to retain Eric Nagel for the 2018-19 season.

In the petition, parents called for Nagel to be ousted due to his “unsatisfactory performance” during his tenure.

Over the last five seasons under Nagel, the varsity team accumulated a record of 30-83. The team’s best season was in 2014-15, when it finished 10-13.

“We feel there’s a lot of untapped potential and too many excuses being made,” the petition said.

The petition argued that the team’s poor record is a reflection of Nagel’s coaching and said that he failed to properly teach students “fundamental basketball skills.”

“Several players appear to not have a basic understanding of the game,” the petition said.

After hearing about the petition, former players said that fundamentals are not any fault of Nagel but instead are from poor player development prior to entering high school.

“Coaches are fighting an uphill battle because of the shortcomings at the junior high level,” former player Patrick Huber said. “Sophomore year is too late to teach someone basic basketball fundamentals and expect them to compete at a varsity level. … Long-term success must start at the junior high level.”

The petition also ridiculed assistant coach Mike Thomas for labeling the junior varsity team as the “goof troop,” believing the term to be “derogatory.”

Parents said that many of the players thought the term was offensive and belittling.

Luke Eckenrode, who played for Nagel from 2013-2015, said the name “goof troop” has been an ongoing name circulating over the past few seasons, but it was never meant to be derogatory.

“Coach Thomas is just a humorous guy,” Eckenrode said. “His intention of using the nickname is to just lighten up the mood during practices during a stressful season.”

After hearing of movements to replace Nagel, former players said that ousting him would be “the wrong decision.”

“I never once felt in a position where they were not on my side or where they did not want to see me better myself,” former player Anthony Huber said. “I’ve had days where I was unhappy, but throughout my entire playing experience, I couldn’t be happier with the men who led me through it. Coach Nagel and Coach Thomas have made me a better athlete, a better basketball player and a better person.”

After a lengthy closed-door session the board took a public vote.

All board members, with the exception of Thomas Bearer, voted to retain Nagel.

“I love to coach basketball,” Nagel said. “I love to teach kids life lessons, and it’s been a passion throughout my career for the past 20 years.”

High School principal Ken Kerchenske said Nagel’s hard work and commitment to the program has had a large influence on the students.

“Coach Nagel has put the time and effort in,” Kerchenske said. “He’s very active in the offseason with open gyms and summer leagues.”

Kerchenske said that even though the team has not performed as well as some would wish, Nagel has excelled in teaching skills “beyond basketball.”

“As a principal, you want your students to be as successful as possible, no matter what activity they’re in,” Kerchenske said. “Looking at the big picture, it’s not just about wins and losses.”