Sports Editor’s Playbook, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011

Patrick Newell

- Those who work behind the scenes at big events usually go unnoticed by the general public. Earlier today, Norwich Director of Athletics, Steve Griffin, phoned me to advise me of one particular individual who has been instrumental in the planning of the Tornado’s Coaches Versus Cancer fund-raising basketball games this Friday and Saturday. Griffin also let me know that in addition to the boys’ game on Saturday, the junior varsity and varsity girls will also be raising funds Friday night during their respective games at 6 and 7:45 p.m. against Owego. Although admission is not charged in girls’ basketball games, donation cans should be readily available at easy-to-locate spots. The Norwich Girls’ Basketball Booster Club will also donate its half of the 50/50 raffle to the American Cancer Society.
Griffin said that a lot of the credit to hold a Coaches Versus Cancer fundraiser should go to Norwich cheerleading coach, Marie DeSarro. DeSarro, for years now, has actively participated in the Relay For Life cancer fundraiser that is held in Norwich every summer. DeSarro suggested a Coaches Versus Cancer fundraiser to Griffin last year, and helped procure materials for the event. “Marie has also gotten her cheerleaders heavily involved with this,” Griffin said. “The cheerleaders have made up the signs for cancer awareness. Marie’s kind of taken the ‘bull by the horns.’”

- G-MU’s girls’ basketball coach, Jim Johnson, did not get his 400th career coaching victory Wednesday night against Franklin. No matter, Johnson will get that victory, and probably quite a few more. Johnson has patrolled the sideline at G-MU High School since the merger of Gilbertsville and Mt. Upton over 20 years ago. Before that, he served as the Gilbertsville varsity coach for many years. Johnson typically has a G-MU-logoed towel slung over his shoulder at the start of the game. Depending on the closeness of the contest, the towel either gets a light workout or is squeezed in Johnson’s vise-like grip. Most of the time, Johnson’s trusty towel has a relatively easy night. When your coaching career spans around three decades, a coach will accrue some victories. Johnson recently passed 600 varsity games coached, and his 66 percent winning percentage speaks for itself. Johnson has never had more than a small pool of athletes with which to work. With such a tiny student population, talent isn’t merely a cyclical thing, it can be downright elusive – for years at a time. Yet, Johnson regularly produces a winning team. I cannot think of more than one or possibly two times over the past 16 seasons that the Raiders weren’t a 500-or-better club. My first few years writing for the paper, G-MU’s girls were in the Tri-Valley League championship game so often, I thought their appearance in the game – year to year – was a foregone conclusion. Friday night, Johnson takes the Raiders over to Franklin in a rematch of this past Wednesday’s matchup. Franklin denied Johnson and his charges one time, but I wouldn’t bet on that happening again.

- Typically, I don’t give advance notice of our athlete of the week honoree. I’ll make an exception here with the naming of Oxford’s Haley Witchella. Witchella was an easy choice for us. Last week, Witchella helped her team to three key league wins averaging 21 points, and in the win over Sidney last Friday, she became just the third girl in Oxford history to surpass 1,000 career points. Witchella’s combination of size, speed, and leaping ability are reminiscent of Norwich graduate Johanna Schultz – also a six-footer, who topped 1,000 career points in 1998. Schultz didn’t block as many shots as Witchella, but had a little more polish on her all-around offensive game. Witchella is also the ultimate anchor for her team’s defense, and has made the Blackhawks one of the best defensive teams in the Midstate Athletic Conference during her four years on varsity. One gets the sense that Witchella still has plenty more talent to tap into, and she should have no trouble making the leap to the college level next year.

Follow Patrick Newell on Twitter @evesunpat