Windham enrollment shrinks, but wins remain for boys basketball program

By Tom Nader | Sports Editor Published:

Marty Hill insists that when he took over as the Windham High School boys basketball coach prior to the start of the 1975-76 season, he inherited a program that was already rich with tradition and success.

He is absolutely right.

However, maintaining a winning culture can present its own challenges.

In his 38th season, Hill has done more than sustain success for the Bombers, he has established what many consider to be the blueprint for what Portage County basketball teams hope to be.

The Bombers play hard, they play smart and they play together. Every single year.

There is a culture of inclusion and enthusiasm that players one through 10 all share and appreciate. No one player ever being bigger than the team as a whole.

They make the extra pass on offense, make the right rotations on defense and rarely will have a lapse in fundamentals.

It has produced nearly four decades of winning for Hill, who has had just eight losing seasons in his career, despite having the smallest pool of players to pick from in comparison to every other school in the Portage Trail Conference.

Windham's enrollment figures, which have always teetered on the lowest in the county, have been shrinking drastically over the last decade. According to the Ohio High School Athletic Association, the Windham High School boys enrollment for this school year is 81. The junior high boys enrollment is lower than 40.

The Bombers continue to win and remain in chase of championships both during the regular season and postseason.

Windham's community, along with its dedicated and compassionate coaches, are proof that interested players that feel like they are a part of something special have the ability to accomplish special memories.

STABILITY

When a team gets a new coach, they also get a new voice, new philosophy, new assistants and new view on how to include the youth programs.

Windham has not had anything new introduced since Hill took over in 1975.

That stability almost can't be quantified.

But as inspiring as it is that Hill is in his 38th season at Windham, what is more remarkable is the low number of assistants he has had during that time.

"I've been very fortunate that I have not had many assistants and all of them have done such a great job," Hill said.

"They have all just been good people," Hill said. "They have been special to me, and I think it is special for them too. They give up a lot to do what they have done for us. Time away from their families, adjusting their work schedules to accommodate practices and games."

So many of Hill's assistants have been former players of his, who already understand the team's vision and purpose.

They are loyal to Hill, the community and the players because they are proud of the program the once played for and now represent as coaches.

ENTHUSIASM

Basketball in Windham is exciting.

Everyone feels and becomes part of the excitement.

For the players, the team's foundation has been built on one of inclusion. Players feel like contributors whether they lead the team in scoring or not.

Every player feels like they have a chance to play if the follow instruction and work hard. It has allowed player turnouts to remain strong enough for the Bombers to field a freshman team, while more than half of the Portage County schools have done away with them, choosing to lump their first-year players into the junior varsity level.

For Windham, it has made filling out a schedule more difficult, but worth the effort to overall development.

"I have maintained to keep our freshman program, which I am extremely thankful that we are still able to do," Hill said. "The longer a player is involved, the more they have a chance at improving."

CARING

Hill is a retired physical education teacher. All schools have been forced to evaluate their physical education programs, among other areas, as a result of budget cuts.

While still teaching, Hill would have elementary students in class before he ever knew they would become high school basketball players.

He was instructing them how to stay in shape, but also teaching them fundamentals for life.

Hill stresses that sports should never be put in front of making good decisions.

"I think in some ways that people have lost track of what sports are supposed to be about," Hill said.

"Players and parents look at sports, more now than ever, as an avenue for scholarships, but the focus should really be on academics because that is what is going to take you the farthest," he said. "That doesn't mean that you shouldn't work to be as good as you can be and create opportunities for yourself in sports, but the first thing sports should do is teach you about life."

TRADITION

The list of players, whose father's he also coached, is growing for Hill.

He admits with a laugh that part of that is "just being old."

In his own humble way, though, he knows there is something special about it.

In Windham, dads bring their sons to open gyms just as they bring their shoes and ball.

"Basketball is a family thing here in Windham," Hill said.

The sport is considered a family heirloom that is kept safe in storage for years and years, then handed down when the time is right.

"Ex-players who have become coaches are now teaching younger players how to play the game the right way.

"Former players remain proud of the program even after they are out of school. They don't start comparing their teams to the current teams, they want all of the future teams to do well, to succeed," Hill said.

Ultimately, though, everything that is the Windham basketball program all comes down to one thing for the longtime coach.

"I'd like to think that the game is still fun for everyone," Hill said.

At Windham, you won't find anyone to deny that.

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Email: tnader@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9443

Twitter: @Tom_Nader

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