Earn Everything — Pierce’s program build paying dividends in ninth year
February 26, 2019
Crawfordsville's seniors Anthony Gonzalez, Will Kellerman, Eddie Heindold, Cam Saunders, and Jake Decker celebrated a Sugar Creek Classic title this season. (Photo Provided by Susan Ehrlich)
It all started nine years ago.
Crawfordsville’s boys basketball seniors Eddie Heinold, Jake Decker, Will Kellerman, Cameron Saunders, and Anthony Gonzalez were in third grade, and David Pierce was in his first year as head coach of the Athenians.
As Pierce began building the program, he kept his eyes on that class. And now, nine years later, those five seniors have led the Athenians to county, conference, and Sagamore Conference championships, a 16-6 regular season record, and enter the state tournament with high hopes of winning a sectional.
All about winning
In the early days of Pierce’s coaching career, he will be the first to admit that his priorities weren’t the same as they are today.
“When I first started out it was about winning,” he said. “I was young, and when you’re young and a basketball coach, that’s all that matters. And then we had some success, and I was like what am I doing, and why am I doing this? This isn’t it.”
Pierce knew he must change the culture at Crawfordsville, and felt like that started at the youth level.
“My first year was about changing the culture, caring about winning, caring about competing, those little things,” he said. “It was not a basketball school. It was starting to go into that direction, but we still didn’t have buy in at the youth level.”
It didn’t take long, and everyone was buying in to what Pierce and the staff were trying to build.
“We got them to buy into it, which was this senior group, and they did, hook, line and sinker and then everyone started doing it,” he said. “So there was a commitment there, and the families made a commitment in the program.”
Through Pierce’s first three seasons, Crawfordsville won 27 games, but never had a season better than 11-10, and had yet to win a sectional game.
The Athenians were on the verge of success under Pierce, but something was still missing.
Change of Culture
Don’t give Danny Pierce all the credit. He doesn’t want it. But at the same time, he’s made an impact on his son, David’s, success.
OP (The name given to junior-varsity coach Danny Pierce by his players) was still teaching at Western Boone, but joined David’s staff as a varsity assistant in the fall of 2013.
If David wasn’t already using some of his dad’s coaching techniques, he quickly started.
“I noticed the kids gravitating to him just because he was so positive,” David said. “And I was like I’m missing out on something.”
Crawfordsville won the sectional that year, and as Pierce has continued to change the culture, everyone in the community has bought in and the success has followed.
“You can hope for those things, and you can try and create environments for people to come together and want to be around each other, but they have to choose to do that,” he said. “We’ve tried to implement things like here’s the bait ‘let’s be great,’ but they’ve took it and ran with it. We have great families in our community that made that happen. The families choose to cheer for on another, and we are just lucky.”
Bringing it all together
Over the years, Pierce has found a perfect balance of basketball and molding young men. The success of this years’ team is a prime example.
There are the basketball parts of this winning team.
Two hours of practice — not a minute unplanned. Everything scripted, even on the 61st practice of the season, a routine Monday.
Drills got things started. The varsity and jv practice together. As scrimmages later would show, the jv guys don’t stand down from the varsity. There is serious intensity in that big gym.
When warmups and shooting drills are done, offenses and defenses are worked on.
Then there are the more important parts of this winning team.
A 90-minute team-building session in one of the classrooms after the two-hour practice did not have one sentence about basketball. It was all about life.
Roles as students, as young men, and as future husbands and fathers were discussed, and how these basketball players should fit and grow into those roles.
They listened as Coach David Pierce talked about “carrying your rock,” which had nothing to do with any game, but with every day. Players wrote thank-you notes to the most influential “rock-carrier” in their lives, and put the letters in envelopes for delivery. Young men were told that it was their time to start carrying their own rocks, or maybe help a parent carry one.
Then, as they finished, most of the moms showed up, and everyone got a wrist bracelet with a small rock attached. No one on the team knew that the moms were going to come. Just like shoveling driveways earlier in the winter, this was part of being in the Crawfordsville basketball family.
As important as winning is, to Pierce, making a positive impact on his players is by far the most important thing.
“We get more out of our kids because of our relationship with them as humans,” he said. “I think that when you do that as a coach, they find out quickly that not by words, but by actions that you care more about them as people than you do as basketball players.”
The seniors are a testament to the change in culture Pierce has instilled.
“It’s more than being a good basketball player,” Cam Saunders said. “Coach Pierce loves all of his players — you can see that in how he coaches. You can tell he cares more than just about winning and losing.”
Will Kellerman can sum up what the rest of the Crawfordsville athletic community has watched unfold during Pierce’s tenure.
“I’ve seen coach Pierce change through the years,” he said. “I have changed too. He treats us like young men, and that has been a real inspiration to me. We have a coaching friendship, but we also have another friendship. He relates to us and our lives. I have a brother, but with these players I have a brotherhood. We are all in this together.”