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Panther Vy. hosting game to honor Carroll

“He has made everyone who has been around him better people.”

These are the words of Panther Valley girls’ basketball coach Rob Kovac as he spoke of the extraordinary effects coach Brian Carroll has had upon players and staffs over his long coaching tenure at Panther Valley and Jim Thorpe high schools.

Carroll - who has coached boys and girls basketball at both schools over the years - will be lauded for those contributions - and fittingly both schools will be involved.

On Monday, Jan. 31, Panther Valley will honor Carroll - who is currently battling pancreatic cancer - when the Panthers host the Olympians in a girls basketball game.

This “Give Back Game,” sponsored by the Panther Valley Lady Panthers’ Booster Club, is a benefit that will also help bring a public awareness to the disease. All proceeds from an early January sale of custom T-shirts have been forwarded to Carroll and his family.

Carroll was an assistant under Kovac from 1998 until 2003 at Panther Valley, and helped coach the 1999-2000 girls’ team to a district title and a PIAA state semifinal final appearance. Current Panther Valley Athletic Director Kristin Black, Panther assistant coach Trish O’Gurek, and Jim Thorpe head coach Nadia Gauronsky were all players on that team.

“Brian is an awesome basketball coach,” said Black. “He is laid back, and happy-go-lucky all the time. I am fortunate to call him one of my close friends ever since my playing days at Panther Valley.”

O’Gurek said that she could talk forever about the attributes of her former coach.

“Brian went from being my coach to being my friend,” she said. “He’s such a strong individual for what he has gone through in the past 10 years. His strength and dedication shine through him when he can attend practices and games when he’s feeling well enough … he’s many times a man of a few words, but those few words always had a positive impact on my life.”

Gauronsky said she’s learned life lessons from her former mentor.

“Brian Carroll was a good coach, but he’s even a better person, “ she said. “One memory I have from playing for him was getting to go to a dinner that he hosted at his house. Everyone from the team came, and he made everyone a meal. I thought that went above and beyond what coaches needed to do to create an atmosphere that made you feel more than just a player.

“When I wanted to be a coach, I took lessons of what to do, and what not to do, from all the coaches that I’ve played for, and that was a lesson that I took of what to do. I do try and make everyone feel like they are more than just a basketball player. Brian did that, and that is a lesson that will stick with me.”

Following his run as Panther Valley’s assistant girls coach, Carroll assisted Pat Crampsie with the Panthers’ boys’ basketball program. He then moved on to become the head coach for the boys’ team at Jim Thorpe from 2007 until 2013.

“Brian Carroll is a fantastic guy with a strong basketball mind,” said Crampsie. “He’s a selfless coach. He never wants the spotlight on him. He did a lot of work behind the scenes for our team with scouting and watching film, yet he never looked to take any credit for his dedication to our program.”

At Jim Thorpe, Carroll’s 2009 Olympians were 18-7, and advanced to the district semifinals. They repeated the feat the following year.

Following his stint coaching the Jim Thorpe boys, he returned as an assistant with Kovac, who had taken over as head coach of the Olympians’ girls’ basketball team. He remained a part of that staff for five years.

Carroll’s connection to Jim Thorpe hasn’t only been through his coaching. He has taught fourth grade for many years in the Jim Thorpe School District.

Thorpe athletic director Dustin McAndrew enjoyed having Carroll as a member of his sports’ staffs.

“Brian is a really good guy,” McAndrew said. “He’s a kind person, and would do anything for anybody.”

Kovac reflected upon his years coaching alongside Carroll.

“Brian excels at the Xs and Os of basketball,” Kovac said. “He has a passion for the game, and his most appreciated talent is his personable communication with our players.

“He even made bus rides to the away games memorable just through conversations he had with me and the team.”

Kovac echoed the sentiments of the others by expressing the exceptional ability Carroll had in building positive relationships with basketball athletes from both schools.

“You can look up at the banners in both gyms and see the impact he has had on our players,” he said. “But up there, you can’t see the impact he has had on their lives. Brian is such a great influence. He could pick up the spirits of someone who was having a tough day with just his smile and his encouragement.”

He said that Carroll is “family” to him. The two of them have been best friends since early childhood, and have shared experiences at family birthdays, weddings, graduations, and even at funerals.

Kovac added a remark that genuinely expresses the sentiments of everyone who’s had the good fortune of spending time with this well-respected coach.

“Brian Carroll is a special person, and a true gentleman. He is one of the finest people I’ve ever been around.”



… On Thursday, Jan. 13, John Patton became the all-time winningest coach in Marian Catholic boys’ basketball history. With a 61-56 win over Schuylkill Haven, the Colts presented their head coach with his 166th coaching win, which moved Patton to the front of the class in career coaching wins in the program’s history. Patton - who has been with the Colts since 2010 - surpassed Mick Stefanek, who was 165-124 in his 11 seasons with the Colts from 1999-2010. Patton is one of six Colts’ coaches with 100-career coaching victories - joining Hugh Gallagher (1954-1969, 149 wins), Bob Fulton (1969-1976, 127 wins), Sid Llera (1982-1990, 114 wins), Dave McAndrew (1993-1999, 136 wins), and Stefanek (165 wins).



… Over the last week, a trio of Times News coverage area girls’ basketball teams earned their way into the District 11 playoffs. Palmerton punched its ticket for the Class 3A playoffs behind a 12-0 overall record on the season, while Jim Thorpe (11-0) and Northwestern (12-3) are both headed to the Class 4A playoffs this postseason. With a 9-3 record, Marian is one of the next in line for earning a ticket itself.



… On Tuesday, Jan. 11, Donald Francois, Jr. had a night to remember. The Pleasant Valley senior stepped up big in the second overtime to help lift his Bears to a 65-63 Eastern Pennsylvania Conference victory over Whitehall. Francois, Jr. finished with six three-pointers, but it was the two in the overtime period that paid big dividends in the end.



… Seven Times News area girls’ basketball players had scoring performances of 20 points of better over the last week. Skyler Searfoss, of Jim Thorpe, Emma Niebell, of Northern Lehigh, and Maddison Maynard, of Panther Valley, each accomplished the feat twice. Searfoss scored 21 points in two different Olympians victories, while Niebell went on to score 23 points in a win, followed by 21 in a setback. Meanwhile, Maynard’s efforts, 25 and 22 points, both came in setbacks. Marian’s Carly Minchoff had the week’s highest scoring game when she tallied 26 points in a win over Weatherly. Palmerton teammates Bethie Morgan (21 points) and Brianna Moore (24 points) accomplished the feat in two different Bomber victories. Tamaqua’s Lorelei Plasha joined the crowd with a 20-point effort in a win over Panther Valley.



… Four Times News boys’ basketball players had their own ‘20-something’ performances over the week. Donald Francois Jr and Patrick Moore, both of Pleasant Valley, started things off, as both posted 20-plus in a 65-63 double overtime win over Whitehall. Francois Jr hit for 21 points, while Moore scored 20 on the night. Chase Weaver, of Panther Valley, followed with 23 points in a 59-53 victory over Jim Thorpe. Meanwhile, on the same day, Palmerton’s Matt Machalik finished with a week-high 28 points in a 55-43 win over Pen Argyl, while Northwestern’s Dylan Witkowski netted 21 points in a 53-49 setback to Moravian Academy.



… In a three-day span, and among three different games, there was an overabundance of three-pointers that were scored. On Wednesday, Jan. 12, the Panther Valley boys’ basketball team started the trend in a 59-53 victory over Jim Thorpe, as the Panthers hit 12 three-pointers on the night. The very next night, the Jim Thorpe girls’ drained a total of 11 shots from beyond the three-point arc in a 70-27 win over Panther Valley. And on Saturday, Jan. 15, the Marian Catholic girls’ shot the lights out with a whopping 13 three-pointers that sparked the Fillies to run away in a high-scoring affair. The Fillies cruised to a season-high 85 points in a win over Weatherly.



. The upcoming Coal Cracker wrestling tournament will be held at the Lehighton Area High School and Elementary Center this Friday and conclude Saturday. The tournament is scheduled to begin at around 3 p.m. on Friday. The 106-132-pound weight classes will be held in the high school gym, while the 138-285-pound weight classes will be held at the elementary center. On Saturday, wrestling will start at 9 a.m. with the girls’ tournament, while the boys’ tournament will continue at 10 a.m. All wrestling on Saturday will be held at the Elementary Center, with the exception of the JV tournament, which will be held at the high school. The championship rounds will then be held around 4 p.m. on Saturday. There were 45 teams set to participate, including Jim Thorpe, Lehighton, Northern Lehigh, Northwestern, Palmerton and Tamaqua.



... In Panther Valley’s 51-35 win over Lehighton on Tuesday, Chase Weaver saw an impressive run at the foul line come to an end. Weaver was 5-for-6 from the free-throw line, ending a run of 29 straight makes for the Panthers.