AKRON – Much is often made of athletes and coaches who have to replace legends. Despite great measures of success both in and out of the arena, a legend cannot be replaced in the eyes of those who adore them.
It was grossly evident at the turn of the millennium what filling giant shoes looked like. Mike Davis took the Indiana Hoosiers to the national championship game, lost, and immediately the naysayers all said Bob Knight would have won that game. Doug Ogle has been one of the most consistent coaches in area boys basketball. But for many in Tiger stripes, he’s not Al Rhodes. Same could be said for Mike Campbell and Nate Dean at Jimtown, Cory Yeoman at Penn, anyone from the 2002-03 Wawasee girls basketball team, their best just wasn’t the same from the legend they were replacing. Quick, name the starting shooting guard for the 1999-2000 Chicago Bulls. Or the quarterback who replaced Dan Marino. Or who took Cal Ripken’s spot in the lineup on Sept. 20, 1998.
It’s not easy to replace expectation. Gina Hierlmeier is trying to change that.
Duane Burkhart spent 24 years as athletic director at Tippecanoe Valley and 35 years all told with the school corporation in education. Burkhart oversaw an athletic department that housed one of the greatest basketball coaches in Indiana history in Bill Patrick, witnessed Rebekah Parker become an Indiana All-Star, saw the Lady Vikings basketball team captivate the community in 2015 in its state run, and kept the ship together when the football program fell on rough times a few years ago, specifically with the death of Scott Bibler.
In an extremely proud and tight-knit Valley community, Valley holds its history dear to its heart. Hierlmeier knows that, and after one year as Burkhart’s replacement, she is understanding what makes the Viking ship move.
“One thousand thank you’s to Duane,” stated Hierlmeier. “He was extremely helpful this past year. I could call him about anything, and he was willing to just listen, or offer up advice when I asked. There was never an issue of my vision versus his because he was able in a lot of ways to be a mentor without telling me what he thought I should do, even when I knew I was doing something different from him.”
Hierlmeier, a former girls basketball head coach herself as well coaching stints in high school volleyball and middle school basketball, has embraced the reversed role well. As a head coach at West Central, Culver and Marian high schools as well as an assistant at John Glenn before coming to Valley, Hierlmeier’s mindset both as a coach – and also as a three-sport athlete while in high school at Wabash – gives her that competitive edge she wants out of her coaches and athletes at Valley.
Hierlmeier saw Tippecanoe Valley experience quite a nice run in her first year in the big chair. Right out of the gate, the brand new Unified Flag Football team advanced to the IHSAA State Finals. The tackle football team won the Three Rivers Conference North title and was a play away from winning the TRC altogether. Boys basketball saw its team win a sectional for the first time in the Chad Patrick era, needing just two years to get itself figured out. Girls basketball were ranked within the top 10 for much of the season and lost the sectional final in heartbreaking fashion. And girls tennis saw its one doubles team complete one of the finest regular season runs in program history. Valley also had nearly a dozen athletes sign on to continue playing a sport in college, a mark athletic directors really take pride in announcing.
“As with any job the longer you are in it the more comfortable you feel with the day to day expectations,” said Hierlmeier. “So, yes, I feel comfortable, but my goal has always been to continually grow in my profession. I spent a lot of last school year learning the ins and outs of scheduling, preparing and running events, meeting with coaches, ordering and budgeting for all of our athletic programs. All the things you would think and wouldn’t think an AD does.
“At the end of the school year, I reviewed a list of items I wrote down throughout the year that I wanted to do better, and now I have to work on getting those done in year two. So comfortable, or the ability to do the job, yes, but comfortable as in there is no more work to be done, I hope I don’t ever feel that.”