NAPPANEE – Mark Heeter’s new identity was made official Monday evening through the Wanee School Board.
Girls basketball head coach, NorthWood Panthers.
“Actually it really didn’t cross my mind that I would only be NorthWood’s third coach,” offered Heeter Tuesday morning. “I guess that’s just the way it is. Unusual in these days, I suppose, to have so few coaches at one school but when one guy, (Steve) Neff, is the coach for over 30 years that’s what happens. I just feel honored to have been given the opportunity to follow these guys.”
Heeter follows Neff and Adam Yoder into the head coach’s chair during NorthWood’s IHSAA history. Heeter hasn’t been a varsity basketball head coach since 2004, but his last gig at Triton had the coach lead the Trojans to back-to-back championships in 2000 and 2001. In those 14 years at Triton, Heeter won over 200 games and led the Lady Trojans to its only girls basketball state titles.
Moving into his next phase, Heeter began coaching volleyball and middle school basketball within the NorthWood system. Heeter also began broadcasting girls basketball games, where he had a great seat to see the evolution of the program he will now conduct. The advantage of being indirectly within the system will help the transition back into girls hoops coaching.
“Doing the broadcasts for the last seven to eight years has certainly given me the opportunity to see almost every single game and to evaluate all of our players,” Heeter said. “I can’t say that I never had ideas of what I would do while I was doing a broadcast, but as any coach will tell you, it’s a heck of lot different when your decision can determine the outcome of a game. Obviously there is no pressure on me when I’m thinking about something upstairs, now the pressure is on!
“Fortunately I have been in those situations many times during my time at Triton and now it’s time to do it again.”
Heeter will have the enviable task of keeping NorthWood on top of the basketball world. The giant checklist Reagan Hartman finished at the state championship pep rally will once again be hung in the lockerroom. After winning the Banker’s Classic at Northridge, then sweeping the Northern Lakes Conference ahead of the seven wins in the state tournament will put a giant target on NorthWood’s back. That pace will be a real challenge for Heeter, where basketball fever at the school is as high as its ever been.
“The players now are asked to do more in the summer than when Steve won his championship, but the players still have to play,” noted Heeter. “Same for me when I was at Triton. I couldn’t coach my players in the summer like we can now. The girls played in leagues but only with a total of three girls per school on one team. It might actually be easier now given we can work more with our team.”
Heeter notes he will continue his volleyball assistant coach role for Hilary Laidig’s program, a team that won over 30 games and reached the regional finals last fall.
“We are excited to have Mark take over a program with the tradition that the girls basketball program has earned,” said NorthWood athletic director Norm Sellers. “I personally am grateful to have a coach with the pedigree and experience that Mark has to take the helm. I have worked with Mark for many years both as a basketball official and as his athletic director and what I know about Mark is that he cares for kids. To be able to hire someone with Mark’s experience and success is a tremendous hire for our girls basketball program and overall athletic department. I look forward to working with Mark for years to come.”
Joked Heeter about carrying the dual coaching tags, a la Yoder has done in guiding girls golf and girls basketball in succession, “It was one of my questions for Mr. Sellers and (NorthWood principal Dave) Maugel during the interview. They asked me what I was thinking about volleyball so I asked them back if I would be allowed to continue coaching volleyball and Norm almost seemed relieved that I wanted to continue in volleyball. So, yes, I will continue to be coaching in the fall like Yoder did.
“The key is having good assistants and Adam certainly had those in place. I hope to as well. If things aren’t broken, don’t fix them.”