Even the most astute high school basketball coaches can’t game-plan for certain situations. Having a baby during the season is one of them.
That’s what Kyle Rehrig, Justin Salton and Daryl Palmieri have experienced over the past month. From the delivery room to the locker room, it’s been a wild ride.
“It’s been crazy,” said Watchung Hills coach Salton, whose daughter Mia was born Jan. 7. “It’s been the most special time of my life.”
Mia arrived the day before the Warriors’ game against rival Bridgewater-Raritan. Salton coached it, and his team won a close one.
“Insane 48 hours,” Salton said. “I was on a high both those days.”
Palmieri knows the feeling. The Westfield coach’s daughter Avery Grace was born Dec. 18, the morning of the Blue Devils’ showdown with archrival Scotch Plains-Fanwood.
“My wife’s a saint. She’s from a sports family so she said, ‘I know you don’t want to miss that game,'” Palmieri said.
So eight hours later he guided Westfield to a one-point victory.
“It was a long day. I was exhausted,” he said. “I went home got changed and was right back at the hospital by 10 p.m. holding the baby again.”
North Hunterdon’s Rehrig had no such options. His son Greyson was born Saturday, about an hour before the Lions tipped off against Hopewell Valley.
“I’ve been coaching since 2000 and I can’t recall every missing a game,” Rehrig said Thursday. “You preach dedication to your team, but it’s one of those situations where family comes first of course.”
In some ways, the delivery is the easiest part of the balancing act. Caring for a newborn amid the demands of the season requires constant multitasking. On Saturday Palmieri was up at 5 a.m., breaking down film of next-day opponent Hillsborough with Avery Grace in his arms.
Montgomery coach Kris Grundy, whose wife gave birth to twins in the middle of the 2010-11 season, knows what these guys are going through.
“When you first get into the business and you don’t have kids, the season consumes you,” Grundy said. “You immerse yourself in it, then all of a sudden this big-time responsibility hits. It really makes you gain perspective.”
And lose sleep.
“Everyone has been asking me about that,” Salton said. “I get a couple of hours here and there, but it’s all worth it.”
That’s the gist of the advice from Grundy, who is good friends with Salton and Rehrig.
“I tell these guys, ‘It’s going to be a grind, especially in the beginning, balancing basketball and your child,'” Grundy said. “But it’s the greatest thing in the world because they’re going to love you no matter what.”
It’s a great parlor debate: Which conference is better, the Skyland or the Greater Middlesex? On Saturday we’ll have a measuring stick – and a very good cause will benefit.
The inaugural Skyland vs. GMC Challenge will unfold with 19 games at 15 sites. It’s being organized by athletic directors Dave Pasquale of Gill St. Bernard’s and Al Czech of South Plainfield and will benefit the Brayden Carr Foundation.
The foundation was founded by former South Plainfield residents Jim and Natalie Carr. Named in honor of their 2-year-old son Brayden, who died in 2011, it helps children with seizure conditions and their families.
Jim Carr served as a longtime staff member with the Rutgers men’s basketball program before moving to his current post as an assistant at the University of Rhode Island. Natalie coached girls tennis at South Plainfield High School.
The most intriguing matchups? Bernards and Spotswood are quality Group II programs that could do some damage in the state tournament. South Brunswick and Hillsborough both hold high rankings in their respective areas. South Hunterdon and Middlesex should provide an idea of how the Skyland’s Valley Division stacks up against the GMC’s Blue. Timothy Christian is stepping way up in school size versus Voorhees, so that’s always interesting. See the accompanying chart for the full list.
Player of the Week
Steve Weidlich came into the season as a marked man, but he’s getting the job done anyway. Watchung Hills’ sharpshooting senior guard averaged 17.5 points in three wins as the Warriors improved to 9-1. He scored 27 in a 77-64 win over Immaculata, 17 in a win over West Windsor-Plainsboro South and tied for the team high with nine in a 40-37 squeaker over Bridgewater-Raritan.
Games of the Week
Ridge at Montgomery, Tuesday: Both squads are unbeaten in Skyland Conference Raritan Division play at 5-0. This might be the only game that stands between Ridge and the No. 1 seed in the Somerset County Tournament. Montgomery has undertaken the tougher non-conference schedule but will be challenged to stifle the Red Devils’ shooters.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood at Westfield, Friday: These archrivals met on Dec. 18, with Westfield squeezing out a 52-51 triumph. Westfield goes into the rematch as the favorite but will have to contend with high-scoring Raiders forward Tom Bonacum. It should be another one-possession affair.
For more boys basketball coverage, including the weekly player honor roll, expanded rankings and analysis, visit the Hoops Haven blog at http://blogs.mycentral jersey.com/hoopshaven/