High school golf coaches do their part to grow the game
- By Jeff Gilbert (@jw_gilbert)

Building a high school golf program doesn’t happen one way. Coaches across the Miami Valley take different approaches for different reasons.

Some have larger student bodies to recruit from. Some don’t have many players who grew up with the game. While some situations make it easier to maintain success, no situation is easy to build from.

Four area coaches know what it’s like to build, maintain and sometimes rebuild. Here’s a look at how they’ve done it and what they’ve accomplished:

Southeastern boys
Head coach: Vince Banion, 13th season 
Successes: Advanced to 2015 Division III state tournament. Eight straight district appearances through 2021.

Finding enough players to fill out a varsity team is difficult at small schools like Southeastern. Rarely do teams in the Ohio Heritage Conference have enough golfers to field a JV team. And if they do it’s difficult to get matches for them.

Banion dealt with that issue when he took over at Southeastern in 2011 even though it’s his alma mater and he was living in South Charleston. Building a program was even more difficult because he taught at Northridge Middle School in the Northeastern district. In 2014, however, he got a teaching job at Southeastern and that changed everything.

“It's important because I get to see the kids every day,” he said. “When it comes to trying to get kids to play, it's a whole lot easier to recruit kids from within the school if you're there.

“I can go up to a kid and I can make a sales pitch and say, 'Golf is a sport that you can play the rest of your life. If you're not doing anything anyway, why don't you come out and try it and see how it goes.’”

That approach has worked enough to allow Banion to have teams consistently in the hunt for league titles and to make a habit of advancing from the sectional tournament to the district tournament.

Banion invites them to non-mandatory summer practices. His hope that some will like the game and want to work to improve has paid off.

“I've been fortunate over the last eight or nine years to have guys that want to be out here, that come out and practice on their own time in addition to practicing with us,” he said. “And it helps having Locust Hills close by. They’ve got a home course in their backyard.”

Banion remembers having only five players his first year. Since then the program has averaged between eight and 10 players with a couple dips to seven.

“Usually when they come to me, they haven't played pretty much ever,” he said. “I will occasionally get a kid that's played in the junior league out here in the summer just for a year or two. But most of the time they're brand-new golfers when they come to me, which is a nice adventure. I get to teach them a new game and so that's kind of fun. And I get to see them progress from the beginning to the end.”   
Alter boys 
Head coach: Alex Schuster, 9th season 
Successes: Six straight Division II state tournament appearances. State champion in 2022. Three-time state runner-up from 2019-2021. 

Alter_BoysAlter’s successful formula includes a robust youth and middle school program, coaching continuity and a challenging schedule. It’s all added up to the high school program growing from 15 players when Schuster took over to 38 this season.

Schuster has five coaches to help him administer and coach two varsity teams and two JV teams. The talent is equally distributed on the JV teams. The varsity gold team is the tournament team with the best players, including 2022 individual state champion Davis Gochenouer. The varsity brown team plays a mix of 18-hole tournaments and 9-hole matches.

“It's all about getting an opportunity,” Schuster said. “If you continually post a few good numbers in a row in the 70s, then the more opportunities you'll get to play with the top group.”

Schuster doesn’t run the youth levels, but he does make it a point to be around when he can to get to know players and parents. Those teams play at the CYO level and compete against other schools, mostly from the Cincinnati area.

“I'm not going to take credit for this myself, but the youth program has definitely grown since I took over the golf program,” Schuster said. “I'd say it is as much coincidence as anything, but with success it has generated more interest with the younger kids and keeps them playing. More and more of them are choosing to continue playing golf in high school.”

When those kids make it to high school Schuster sees more of them ready to compete at that level.

“At our tryouts this year we had 25 kids shoot a two-day tryout score under 200, meaning you get more and more kids every year that are able to shoot scores inside of three digits,” he said.

Schuster’s long tenure also plays a part in the success, as does his presence in the school as a teacher, which is less common in all sports than it used to be.

“It helps as a teacher at the school to be more present,” Schuster said. “Every year there's a lot of the kids I also teach. So being able to form and forge good relationships with the kids that way has been beneficial.

“Kids walk into my classroom, and not only do they see things about Alter and things about social studies, but I've got the trophies that we've won over the years at different tournaments. And I always try to keep our scorecard from the state tournament every year, and I usually hang that in my classroom. It’s something that generates a lot of interest.”

Schuster takes his gold team around the state to 18-hole tournaments to prepare them for the postseason. For example, in an early season tournament in Medina, the Knights shot 297 to finish third behind Division I powers Cincinnati St. Xavier and Cleveland St. Ignatius, schools with at least 1,000 more boys than Alter.

“I think that goes a long way,” Schuster said. “Obviously, you can't do that a ton in every sport in high school, but I think playing a difficult schedule is beneficial in terms of just getting you more prepared for the big matches that just count a little bit more. If you're coming into a sectional used to playing against really tough competition, that just makes you more prepared to handle the moment at the sectional, district and state level.” 
Centerville girls 
Head coach: Mike Dalton, 14th season
Successes: Nine Division I state tournament appearances, including the past eight straight years. State champion in 2022. 

Centerville_GirlsDalton didn’t expect his program to become one of the best in the state.

“As long as kids love it, and they try, that's all I care about – that's really all I ever wanted,” he said. “I didn't really kind of anticipate thinking in terms of winning stuff. I hoped that we could win the league a few times, but I try to keep that out of the kid's heads. If you play really well, maybe you'll win something when you're done instead of thinking about their score.”

But success came through developing a youth program, increasing the number of players and teams and by getting players to compete in summer tournaments.

Dalton served as JV coach from 2005-09. When he became head coach, the Elks hadn’t been to state since 2005. And his first team had only one returning starter. So he started a chip and putt program for younger grades. The kids would come to Yankee Trace and work with and get to know the high school players.

That program created team unity and pushed the number of players in the program from a dozen or so to 18 to 23 in succeeding seasons. Dalton was also able to create a varsity B team to further feed and build the top varsity six.

“Just getting the numbers up meant more chances of some random girl catching the bug and liking it,” Dalton said. “That was that process: get more kids, make three teams. That way there's steppingstones.”

Dalton also needed his players to begin to believe they could compete with the more successful programs. He said they would see teams like Mason and expect to lose.

“The method to the madness was to figure out a way to convince them all that they could be as good as everyone else,” he said. “And to stop looking up to the teams to a point of being in awe, and to just think we can play with them.”

Dalton said you can always tell what teams in the Southwest District will be good every year by seeing which program has players competing in summer tournaments. So he began to push that idea. He keeps a spreadsheet of tournaments and what his players are doing in them and sends it to the players and parents.

“It's to remind them that the girls that want to be good are out playing right now, not sitting at home,” Dalton said. “That was the biggest step for us. Parents ask me, ‘How does my daughter get better?’ I tell them it’s simple: have the right equipment, take lessons from a professional, practice and play competitive rounds of golf.”

This year Dalton had only one returning starter from last year’s state championship team. He knows it might take time to get back to state contender level, but he has a system in place.

“I told the girls I don't know if we'll make it, I don't even know if we're good enough to make it,” he said. “But I know that we will be prepared and work hard enough to make it. We will all sleep well at night knowing that we did our best because that's our focal point.” 
Bellbrook boys and girls
Head coach: Jeff Scohy, 6th season
Successes: Six straight Division II district appearances for the boys team. Won or shared the past three boys league titles.

BellbrookScohy is one of the area’s longtime top amateur golfers. So when he took over the program his first tasks were to ramp up the competitive nature he was used to.

Instead of practices consisting of only the driving range, he got them on the course every day to play, hit on the driving range and use the putting green.

“We really stepped up the game,” Scohy said.

The second thing he did was start a junior program for fifth through eighth grade boys and girls.

The junior team is not a school-affiliated team. It’s a club team that plays 10 to 15 matches as part of the South Dayton Junior Golf League that he started. He also went to the school’s home course, Sugar Valley Golf Club, and worked out a way for every kid to have the opportunity to buy a junior membership.

“Now the kids can play and practice out there all the time,” Scohy said.

The next step for Scohy meant improving the schedule. He took the team from two or three 18-hole tournaments before school started to 15 18-hole tournaments. The rest of the schedule consists of the mandatory 9-hole Southwestern Buckeye League matches.

“We’re playing double the amount of golf that they were playing before,” Scohy said. “So that’s really stepped us up competitively.”

This past week, the Golden Eagles shot 299 to win their league division title by 65 strokes. All six golfers placed in the top nine.

Scohy had two girls on the boys team when he started, but that grew to a standalone girls team of five players in 2022 and seven this season. He typically keeps 14 boys to field one varsity team and a JV team.

Scohy began coaching three years before his son C.J., who is the team’s best player, reached high school.

“I just wanted to make sure he had a good competitive team and a good program and a legit schedule,” Scohy said.

He would like to continue coaching long after his son and daughter graduate from high school, but he said family considerations will help govern that decision.

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