A coach from early on
Published 5:26 pm Saturday, May 7, 2016
Around 20 years ago, I was sitting on the bleachers overlooking the Forest Glen Middle School basketball court, waiting with interest as a coach read over my recap of one of his team’s recent games.
I was around 13 at the time, but I was into sports enough that I was interested in mimicking the recaps and stories I had been reading.
As I regularly attended my older brother’s Suffolk Youth Athletic Association basketball games, his high school-aged team seemed like a good subject for my own stories. It was small, both in physical size and in number, and it had the distinction of being led by a player-coach.
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The player-coach was a senior at Lakeland High School, and as he sat on the bleachers with me, quietly reading over my work, it’s worth noting that he was exhibiting remarkable patience by humoring the little brother of one of his teammate-players.
The team didn’t have a name, outside of “the red team” since all of its players wore matching red shirts, so I gave it a name. I stuck with the color but made it an acronym: Reigning Example of Dominance. I cringe a little now, thinking it is a bit over-the-top, but in all fairness, that little team never lost. Ever.
It went on to claim the SYAA championship in its age division, and 20 years later, somehow this level of success doesn’t seem nearly as surprising, because, after all, R.E.D.’s player-coach was Josh Worrell.
At the age of 24, he was hired to be the first boys’ basketball coach at King’s Fork High School, which had just opened.
As he grew in his abilities and helped develop some talented players on the court, the Bulldogs went from being an 0-22 team in their inaugural season to Virginia High School League Group AAA state champions four seasons later.
“I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to coach some good players,” Worrell said, expressing gratitude, as well, for the support of his wife and the steadfast trust of longstanding assistant coaches.
During the 2015-16 season, he achieved his 200th win at King’s Fork and now holds a 205-112 record through 12 seasons as the Bulldogs’ coach.
The Bulldogs have finished above .500 in 10 of those seasons, they have qualified for the regional tournament nine times and the state tournament three times.
Worrell said it was around his sophomore and junior years in high school that he knew coaching was something he wanted to do.
He was on the basketball team at Lakeland as a freshman, sophomore and junior, and he didn’t play much, “but I could see things — I was a smart basketball player,” he said. “I understood the game. I understood the concepts.”
He could tell more physically talented players where to look and what to do on the court.
But something more is required to ensure that young people will listen and respond well, and Worrell has that something more.
“God has blessed me with the ability to reach kids,” he said.
He is able to effectively motivate his players, because he first makes clear to them that he cares about them as people.
“You’ve got to believe in your players as much as you want them to believe in you,” he said.
My brother, Tim Mohler, observed Worrell practicing that philosophy on the SYAA team, even with a beginner.
“I remember practices being so friendly, and he was really, really supportive,” Mohler said. “He spent lots of time drilling me, teaching me the basics of the game, working on my shot, because I’d never played before. We had the basketball hoop at home, but I’d never actually played (organized ball).”
Worrell gave my brother more than just playing time but worked to find ways to integrate him into plays.
After completing his first year of college at James Madison University, Worrell came back to Suffolk and coached in a summer league.
Lakeland’s head coach then, John Fuller, recommended Worrell, his former player, to Roger Bergey, the boys’ basketball coach at Harrisonburg High School near JMU.
Bergey brought Worrell on staff. So during his sophomore, junior and senior years as a full-time college student, Worrell would regularly leave school to work for free as an assistant high school basketball coach.
He became a graduate assistant coach at JMU for a year and then, in his second year of grad school, he returned to coach under Bergey.
Expressing great gratitude for the impact Bergey and Fuller had on him, Worrell said, “I learned a tremendous amount from both of them.”
Later returning to Suffolk, he served as an assistant at Lakeland for two years before gratefully accepting the opportunity at King’s Fork offered by principal Dan Ward in 2004.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he’s had success there, because he was willing to learn,” Bergey said of Worrell.
And the rest is still history in the making.