Sports’ value stressed by SR’s Cullen
By Greg Gulas
With 41 years experience as a basketball coach, John Cullen is well-qualified to make comparisons between current athletes and those of eras past.
With 472 career wins, it’s safe to say that the players he has coached over the years have embraced his message and instruction.
Speaking Monday to the Curbstone Coaches, Cullen, the South Range High School boys basketball varsity head coach, noted that not enough children today play for the love of the game, often spending far too much time on a computer doing non-academic things.
“From when I first started coaching until now, kids do not have much free time to learn how to play the game and because of that lack natural leadership,” Cullen said. “We used to hop on our bikes and plan our day but nowadays, their day is structured for them.
“They need to be able to feel their way, learn and then get over any hurdles in their way in order to compete.”
A native of Massillon who grew up in Canal Fulton, Cullen came to the area in 1973 when he accepted his first teaching and coaching position at Brookfield High School. He was hoping to stay long enough to gain valuable experience before looking elsewhere.
He never left the area.
After spending five seasons at Brookfield as an assistant coach where he helped the Warriors to four regional tournament appearances, he took his first head coaching position at Badger High School, staying one season before returning to Brookfield as its head mentlor.
After three seasons with the Warriors, he became the head boys coach at Canfield High, staying 28 years before becoming director of basketball operations at Youngstown State University for then women’s coach Bob Bolden.
He returned to the high school ranks after Bolden left YSU to coach at Ohio University.
“I was fortunate in that I was exposed to some of the very best athletes in the state at every stop that I made locally,” Cullen said. “Kids just need to realize that the best times of their lives are when they play high school sports.
“Sports have allowed me to meet some of the greatest people ever in my life while also affording me an opportunity to forge many lasting friendships.”
In 33 years as a head coach, he has been assessed just one technical foul.
He emphasizes to both players and staff to treat an official with the respect of which they wish to be treated.
“I never wanted to get a technical foul for one very simple reason; I never wanted to be the one to cost my team a game because of my actions,” Cullen said.
While some coaches shy away from parents attending practices, Cullen is one coach who welcomes them with open arms.
“There are three evaluations that guide athletes in life,” Cullen said, “The first is the one done by their parents, secondly by themselves and last but not least, the one by their coaching staff.
“I encourage parents to give their children an evaluation,” Cullen said. “While many players are stronger and quicker than those that played before them, coaching is still about teaching and building relationships with each and every player.”
The Curbstone Coaches next meeting at Lucianno’s Restaurant will be on Jan. 6 when Phil Annarella, head football coach at Austintown Fitch High School, will be the speaker.