Canfield coaching great was ahead of his time

Canfield coaching

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By Tom Williams

Bill Kay says Bill Wolf’s coaching playbook was the same whether he mentored boys or girls.

“His philosophy was that girls wanted to be coached like the boys,” the retired principal at Canfield High School said Wednesday of Canfield’s successful pioneer for girls varsity sports. “That’s just the way he was — some people thought that you needed to coach girls differently.

“He was tough, he ran a tough program,” said Kay, the former mayor of Canfield. “His teams were a sense of community pride, no doubt about that.”

Wolf, 77, died of cancer last week in Winter Haven, Fla. He coached the Canfield girls basketball varsity team for 20 seasons, guiding them to the state tournament in 1991 and 1992.

In the 1980s until he retired, Wolf also coached the Canfield varsity softball team.

A Canfield Hall of Famer, Wolf compiled a remarkable won-loss record of 600-157.

“In the span of a practice, you could go back and forth from loving him to hating him,” said Andrea Slaina Conroy, who played on his state basketball teams (1990-91 and 1991-92). “His standards were so high. He demanded so much and expected so much — not perfection, but excellence.

“It was really an honor to play for him.”

Dr. Jennifer Kulics, Kent State University’s primary student advocate, was the key player on Wolf’s state teams.

“Coach taught us how to be gracious in victory and learn from defeat,” Kulics said. “He challenged us mentally, physically and emotionally.

“We scrimmaged and scheduled the toughest teams, we practiced against the boys teams to prepare for tournament games — we were in the best shape of our lives.”

Slaina Conroy, who later played at Mount Union and is a marketing director for Moen, Inc., said Wolf preached “energy, effort and attitude — you should never be outworked.”

In 22 seasons, Wolf’s basketball teams went 357-69 and won 13 conference titles. In softball, his teams went 243-88 and won eight league crowns.

“Bill was in charge of wonderful girls teams,” said Pat Pavlansky, who succeeded Wolf as girls varsity basketball coach in the 1995-96 season.

“He had two teams make it to state,” said Pavlansky, who guided the Cardinals to the Division II state championship game in the 2000-01 season. “Bill was one of premier coaches in the area — he brought girls basketball to a high level.”

Of his 600 wins, none was bigger than the 1991 Division II state tournament semifinal against Logan, which featured Katie Smith.

Yes, that Katie Smith, a member of this year’s class for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Smith, the coach of the WNBA’s New York Liberty, is the all-time leading scorer in women’s professional basketball, scoring more than 7,000 points in her ABL and WNBA career.

In Canfield’s first trip to state, the Cardinals defeated Logan 61-60. Smith scored 26 points for Logan, but Kulics netted 22 and Kim Huber 17 to lead the Cardinals.

Conroy remembers that Wolf approached that game no differently.

“His preparation was the same whether we were playing an 0-15 team or if we played Logan,” Conroy said. “Watching film, memorizing the scouting report — it was about how we were going to stop them. The expectations were the same.

“That’s why we were so successful.”

In the state title game, Canfield lost to Dayton Dunbar, 73-59.

“They were incredibly gifted, we didn’t have a week to prepare — that played in to why we lost,” Slaina Conroy said.

A year later, the Cardinals returned to state, falling 55-46 to Shelby in the semifinal. Kulics led with 18 points and Slaina 13.

In the 1950s, Wolf and Kay played basketball at Liberty High School for Pete Prokop. Wolf played for Youngstown State from 1959-63.

The Kay-Wolf connection later resurfaced. In 1971, Kay was promoted to administration and Wolf succeeded him as Canfield’s boys basketball varsity head coach. He had that post for three seasons, then took over the girls program.

“In all the years that he coached, I never remember any problems with discipline,” Kay said. “He ran a top-flight program. Having played with him in high school, I knew he was a competitor. He loved the competition.”

Kulics remembers becoming a Wolf fan when she was following his team as a fifth-grader.

“I dreamed of playing for him one day,” Kulics said. “Our team playbook — his own creation and gift to all of us — was ahead of his time — inspirational messages, quotes and poems like the “Man in the Arena” by Teddy Roosevelt.

“We knew what this truly meant at a young age — how to dare greatly,” she said.

“Our playbook was filled with gems about life, commitment, loyalty, resilience, failure and how to prepare to be a champion,” said Kulics, who earned a scholarship to play at Bowling Green. “Coach prepared us to be champions on the court and in life.”

After retiring, Wolf and his wife, Joyce, moved to Florida. He is survived by daughters Lisa and Jenny.

Pavlansky, who coached the Cards for 19 seasons, said Wolf remained interested in Canfield athletes.

“Bill was a great guy,” Pavlansky said. “I used to call him in Florida, tell him about the teams, ask him questions.

“The only thing he asked me was to keep Ken Reel as the eighth-grade coach,” Pavlansky said. “He was such a giving guy.”

Kulics agrees.

“Coach made me love basketball for the life lessons, the memories and the friendships,” Kulics said. “He is with the angels now teaching them how to shoot a mean jump shot.”

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