By Garth Shanklin
There’s a new face at the helm of the Bethel-Tate girls’ basketball team, and it’s a familiar one to both Lady Tiger fans and anyone who follows the Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference’s National Division.
Former Georgetown girls’ coach Bernie Cropper was approved as the new head coach at Bethel-Tate, replacing Dave Fallis, who is now at Milford. Cropper served as a varsity assistant with Fallis last season, and he said he’s “excited” for his future with the Lady Tigers.
“I’m very excited to be the head coach at Bethel-Tate,” Cropper said. “I’m very thankful for the opportunity. We’ve got some great kids I’ll be coaching, I’m thrilled.”
Cropper spent 21 seasons coaching one of Bethel-Tate’s rivals in the SBAAC National Division, the Georgetown Lady G-Men. He won a total of 372 games with Georgetown and has 508 wins in his career. In that 21 season span, Georgetown won 17 league titles, including 15 in a row, 13 sectional titles and two district championships to go along with an appearance in the regional finals.
Cropper said the familiarity with the Bethel-Tate players thanks to his role last season has helped with the transition.
“I think it’s been good,” Cropper said. “I was an assistant last year, so I know the kids. We got off to a late start, but we’ve spent a lot of time in the gym in June. We went to a couple team camps and we’ve had some practices and a scrimmage. We have a couple days left, we have another scrimmage set up and we can do small group training. We’ve been busy, but the kids have been really committed to it and working hard. It’s been fun, and it’s been fun for me being back in the gym.”
One of the events the Lady Tigers attended this summer was a shootout held at Western Brown. Cropper said the team improved the more time they spent on the court.
“We got off to a bit of a slow start, I think some of the teams had already played in a shootout and it was our first,” Cropper said. “As the day went on, we played a lot better. It was a positive thing. We’re learning, I’m learning a lot about them. We didn’t have a chance to put our system in yet, so it’s going to take time. It was good. The kids always play hard and they gave a great effort, and when you do that, it’s enjoyable to coach.”
Several key players return for Bethel-Tate next season, though the player expected to be the team’s lone senior will not. Reagan Leonard, who led the team in scoring last season, has moved over to Eastern Brown, leaving the Lady Tigers with no seniors this season but plenty of experience.
“We don’t have any seniors, but we do have a lot of experience,” Cropper said. “The junior class is really an outstanding group, we have a lot of depth in talent in the junior class. They played as sophomores, they have a lot of experience. We still have to get better, there are a lot of things we need to improve on. We have some good underclassmen to go with them. I’m looking forward to it, it’s going to be fun.”
With the departure of Leonard and the graduation of Allison Parks, the team’s second-highest scorer last year, the Lady Tigers have some offense to replace. Juniors like Madison Burton, Jenna Carter, Taylor Bee and Grace White will look to fill in some of the scoring void. Cropper said the team still had some improving to do, which is about what you’d expect in June and July.
“We have to get better,” Cropper said. “There are certain things we need to improve on, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Cropper also noted he thinks he’s learned a few things from his time at Bethel-Tate last season, and that he thinks the players will be able to adjust to the new staff.
“I think you’re always learning,” Cropper said. “If you’re not learning, you’re in trouble. I’ve learned some things about the game, about the kids. Not having the time with them to be with them every day this summer, we’ve maybe thrown too much at them at times. I’ve certainly learned a few things about the game over the last year or two. It’ll be interesting. It’ll be a bit of an adjustment for them, playing for a new coach, but they’re great kids and I think it’ll be fun for everybody. I’m looking forward to it.”
Cropper also had a quick message for the former head Lady Tiger, thanking Fallis for the work he did at Bethel-Tate.
“I want to thank Dave Fallis,” Cropper said. “He’s built an outstanding program at Bethel-Tate, and he’s an outstanding human being. I want to thank him for all his help.”