While taking a step backwards in the pecking order might make some reluctant, it is a quite comfortable move for J McKeown.
The varsity girls’ basketball coach at West Deptford High School for the previous several seasons, McKeown stepped down from his post and has accepted the position of boy’s JV coach, where he will work under friend and colleague Don Clark.
The move did not come as a major surprise to those who know McKeown. His daughter, Danielle—a four-year varsity basketball player—graduated last week and his son, Luke—also a basketball player—is set to begin ninth grade next fall.
“I really first and foremost am a dad first and secondly a coach,“ McKeown said. “All along, I had thought this could be what would happen, but at the same time I wasn’t sure until right before I made the decision.”
The JV position is actually one McKeown had hoped for prior to working with the girls’ team. When Clark was hired as the boys' varsity coach, he intended to bring on McKeown as an assistant. When that didn’t work out, McKeown accepted a job as the assistant girls’ coach, under former head coach Jackie Trakimus.
He did so reluctantly at first.
“I didn’t think I would want to coach my own kid, because I have seen situations where that hasn’t worked well,” McKeown said. “I told (Trakimus) from the start that I didn’t want to have a lot of game-time coaching with my own kid. She told me the plan was for Danielle to only see a little playing time, about a quarter each game of varsity, so that wasn’t going to put me in a difficult spot. I figured I would do that through the four years she was there and just be an assistant.”
However, Trakimus lost her teaching position the following year, and with it her coaching position. That's when McKeown stepped up.
“They needed a coach and I looked at it as I had been there a season and I knew the girls,“ McKeown said. “These girls had nobody, and I was still under contract next year to be an assistant, so I continued to work with the girls. At that point I decided to take the job.
“Danielle played a lot as a freshman and I had nothing to do with that, so by the time I took over her sophomore year it really wasn’t a question of if she deserved to be out there.”
McKeown remained at the helm for three seasons, helping the girls reach the playoffs each year.
He leaves a team that will have a difficult time matching last year’s success after graduating the trio of McKeown, Megan Kirschling and Tarryn Bundy.
However, he also heads to a boys’ program that has been infused with talent over the last couple of years, culminating in a winning season this past winter.
McKeown and Clark are already gearing up for next season, with summer camp set to begin next week in West Deptford Park.
“Don and I have been teaching at Green-Fields since I have been there and we have always talked basketball, so we are excited to be able to work with each other,” McKeown said.
And this time, McKeown will be more than happy to stay as an assistant coach.
“I had a talk with Don kidding with him saying, ‘You are not going anywhere, right?’ ” McKeown said. “I know Don is excited about some of the talent coming through the program, and it’s a good feeling for both of us right now.”
McKeown's departure means the high school will have to look for its third new head coach this year, after replacing both the boys' soccer and wrestling coaches in the last month.
A decision on that won't be for some time, though—the position is currently being advertised, but athletic director Tim Cammarota said they haven't gotten to the point of interviewing candidates yet.