Four to receive special awards from Indiana Basketball Coaches Assn.

Isaak, Merlie, Brothers and Moffatt to be honored for contributions to basketball programs over the years

 

Four Indiana high school assistant coaches will receive special awards from the Indiana Basketball Association in 2020.

Columbus North girls basketball assistant coach RaNae Isaak and Speedway boys basketball assistant Jim Merlie each will be recognized with a Point Guard College Transformational Coach Award as presented by the IBCA. In addition, North Putnam girls basketball assistant Jim Brothers and Hamilton Heights boys basketball assistant will receive awards as IBCA Assistant Coaches of the Year.

This is the fourth year for the PGC Transformation Coach Awards, which are presented to coaches who have impacted the lives of their players and fellow coaches at their school and within their community. The recipients are coaches who are respected by their players and fellow coaches for their dedication, positive approach and integrity on and off the court. Point Guard College is a corporate partner of the IBCA.

This is the third year that the IBCA is recognizing assistant coaches with an award. The awards are going to two coaches who have contributed in a significant way to their respective schools’ athletic programs for more than 30 years apiece.

These awards typically are presented during the IBCA’s annual clinic during April, but this year’s clinic has been postponed from the original April 24-25 dates. The coaches will receive the awards at a date to be determined.

Previous PGC Transformational Coach Awards have gone to Gary Cook of North Decatur in 2017; Gary West’s Chris Buggs and Switzerland County’s Adam Dennis in 2018; and John Glenn’s Travis Hannah in 2019. Previous IBCA Assistant Coach of the Year honors have gone to Union County’s Roger Bowling in 2018 as well as Jeffersonville’s Clark Miles and Crawfordsville’s Danny Pierce in 2019.

Information on the four coaches to be honored for 2020 follows.

Transformational Coach: RaNae Isaak, Columbus North girls assistant

RaNae Isaak recently completed her 14th season as a girls basketball assistant coach at Columbus North, helping guide the Bull Dogs to a 16-9 record. The fact that Isaak was able to coach at all during 2019-2020, however, in many ways was a miracle.

In the spring of 2019, Isaak suffered from repeated muscle-tensing episodes in her left arm and leg that ultimately were diagnosed last May as result of a brain tumor. She continued to work with the Columbus North program through the June summer workouts before having brain surgery to remove the tumor on July 12 at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis.

The surgery left Isaak with no ability to move her left side and an initial prognosis that she may be unable to walk for an extended period. However, thanks to her perseverance in a rehab program at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana, Isaak walked out of the facility on Aug. 3 and returned to her life as an engineer at Cummins, Inc., a basketball coach at Columbus North, an MBA student at Indiana University and a wife and step-mother to two college-age women.

She was honored by the Indiana Pacers for her recovery on Jan. 17 at halftime of the Pacers’ 116-114 home victory against Minnesota at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“When you learn you have a brain tumor, it’s quite amazing what goes through your head,” Isaak said during an interview on WRTV-Channel 6 at that Pacers’ game. “You don’t know if things are ever going to be back to normal or how long it’s going to last. I mean, everything is so dependent on the situation. Having the trust in the people (working with you) helps you make it through.”

Dr. Charles Kulwin, a neurosurgeon with Goodwin Campbell Brain and Spine, described Isaak’s recovery as remarkable.

“When RaNae woke up and was having trouble as expected (after surgery), she believed in us when we told her it’s all going to get better,” Dr. Kulwin said. “Most importantly, the strength and will she had from Day 1 when she woke up, to say, ‘I’m going to get all of this back,’ it’s just been amazing.”

Isaak, 38, has been a coach in the Columbus North girls program since 2006 when she moved to Indiana after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering at Idaho State University. She coached four seasons with then-CN coach Debbie Marr, then has remained on staff for the past 10 seasons with CN coach Pat McKee.

Columbus North has posted a 274-78 record during Isaak’s 14 seasons on staff. In the past 10 seasons, the Bull Dogs have gone 217-50 with seven Conference Indiana championships, six sectional titles, four regional crowns, three semi-state trophies and the 2015 Class 4A state championship. The Bull Dogs also were Class 4A state runners-up in 2012 and 2016 as well as a final four team in 2017.

McKee knew quickly that Isaak was someone he wanted to retain in the Columbus North program when he was reforming the Bull Dogs’ coaching staff in April 2010. Isaak is the lone holdover from the previous staff.

“RaNae brings a passion and focused intensity to everything she does,” McKee said. “I felt that instantly when I met her, and I knew we not only wanted to have her stay in the CNHS program, we want her to have an expanded role. Ever since, I have seen the energy and perspective she brings to our players virtually every day. We have had many successes over the past decade, and RaNae has been an integral contributor to all them.”

Emily Kim has known Isaak throughout her tenure at Columbus North, dating to when Kim’s sister Betsy also was a Bull Dogs’ player. Betsy Kim is a 2008 CNHS graduate, and Emily Kim is a 2016 CNHS graduate.

“I have watched RaNae coach and been coached by her at many levels,” Emily Kim said. “Although her coaching roles have changed over the years, one thing has remained constant – her ability to push players toward the greatness she knew each of us had. RaNae set high expectations for us as player and even higher expectations for us as young women. RaNae’s coaching help me accomplish great things on the court. More importantly, her coaching made me a better person off the court.”

A 2000 graduate of American Falls High School in Idaho, Isaak was a starter on a basketball team posted a four-year record of 90-16, placed third in the Idaho state tournament her first three seasons and won the Idaho Class A-2 state championship with a 23-5 finish when she was a senior.

Isaak also played golf and volleyball in high school, and she later was a four-year NCAA Division I golfer at Idaho State. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Idaho State in 2004 and 2006, respectively. She also served as a graduate assistant coach for Idaho State women’s golf in 2005-06. She is on track to receive her master’s in business administration this spring from IU.

Isaak and her husband, Ron Patberg, live in Columbus. She is the step-mother to Ali and Kenzie.

Transformational Coach: Jim Merlie, Speedway boys assistant

Dedicated. Unselfish. Energetic. All three qualities accurately describe Jim Merlie, who has served as an assistant coach for the past seven seasons in the Speedway High School boys basketball program.

Beyond the typical tasks such as helping with the Sparkplugs’ practices and games as well as camps, clinics and a youth program, Merlie also created the school’s Student Athletic Leadership Team. And that group, which has become to be known as SALT and annually sends students to the IHSAA Youth Leadership Conference, organized Speedway’s first unified basketball contest this past season in conjunction with Cascade High School. That came after the SALT group organized unified kickball games for three years.

Speedway athletic director Brian Avery offered this evaluation of the unified basketball event.

“To say the event was a success would be doing it an injustice,” Avery wrote in an event summary. “I can honestly say that in the 37 years I’ve been involved in secondary education, (the unified basketball) event will forever rank in my top five positive memories. Our student body as well as the Speedway and Cascade communities came together to create an unforgettable evening for many people, most notably for a group of students that rarely is the recipient of much fanfare or acclaim.”

Varsity coach Charles Bennett said Merlie – who has specialized in overseeing the Speedway youth program – has impacted the Sparkplugs’ boys basketball program with knowledge and enthusiasm.

“Coach Merlie is a true role model in promoting our program’s main three tenets of ‘being a good person, being a good student and then being a good player,’ “ Bennett said. “He is an outstanding teacher and a true leader in our building. His example as a father and husband makes him a pillar in his church and community.”

A 1998 graduate of Schlarman High School in Danville, Ill., Merlie competed in basketball, cross country and track & field. He earned three varsity letters in basketball, and his team won an Illinois Class A regional when he was a senior. He then went on to Marian University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 2003 in elementary education and special education.

Merlie began his coaching career as the Cardinal Ritter freshman boys basketball coach in 2005-06. He then moved to Indianapolis Manual High School, serving as a boys basketball assistant for three seasons and then becoming the Redskins’ varsity coach from 2009-12. His Manual teams posted a 26-43 record, highlighted by a 12-11 mark and sectional championship in 2011-12.

Merlie then accepted a position at Speedway, where he has been a key support person for the past seven years.

“Coach Merlie’s dedication, positive approach and integrity all speak for themselves through his daily actions as a coach, teacher, father, husband and leader of young student-athletes,” Bennett said. “While Coach Merlie will be irritated that we nominated him, he deserves to be recognized for his hard work, dedication and selflessness.”

Merlie and his wife, Tina, are the parents of two sons – Kyle, 10, and Max, 8.

IBCA Assistant Coach of the Year: Jim Brothers, North Putnam girls

“Jim Brothers is North Putnam.”

That is the first sentence in the nomination of Brothers for this award by North Putnam girls basketball coach Lukas Haworth, and a review of Brothers’ life path shows that it is a statement of absolute truth.

A teacher for 40 years at his alma mater, Brothers also has served as a coach and/or athletic administrator for 33 of those years for the school located in Roachdale, Ind. Beyond that, Brothers grew up in nearby Fincastle and attended Roachdale Elementary School, North Putnam Junior High and North Putnam High School, graduating in 1976 as an all-conference player in basketball, football and baseball.

He went off to play Franklin College for a year, then transferred to Marian University for the next three and played basketball at both colleges. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Marian in 1980, then returned to North Putnam to spend the entirety of his professional career while living in Fincastle, Bainbridge and Putnamville.

During his career, Brothers has served as North Putnam’s varsity coach in boys basketball for eight seasons (1988-96), its varsity coach in girls basketball for three seasons (2009-12), its varsity baseball coach for two seasons (1985 and 1986), its varsity softball coach for three seasons (2008, 2009 and 2010) and its athletic director for eight years (1995-2003).

In addition, Brothers has been a North Putnam assistant coach in boys basketball for six seasons (1980-86), baseball for five seasons (1981-84 and 1995), football for six seasons (1980-85), softball four seasons (2004-07) and girls basketball for eight seasons (2004-09 and 2017-present).

“We all know the ups and downs that come with being a coach and teacher in today’s world,” Haworth said. “Throughout all of these times, Jim Brothers has been a constant for North Putnam. He has coached consistently for 40 years and always has approached each sport, each practice and each moment as a teacher first. When Jim Brothers is done coaching you, you are not just a better player but also a better person.”

Brothers, who also earned a master’s degree from DePauw University in 1985 and was a men’s basketball assistant for the 1987-88 season at Wabash College, described the opportunity to remain in his “home” corporation for an entire career as a blessing.

“I’ve been able to teach and coach my classmates’ kids and now their grandkids, watched my former players and students grow and for many of them, teach and coach their kids,” Brothers said. “By knowing the community so well, I’ve not had to make a lot of adjustments in learning the culture of the area. It’s been a positive thing, I believe, to know the people, culture and expectations of the community and to grow with it.

“I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again at the same place. I’ve had the opportunity to work with fantastic fellow teachers and coaches at North Putnam, and the student-athletes here have been outstanding and given me a lifetime of great memories. It’s always been ‘family’ at North Putnam.”

Brothers was an outstanding athlete in the 1970s. He helped North Putnam capture boys basketball sectional titles as a junior and senior with back-to-back 20-4 seasons. As a coach, he guided the Cougars to another boys basketball sectional title in 1990 and was an assistant for the school’s only softball sectional winner in 2006. But for him, the benefit of athletics is beyond the results on the field.

“Winning is great, but the players whom I have coached and the coaches whom I have been coached by and coached with have been the absolute best,” Brothers said. “Even today, after all of these years, leaving the players coming through our program is so very, very hard to do. The kids we have and have had at North Putnam have been a big part of my life and have been a true blessing to me.”

Brothers’ perspective has been evident to others throughout his career. He has been described as a friend, brother, mentor and father figure by many in the North Putnam community.

“I never previously had had the chance to coach and work with someone who has such a connection to his players and a community,” Haworth said. “Having been a part of the North Putnam boys and girls programs in some form or another for the past 30-plus seasons, it is clear that Jim Brothers has had an impact on every one of the students’ and players’ lives with whom he has come into contact.

“Whether it is an alumnus who graduated in the 1990s or a freshman walking the halls today, everyone greets Coach Brothers with a smile, a wave and usually a hug. The boys and girls basketball programs, as well as the numerous other sports he has helped coach over the years, would not be the same without the positive leadership and encouragement that he has provided.”

Brothers and his wife, Tammy, have two adult children – Brittney and Drew.

IBCA Assistant Coach of the Year: J.R. Moffatt, Hamilton Heights boys

J.R. Moffatt has been the freshman team coach and a boys basketball program assistant at Hamilton Heights High School for 31 seasons, long teaching the fundamentals of sports and life to help young student-athletes excel on the court, in the classroom and in the world.

“The impact that coach Moffatt has on his players extends way beyond the wins and losses on the court,” said Edgewood boys basketball coach Matt Wadsworth, who submitted the nomination for Moffatt for this award. “Anyone who plays for coach Moffatt has a friend and mentor for life. Coach Moffatt is now at a stage in his career where he is coaching former players’ sons. It would be very difficult to find a player who didn’t enjoy playing for Coach Moffatt. He has used coaching as a way to instill the values needed to help boys grow into young men.

“Although he has the experience and ability to advance past the freshman level as a coach, he never has had a strong desire to move up. One reason for this is the importance he puts on the teaching of fundamentals. He feels it is important that one of the program’s best coaches is at the freshman level in order to help develop skills. … He has always had the ability to challenge and push his players to improve. This is possible be each player knows how much he cares for them.”

Moffatt has worked with three varsity coaches during his time with the Huskies – Kirby Overman for two seasons, Bill Bowen for 16 seasons and Chad Ballenger for 13 seasons. Officially, he has been the freshman team coach while helping with the varsity and JV teams for all these years. Unofficially, he has been a mentor to the coaches, too.

“J.R.’s relationship with the coaches at Hamilton Heights is also important,” Wadsworth said. “J.R. was Bill Bowen’s next-door neighbor when Bill was the head coach. After a difficult loss or a bad day at practice, many conversations and words of encouragement were shared in Bill’s driveway.”

Hamilton Heights athletic director Kurt Ogden also is aware of Moffatt’s impact, noting that he also has served the community as a pastor at Arcadia Christian Church since 1987.

“Nobody knows the culture of our school and community better,” Ogden told the Hamilton County Reporter in 2017.

For Wadsworth, a North Daviess graduate who previously has coached at Riverton Parke (2007-08), North Posey (2008-12) and Whiteland (2012-19), Moffatt’s support has been personal.

“J.R. has served as a mentor and friend to my wife and me,” Wadsworth said. “He has been there to support and encourage me throughout my life and each step of my coaching career. One of the most difficult times of my life was when my wife had a miscarriage. The emotional support provided by J.R. was critical for helping my wife and me get through this time. In addition, he has traveled across the state to watch my teams play. Many times, he has shown up to offer encouragement when we were struggling.”

Moffatt has helped students and adults in times of need.

“Whenever a player loses a parent, J.R. is there to help counsel the player through the difficult time,” Wadsworth said. “Unfortunately, there have been times that it has been the other way around. When a former team manager passed away in a tragic accident, J.R. was there to help the parents overcome the grief they were experiencing. … I do not think that words can fully describe the impact that he has had on players, coaches and parents at Hamilton Heights.”

Moffatt is a 1983 graduate of Columbus East High School, where he played basketball for coach Roger Reed and baseball for coach Lou Giovanini. His Olympian baseball teams finished 30-4 and 28-5 in his junior and senior seasons. Moffatt went on to Cincinnati Christian University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Christian ministries and also played basketball and baseball. His CCU basketball squads, under coach Tony Wallingford, captured National Christian College Athletic Association national championships in 1985, 1986 and 1987.

In addition to coaching basketball, Moffatt has coached baseball at Hamilton Heights. He was the Huskies’ varsity baseball coach in 2018 and 2019 after serving the two previous years as an assistant coach in that program.

Moffatt and his wife, Leigh Ann, live in Cicero. The couple has two children – Zac, 24, and Shanna, 18.