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  • Val T.

‘Enjoyed the kids and enjoyed the competition:’ Optimistic about future, McWherter takes over at Pioneer


Sports Editor, RTC

Adam Berry and John Bingaman contacted David McWherter about a week before the Pioneer girls basketball team played its first game last year.

The Pioneer School Board had just hired Berry as the interim coach for the season, replacing Jennifer Burns. Bingaman is the Pioneer athletic director. Would McWherter like to be the JV coach?

McWherter knew Berry well. When Berry played in high school, McWherter was his coach.

So McWherter said yes to the offer.

After the season ended, when Berry stepped down to return to his football coaching role, McWherter applied and was hired as the head coach.

“I was actually down in Louisville at the North American Livestock Show, and coach Berry and coach (John) Bingaman had reached out to me and (principal and former coach) Jeff Brooke reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in assisting because we just got an email that the position was open, and I sent out an email saying, ‘Hey, if you need me to help out in any way, let me know,’” McWherter recalled of that contact with Berry. “And coach Berry reached out and asked if I’d be interested in assisting him last year, which was interesting because I coached him back when he was a varsity basketball player.”

This will be his second stint as coach. He also coached the Pioneer girls from 2011-15, compiling an 11-69 record.

He also coached the Pioneer boys from 2004-09. He is a 1987 Pioneer grad and has been on the faculty for 30 years.

“Well, I think the girls we’ve got coming in and coming up through the program right now are just really great to work with,” McWherter said. “I really enjoyed working with them last year with coach Berry. I was the JV coach last year and just filled in for the year and didn’t know at the beginning whether I would enjoy myself as much as I did, but I really enjoyed it and enjoyed the kids and enjoyed the competition once again. It’s been a few years since I’ve coached.”

He said the summer season ended last week prior to Moratorium Week.

“We’re done for the summer,” McWherter said. “We went hard in June. We finished up (June 25), and the girls did a great job this summer. I had great participation. I had great effort, great communication with the girls. It was just a very successful month of June. We started the Tuesday after Memorial Day, which was actually in May, and we went hard all the way through last Tuesday. We went at least four days a week, and most weeks, we went five days a week. So it was very successful.”

And in a bit of paying it in reverse, McWherter’s JV coach will be Dale Samuels, who is also a former Pioneer boys head coach and who was McWherter’s JV coach during his playing days. 

Samuels was the first person to approach McWherter and ask whether he was interested in coaching just as he was starting a student-teaching stint at North White. 

“He and I have coached together many years,” McWherter said of Samuels. “I was his freshman coach when he was the boys varsity coach. … My first coaching experience was under coach Samuels when he was the varsity, and then years later, when I was the varsity girls coach, I had him as my JV coach years ago. We’ve both been very familiar with each other for well over 30, almost 40 years now.”

McWherter said he and Bingaman have known each other since they were in junior high when Bingaman played at Logansport. They later had adjoining classrooms at Pioneer during Bingaman’s teaching days. McWherter called Bingaman a close friend.

McWherter said he has known Brooke for “many, many years.” They even coached against each other on Feb. 11, 2006, when Brooke’s Delphi boys team beat McWherter’s Pioneer team 83-64.

Brooke later coached the Pioneer girls from 2016-23, a stint that included a sectional title in 2019, a semistate title in 2020 and a Class 1A state title in 2021.

“Both of them guys are very supportive of the programs along with all sports,” McWherter said of Bingaman and Brooke.

One of the first players McWherter coached on his first freshman team was current Pioneer boys coach Darren McKaig. Three decades later, he will coach McKaig’s daughter Mia on this year’s Lady Panthers.

Pioneer went 6-16 last season, but the top five scorers – Makenna Strycker, McKaig, Lois Layer, Jocelyn Kain and Hannah Zeigler – all return. Kynzie Hathaway and Julia McGrew will be seniors and have previous variety experience and are also expected back.

McWherter said he has tried to implement more of a motion offense and that much of the summer work has involved off-the-ball movement within the offense.

McKaig and Strycker were also the top two rebounders and the top two players in assists.

And Pioneer will drop from Class 2A to Class 1A.

“I’m extremely optimistic,” McWherter said. “I know one of the biggest things for us is we’ve just got to continue to improve as a team. … I’m very optimistic about our ability to be able to compete for a sectional. Tri-County and West Central will be some of the top favorites there, but I really do look forward to competing at that sectional next year.”

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