BY ANDY ROWER | MIRROR SPORTS — After nine seasons, Derek Sheridan recently stepped down as Maumee’s varsity boys basketball coach. The surprising move came after Sheridan led this year’s Panthers to a 7-17 overall record and a sixth-place Northern Lakes League mark, despite being picked last in preseason polls due to the loss of five key players in the off-season. “I think considering all the circumstances we went through, the season was pretty good,” said 2017 senior and second-team All-District 7 selection Connor Graetz. “We were picked to finish dead last in the NLL, so we made it one of our goals to finish in the middle of the pack. “We made it a big emphasis every day to prove to everyone we would not finish last. We went out every night and gave it our best and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.” Highlights of this past season included a 69-55 win over district semifinalist Napoleon, a sectional win over Bowling Green, a three-point buzzer-beater loss to Napoleon and a nine-point loss to NLL co-champion Anthony Wayne. “When you return two points per game, you play in the NLL and you’re the second-smallest school in the NLL and you still have a chance to finish fifth,” Sheridan said, “I guess unless you’ve coached, people don’t understand how hard that is to do.” Sheridan began his coaching career in the Huntington North (Ind.) High School program, where he got to work for Jack Gabor, who served as a graduate assistant at Indiana University during the 1978-79 season under Bobby Knight. “Coach Gabor had a huge influence on my coaching and teaching career,” Sheridan said. Sheridan and his wife Stephanie next moved about an hour southwest to Kokomo, Ind., where he accepted a coaching position for coach Flava Sirk. There, Sheridan moved up from a junior high coach to head freshman coach and varsity and junior varsity assistant positions. From there, Sheridan earned head coaching jobs at Marion Lakeview Christian High School and School City of Hammond, before moving to southern Ohio to coach in Washington Court House. “After we moved to Ohio, I kept hearing about how good the basketball was in the NLL and Toledo City League, so Stephanie and I tried to get jobs in Northwest Ohio,” Sheridan said. “After three years at WCH and two seasons with Greenfield McClain, I learned that the Maumee job had opened up from one of my coaching buddies.” Sheridan joined the Maumee family in 2008 as an elementary physical education teacher and Stephanie was hired at Wayne Trail Elementary a few years later. “Maumee was it for my wife and I,” Sheridan said. “This was the job I wanted and I was ecstatic to get the Maumee job. Stephanie and I both think it’s by far the best school district we’ve ever been employed at. This is what I planned on retiring from.” The program he took over had compiled a 6-35 record over the previous two years, with talented players such as Anthony Dybala, Damon Contat and Coty DiSalle on the rosters. “The first thing I wanted to do was to change the practice habits of the kids,” Sheridan said. “You have to find out what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are and then come up with a plan for both offense and defense and how you can capitalize on your strengths and stay away from your weaknesses, to the best of your ability. “I wanted to add some stability and come up with a style of play that was conducive to getting the most out of what we had. “I also wanted to lay down a foundation with the younger grades. We started having youth open gyms over at Wayne Trail Elementary School twice a week in the summers to get grades three, four and five going.” After going 11-32 over his first two seasons, the Panthers went 13-9 (8-6) to give Sheridan his first winning season at Maumee in 2011. He was also rewarded with District 7 Coach of the Year honors and was invited to coach the District 7 All-Star Game. That Maumee team included a trio of all-leaguers in Shawn Flanagan, Tyler Martin and Anthony Barnum. Martin, a second-team selection on both the NLL and district teams, called Sheridan “one of the greatest people I know.” “He would always go out of his way to make sure his players were happy,” Martin said. “Coach Sheridan cared deeply about the players’ families as well. I couldn’t tell you how many times he would ask how my family was doing. That made me more comfortable around him. It showed me how much I really meant to him as a player and as a person. “To this day, I know I can always call him if I ever need anything. The three years I played for him were the best three years I’ve ever had playing the game. I can’t thank him enough for everything he has done for me.” A two-time NLL honorable mention and 2010 all-district special mention honoree, Barnum agreed. “Coach Sheridan played a huge part of me developing as a player, and more importantly, as an individual,” he said. “He taught me things off the court that led to success on the court. We had somewhat of a father/son relationship because my mother raised me. He helped mold me into a gentleman and always made sure my home life was good before anything else.” Barnum said Sheridan brought a bit of the Indiana basketball style with him when he came to Maumee. “I was a defensive-minded guy and so was he, which made us click immediately,” he said. “His motto was that if we could stop the other teams from scoring 50 points per game that we would either be in or win every game. Coach Sheridan was an amazing coach and mentor. It’s sad to hear that he’s stepping down.” After going 8-13 (5-9) the following season with Flanagan and Dominique King, Sheridan’s Panthers notched their best record of his tenure in 2013. With second-team all-leaguer Jason Wanamaker and honorable mention Sean McGovern leading the charge, Maumee compiled a 14-9 (6-8) mark that year. “The two winning seasons we had were very gratifying,” Sheridan said. “Those kids worked so hard. They really did a good job of making process goals and then outcome goals, and they worked their tails off on those process goals to get to the outcome goals. They were two fabulous teams to coach. I had so much fun with those guys. It was great.” Wanamaker said he was “fortunate to play in Coach Sheridan’s basketball program” during his four years at Maumee. “While I appreciated his basketball expertise, I was always more impressed with his genuine care and investment in his players,” he said. “The work ethic and consistency he instilled in me will continue to grow and benefit the community around me. “Most players coaches come into contact with won’t make it to the NBA or a college team. A great coach understands this and works hard to know their players are developing in other ways, so that they will be better because they were part of the program. Coach Sheridan continually did this and even progressed our program as a whole, involving younger grades and more of the Maumee community. “Maumee basketball will definitely miss Coach Sheridan and I’m sure he will miss it as well. I will be eternally grateful that I was part of his program and am fortunate today to be able to call him a friend. I wish him luck and am sure that he will make a positive impact with whatever he gets involved with next.” Sheridan was invited to work the OHSBCA Top-100 Workout in Columbus in 2013 and was selected as the boys Division I rep for the District VII Basketball Coaches Association in 2014. That same year, he was selected as an assistant coach for the Ohio team for the Ohio vs. Indiana Border War All-Star Game Players such as Mitchell Kontak (third-team NLL), Brendan Callahan (second team NLL) and Austin Calopietro (third team NLL) led the Panthers to records of 4-17 (3-11), 5-19 (2-12) and 5-18 (2-12) from 2014-16. Near the beginning of that stretch, Sheridan was selected as the vice president of the District VII Basketball Coaches Association and as the head coach for the Ohio vs. Indiana Border War All-Star Game. Sheridan has served as the president of the District VII Basketball Coaches Association for the past three years. The 2017 team included another pair of third-team all-leaguers in James Braithwaite and Ben Pacer, in addition to Graetz. “It’s really hard to see him walk away because I know how much time and effort he gave to this program,” the Bluffton University-bound Graetz said. “I have never seen a person dedicate so much time to something. “Playing for him was a privilege. There was no other coach I would have wanted to play for. He was always supportive of me through all four years of high school – even when I was out for my sophomore year (due to injury), he was there for me whenever I needed him. He didn’t only help me to be the best basketball player I am, but he helped me become the person I am today.” Mike Vannett, who has coached the game of basketball for 30 years – 18 as a head coach – served as Sheridan’s assistant for the past three seasons at Maumee. “I’ve coached a lot of years and there wasn’t a guy I have been around that was as thoroughly prepared as Derek was, in terms of scouting reports, practice plans and individual work,” he said. “Our kids knew scouting reports. They knew what we were going to face and what we had to do. It was almost like a class. “This is a guy who lives basketball. He has different connections and talks to people around the country about X’s and O’s and things like that. He’s very good.” Sheridan ends his coaching career at Maumee with 67 wins – 36 coming in tough NLL play – and four sectional tournament victories. “I thought Derek’s teams were extremely well-prepared,” said Perrysburg’s seven-time Mirror Coach of the Year Dave Boyce. “They played hard and were well disciplined. He got the most out of each team every year.” As earlier eluded to, the Panthers have the second-lowest enrollment in the NLL behind Napoleon. Maumee’s boys are nine students away from being half that of Perrysburg’s total, while its girls are only 0.5 students away from being half that of Anthony Wayne. “It’s tough,” Sheridan said. “At Maumee, we’re definitely coming at a large percentage of our games from an underdog point of view. I didn’t mind that so much, you just have to prepare, prepare and prepare and really do your best to get your kids ready every night. “The amount of preparation my staff and I have put in over the years was impressive. I had some great assistants and there was no stone left unturned as far as preparation, because we knew there would be a lot of nights that would be hard for us.” In addition to Vannett, Sheridan said he wanted to thank assistant coaches Jim Richardson and Troy Opperman, scouts Kurt Kolbow, Bill Axe and Dick Crowell, videographer Brian Faulkner, scorers’ table operators Sean Rames and Craig Cliff, scorebook keeper Frank Haupricht, PA announcer Jim McDonald and all his team moms for their help, but credited his wife above all else. “My wide prepared meals for the kids before home games and did all of our stat work,” he said. “Stephanie did so much for our kids. She fed them during our camps and during our youth basketball clinics. She is the best coach’s wife that a coach could ever ask for.” Sheridan saved the rest of his praise for the kids and community of Maumee. “The Maumee kids were great to coach,” he said. “I’ve gotten to coach some great kids and I’ve made a lot of great relationships at Maumee. This is a great city. Stephanie and I have really fallen in love with the city of Maumee. We just think it’s a great place. We loved the community and school and have given the last nine years of our lives to the school district.” Sheridan went on to say that he was very happy with his teaching job at Maumee, but said that he would “definitely be interested in coaching again for sure” when he was asked.