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by Tom Nader
Record-Courier Sports Editor
Basketball got a hold of Tommy Stockard and has never let go.
"It's the one sport I don't ever see leaving my life," he said.
Now the former three-sport standout at Streetsboro High School is a coach attempting to motivate players to find the same passion and appreciation for the game as he enjoyed as a four-year letterman for the Streetsboro Rockets.
Stockard, a 2003 Streetsboro graduate, continued his education at the University of Mount Union in Alliance.
Like many prep athletes, once the final whistle blows, finding the right evolution for the sport you love becomes the next question.
For Stockard, that question was answered in 2009 when he was able to fulfill a career choice that had always been on his mind.
"I always wanted to stay around the game as much as I could, and I couldn't think of a better way to do it than to be a teacher and coach," Stockard said.
Stockard was hired by the Southeast Local School District in 2009 as a physical education and health teacher, joining the boys basketball coaching staff under head coach Matt Dillon in the same year.
The two have worked side by side for six years and have developed a relationship built on trust and appreciation.
"I think he trusts me when I suggest a play or about substitutions," said Stockard, who was an All-Portage County League basketball player in all four years he was in high school.
"We have been around each other long enough that we work well together and I think he has faith in my coaching decisions.
Overall, I think we complement each other well. As a head coach, sometimes you are forced to look at the bigger picture of what is happening during a game, where I can sit back as an assistant and look at more specific things that are happening."
The teamwork shared by Dillon and Stockard on the bench is the same culture they work to create within their players.
At Southeast, individual statistics fall far down the list of things deemed important.
A player who may score only four points, but has three pass deflections, takes a charge and maintains proper defensive rotations gets a spotlight shined on them just as bright -- if not brighter -- than the player who was the Pirates' leading scorer.
It is a philosophy that was retained by Dillon after taking over as head coach after Bob Dunn and one that Stockard said fits into his own personality.
"That's the style here and I like it," Stockard said. "Matt talks about team stats and not individual accomplishments. The players have bought into it, which I think can be hard for a high school player. You don't see that same embrace at every school, but at Southeast, we will have a team that is willing to work together."
It is an attitude that has allowed Southeast to remain competitive on a consistent basis despite not always having the tallest post players, fastest guards or most athletic wing players.
"Our philosophy at Southeast is to worry about the student first and the athlete second," Stockard said.
"There are no egos at Southeast, no discipline problems and no background noise. We are fortunate to coach good kids with good families."
Stockard's own family, parents Tom and Debbie Stockard, have mostly traded in the blue and yellow of their son's playing days in exchange for the maroon and gold of their son's current coaching days.
"I don't think my parents have missed a single Southeast game since I have been coaching there," Stockard said. "They have become very loyal to the Pirates. They follow Southeast like it's always been their own team."
That gets a little more complicated for Debbie, though, when the Pirates match up against the Rockets on the schedule.
"For those games, my mom is stuck in the middle a little bit," Stockard said. "She works at Streetsboro High School, so I think deep down she might be rooting for Southeast, but she is always going to remain loyal to Streetsboro."
It's not all easy for Stockard either.
"It's bittersweet," Stockard said. "It's tough to think about because when I was younger and Nick Marcini was playing for Streetsboro, I was the team's ballboy. But if you can't coach for your alma mater, then you want to beat them."
Facebook: Tom Nader, Record-Courier