Terry Habecker Journal’s Coach of the Year
By MIKE WITHIAM
This article appeared in: Sports, The Ithaca Journal, Saturday, December 23, 1978 – Page 13
Experience has mellowed Terry Habecker. The very successful Ithaca High soccer coach has let time be a teacher, and he has learned his lessons well.
Habecker guided the 1978 Little Red soccer team to a perfect 24-0 season, which it topped off a little more than a month ago by winning the first ever Class A (large schools) state championship. During the past two years, Ithaca has compiled a 46-1 record, and it will open the 1979 campaign with a 31-game winning streak still intact.
This past fall’s campaign was the second undefeated season in the history of Ithaca High soccer; Ithaca’s 24 wins a school record for wins in a season; its 31-game streak against Southern Tier Athletic Conference opposition a league record; its STAC championship the third in as many years and eighth in 12 years; and its Section 4 championship the second in two years.
The numbers and the achievements speak for themselves, and for those reasons, the Journal sports staff has selected Terry Habecker as its 1978 Coach of the Year.
Habecker, who was also named as one of six regional Coaches of the Year by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, reacted to the award in a characteristically laid-back manner.
“Any credit I get as a result of this season belongs to the team. I’m flattered, of course, but any recognition I get is a reflection back on the accomplishments of the Ithaca High soccer team.”
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Sounds like a familiar response from a Coach of the Year, doesn’t it? But an hour-long talk with Habecker revealed a lot about the 31-year-old coach, and one came away feeling that this man has an unusual approach to coaching. It also left one feeling that Habecker meant it when he spoke about this year’s success as a reflection of the team.
“I believe in involving the kids as much as possible in the decisions affecting their team,” Habecker said. “I view the traditional coaching role as a dictatorship, the more responsibility the kids take upon themselves, the happier I am.
“We coaches argue that high school athletics is a character building experience,” Habecker said. “I see it as a growing experience, and I can’t help but think that the more experiences, the more involvement kids have in their chosen sport, the more they’ll gain from it.
“The co-captains are especially important to me,” Habecker continued, “because they are the team’s representative to me. I consult them on almost every decision I make concerning the team, except during the actual games. And if they strongly disagree with me on a subject, I’m willing to try it their way first; they know how the team feels better than I do.”
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Habecker likes to view himself as a resource person for the team, presenting it with ideas and concepts that each individual can interpret or incorporate into his play as the individual sees fit.
Habecker has just completed his sixth year as head coach at Ithaca, after serving as junior varsity coach for three years. He’s coached junior high track for nine years (he and Ken Carnes have guided the Ithaca team to three straight undefeated seasons), and was junior high wrestling coach for four years and jayvee wrestling coach for two years.
A product of Menden, just south of Rochester, Habecker attended Honeoye Falls High School, where he played soccer (except for his junior year when a wrist injury forced him into cross country), wrestled (he was twice Section 5 Class B champion) and, in his words, “tried to play baseball.”
He attended Ithaca College, and was co-captain of the 1969 team during his senior year.
After graduating, he was hired as a physical education teacher by the Ithaca City School System, and was assigned to Dewitt Junior High. There was no jayvee soccer program his first year in Ithaca, but the 1970 team was 5-0-0 under his direction. In 1971 his squad went 10-4-1 and in 1972 it was 14-0-1.
Habecker is an avid jogger (he has run in the Boston Marathon five times) and still wrestles competitively in some area open events. He has also run the Ithaca Youth Soccer program for seven of its nine years in existence (more about that later).
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“I’ve tried all kinds of things since I began coaching,” Habecker said. “One year I tried to incorporate set plays into our offense; another year we worked on set throw-in plays that we called by number. But the more I coach, the less structure my teams have; the less coaching I do.
“The game of soccer is known for its creativity,” Habecker explained. “The most successful teams are the most creative teams. The game has a rhythm and a flow, things have to happen naturally, you can’t force them to happen.
“I teach my teams a set of basic concepts during practice, but how they incorporate them into the play of the game is up to them,” Habecker said. “Both teams (1977 and 1978) were successful in establishing their own style as a team. They exercised the concepts they have picked up and take advantage of the opportunity to create on the playing field.”
The soccer-playing skills of the Ithaca High team have been quite apparent to opposing coaches during the past two years (and before that, in fact). But Habecker contends there is another ingredient that he can claim no responsibility for: motivation.
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“The team attitude these past two years has been the difference,” Habecker said. “We’ve had a certain few individuals on the team who simply would not allow themselves to be beaten, and that attitude is contagious.
“When I first started coaching,” Habecker explained, “I tried to force motivation on my teams. But I learned that motivation generally will take care of itself if the team has confidence and the desire to achieve something. And that is something that only the players can provide.
“I do everything I can to encourage team work, togetherness, and to help establish realistic but high goals. But it’s up to the kids whether they really want to reach them.
“I wasn’t really surprised at the success this team had,” Habecker said. “First of all, we had some tremendous athletes, but it was the team’s ability to get along with one another that was the key. The kids were unselfish players and they had confidence in each other. Because they had confidence, we used every person on the field, and that factor made us impossible to defend.”
There’s another element that Habecker feels helps motivate his teams. That factor is the youth soccer program in Ithaca, which promotes interest in the game, and teaches some basic soccer skills.
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“The philosophy of the youth program here is recreational and informal structure.” Habecker said. “As a result, playing high school soccer is the tops: kids look forward to playing varsity soccer in Ithaca and come to me with tremendous enthusiasm. That helps them motivate themselves.”
Habecker then grins slyly, and adds, “I hope that stress on non-competitiveness never leaves the program, because the high school benefits from it.”
Opposing coaches have accused Habecker of using the youth program as a feeder, a charge he emphatically denies.
Habecker agonizes over decisions involving playing time and the make-up of his squad. His ideal would “be to let 50 players play high school soccer if they wanted to.” But the present athletic system doesn’t allow for that, so Habecker explained.
“I feel I have to justify everything I do. I take criticism hard, and hope I never reach a point where it bounces off me.
“I know I’ve improved as a coach,” Habecker continued. “I made an awful lot of mistakes in the past, and I’ll make more in the future.
“I don’t consider myself a great coach,” Habecker said. “I put all I have into coaching, but success like we’ve had the past two years – we’ve gone as far as we possibly could both seasons – is still a matter of circumstance. A lot of things have to go right.”
For Terry Habecker, a lot of things have gone right these past two seasons, and, in a way, the success has proven his coaching theories. As he said, the players have accomplished their objectives, but Habecker has been there giving direction and creating the right atmosphere for success.
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Naming a Coach of the Year is always a difficult task, and in the Journal area it can be excruciatingly hard. With two colleges and numerous high schools to choose from, the list of outstanding coaching efforts can grow long. Here, briefly, are some of the best:
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Cornell football coach Bob Blackman guided the Red to its first winning season since 1972. Cornell went 5-3-1 overall, and 3-3-1 in the Ivy League. Ithaca College football coach Jim Butterfield led the Bombers into the NCAA Division III playoffs for the third time in five years. Ithaca went 9-2, losing to Wittenberg in the playoffs, but was named Lambert Bowl Champion, ECAC Division III Team of the Year, and Butterfield was named Kodak District Coach of the Year. Ithaca High football coach Joe Moresco guided the Little Red to a 7-2 record, its best season since 1972, while Cornell lightweight coaches Bob and Terry Cullen’s team went 5-0 and won the Eastern Lightweight title.
Give credit also to Groton High football coach Dave Remick and Candor High mentor Elmer Schollenberger. Both teams went 7-1; Groton won the Division I title; Candor tied for the Division II Crown.
Ithaca High coach Art Cicchetti guided the Little Red to a 16-4 hockey season and an 18-4 baseball season. The pucksters lost in the Section 3 title game, the baseball team lost the STAC title game but bounced back to win the Section 4 Class AA-A title. Dick Bertrand led Cornell’s hockey team to a 20-6-1 record.
Another two-season coach was Moravia High’s John Jackson, who guided the Blue Devil basketball team to an IAC Northeast Division title, then won both the IAC and Section 4 Class B-C-D baseball titles in the spring.
In lacrosse, Cornell coach Richie Moran led the Red to a 13-1 record, losing in the national title game, then guided the United States team to a second place finish in the World Lacrosse Championships. Al Wolski led the Ithaca College lacrosse team to an 11-3 finish, Ithaca’s best season ever. It was capped off by a win in the NCAA Division III tourney. Mickey Fenzel guided Ithaca High to an 18-2 season, and reached the state semifinals. Cornell women lacrossers, under Cheryl Wolf, were second in the state and finished 7-2-2.
Dryden’s Walt Dippo, led the Lions to the IAC basketball title and an 18-2 season; Buddy Lang led the Dryden girls basketball team to the IAC Section 4 Class A titles. Mary Connolly guided the Ithaca College women’s basketball team to a 17-3 record, good for a regional playoff berth.
In track, Jack Warner’s Cornell team won both the Indoor and Outdoor Heps, while up on South Hill, Ed Decker led Ithaca College’s team to its first winning season (5-1) in six years.
Others who deserve recognition include Ithaca College women’s field hockey coach Doris Kostrinsky, who took the Bombers to a 12-5 season that included a state title and third place finish in regional competition, and Cornell women’s hockey coach Bill Duthie, who led the Red to a 17-2 record and the Ivy League title.
Ithaca High girls swimming coach Mary Kay Lalonde had a successful first year. Ithaca went 14-1 duals, and won both the STAC and Section 4 titles.