Change comes despite Lady Hornets' best hoops season in wins and losses since 1996-97
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
After several weeks of being an open secret, Chillicothe R-2 Schools Superintendent Dr. Roger Barnes confirmed to the C-T this afternoon that the high school Lady Hornets basketball program will have a new head coach in 2014-15, even though the varsity team had experienced steadily-improving won-lost success in the 4-year tenure of non-retained coach Rachael Parkey.
Officially accepting the district's offer to take charge of the program in 2014-15 is Darren Smith, head coach of the nearby Meadville High boys' teams for the past nine seasons. He guided the Eagles to a runnerup finish to powerhouse Scott County Central in the Class 1 state tournament last month after last year' MHS boys took fourth at state.
Smith was coaching at a track-and-field meet this (Wednesday) afternoon and was not available to give an immediate comment. A request for comments was sent to his e-mail address.
The Meadville boys won district titles and participated in Class 1 state tournament play each of the last six years.
With a 25-4 campaign this past season, Smith's career head coaching record climbed to an impressive 211-68.
In addition to leading the CHS girls' basketball program, Smith will teach elementary school physical education and middle school health, Dr. Barnes reported.
Parkey, a first-time head coach when she was hired to return to her alma mater, departs the Chillicothe bench with a cumulative won-lost record of 46-54 in her four years.
Even as the CHS varsity girls soared to a 9-1 start to the 2013-14 season with a primary player rotation heavily-populated with freshmen, rumors had swirled most of the last half of the season that some persons with connections to the Lady Hornets team were advocating for Parkey's non-retention.
In her first head coaching post after being hired four years ago following a few years as an assistant at the larger Raymore-Peculiar school district, Parkey – a standout player for the Lady Hornets a decade earlier – assumed command of a program which had not posted a winning overall record since 2005-06 and which had generated a composite 30-64 won-lost mark in the last four years of Karen Jackson's 8-year tenure.
With only three winning seasons – none of them better than a 14-11 mark in 2004-05 – in the 13 preceding years, Parkey guided her first CHS team to a 5-17 mark, a record which was improved to 10-16 her second season with only one senior on the roster. Without an injury to the team's starting point guard in the season opener which cost that player a half-dozen games and hampered her some the rest of the season and season-ending injury to the team's lone senior in mid-January, that team probably would have finished closer to or at .500 or better.
However, in an ominous development, a half-dozen or more potential returning players from that team –– including a promising freshman who had seen action late that season – did not go out for the 2012-13 team. The sudden lack of depth, combined with, again, an injury to a senior starter, hampered the team's progress, but it still managed to finish strong – including a road victory over a Cameron team which, a few weeks later, would finish as state runnerup and also the CHS girls' first district-tournament win in years – with a 13-14 record.
With the addition of a gaggle of promising talents from an outstanding 2012-13 eighth grade team, Parkey and assistant coaches Terry McKiddy and Margie Albertson retooled this past season's squad into an immediately-formidable squad despite the season-ending injury suffered by would-be senior starting point guard Erin Gilliland in a preseason scrimmage.
After the blazing 9-1 start against smaller and similarly-sized schools received a reality check when the Lady Hornets came up against and lost badly to three experienced, strong teams from larger schools in mid-January, Parkey and her assistants steered the mostly young club – only two seniors were left after Gilliland's injury – through those and other choppy waters to repeat the team's 9-4 slate of its first 13 games in its last 13 for an 18-8 finish which was the program's best since 1996-97 by a clear margin.
Along the way down the stretch, the Lady Hornets went 5-2 in Midland Empire Conference play, earning a tie for second place with eventual state Class 4 fourth-place finisher St. Joseph: Benton and Cameron (which Chillicothe defeated again in double overtime in its home finale). The MEC record and finish in the standings again were the program's best since the last year of legendary CHS coach Rich Fairchild's tenure in 1996-97.
The accomplishment came with a primary player in which three of the five starters were ninth graders and three of the top four reserves also were freshmen.