CONVERSE — Finding the right person to replace retired Oak Hill girls’ basketball coach Todd Law promised to be a challenging endeavor from the start.
Trying to find that person in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic only enhanced the difficultly for Oak Hill’s athletic director, Ryan Fagan.
But after more than two months, opening the application process twice – once in early April and again in early June – and having two finalists pull their names from consideration because of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, the Golden Eagles finally have their new coach.
His name is Clay Bolser and he comes to Oak Hill with a wealth of experience, both as a player and coach.
“Asking people to move in the middle of a pandemic proved to be pretty difficult,” said Fagan after Monday’s Oak Hill’s school board meeting where Bolser was formally approved as a middle school art teach and varsity girls basketball coach. “We were not real sure a month or so ago what direction we were going to head. It ended up turning out better than I could have ever imagined.
“Getting somebody with Clay’s experience and background and reputation … I’m real excited,” he added. “Excited for the girls and honestly, I don’t think we could have ended up in a better position.”
Bolser is a 1994 graduate of Richmond High School and played for the Red Devils’ state championship team in 1992. He then continued his playing career at the University of Saint Francis and graduated in 1998.
After coaching the boys teams at Northeastern, Plainfield and North Miami, which spanned 16 years of his career in education, Bolser comes to Oak Hill following three years as athletic director at Rossville.
It was during his time as AD that Bolser realized his passion for coaching still burned. Yet, it was still tough for him to leave Rossville to re-enter the coaching ranks.
“It was tough because I have a lot of respect for the people at Rossville. I love the job. I love the community. The school itself, our superintendent is fantastic,” Bolser shared. “This was not a decision that was, I just wanna leave so I’m gonna find another job. It had to be the right situation and the right time.
“I think there was no doubt when I started reflecting on it: if I stay as an athletic director and stay out of the game for even longer its going to be harder to get back into it,” he continued, “and how am I ever going to get into a situation that’s a better fit.”
Bolser’s transition from Rossville AD to head girls basketball coach at Oak Hill was fairly swift. He hadn’t initially applied either time Fagan opened up the application process. But a phone call less than two weeks ago from Fagan to Bolser started the process of him becoming the coach.
“It really wasn’t anything that was necessarily on my radar,” Bolser said of the Oak Hill girls coaching job. “I was actually working on my daughter’s car when (Fagan) called me and I originally thought he was kind of joking.
“We had had multiple conversations being an athletic director, and I told him that desire to coach still kind of ate at me,” he added. “He said ‘How about you think it over.’”
Fagan said he and Bolser have forged a friendship over the past near decade, partially from their shared duties as athletic directors and from Bolser’s North Miami teams competing against Oak Hill’s boys basketball team.
Fagan did say the initial call to gauge Bolser’s interest was indeed done thinking the possibility was slim, and admitted to using a joking tone. But the response from Bolser was one he was hoping to get.
“I just called him one day and kinda just floated it past him, as a joke really, and the next thing I know he said let me talk to my wife about it and I’ll get back to you,” Fagan said. “… A day or two later he came down and talked to myself, the superintendent and one of the school board members and let us know he was really serious.
“We brought the committee in and interviewed him and he blew the interview out,” he continued. “We called a few more references, people that knew him at the other locations and it went together pretty quick. … I’m ecstatic with who we got. We always knew we’d have somebody, we’d get somebody in place, but to get somebody of Clay’s caliber, you can’t ask for anything more.”
Though Bolser has never actually worked in Grant County, he still has ties locally. All four of his daughters have spent time or are still in Mississinewa schools. Cailyn (2019) and Caily (2020) have each graduated in the past two years and both are division I athletes. Carly will be a junior this fall and will fill a starting role for the Indians against her dad next season in basketball. Meanwhile, Camryn, who will be a seventh grader at RJ Baskett this year, will likely have a chance to play against dad as well someday.
Bolser said he’d stayed away from coaching girls sports mainly because he wanted his daughters to enjoy their school athletic experiences without the specter of having their dad as a their coach. He did have conversations with the girls about taking the job at Oak Hill.
“This was a unique situation. It was something that was very positive for us,” Bolser said. “Having the conversation with my daughters about whether or not this was a good plan, they knew the desire was still within me. They grew up watching me coach. They were very supportive of it.
“The ironic part is there has already been some smack talk between us. But to be honest, it allows me to get closer to where they’re at as far as school,” he continued. “Things just lined up for a reason. I think the good Lord has a reason that there is still a fire in my stomach for coaching and I’m thankful that Ryan kind of pursued it. I always wondered if I was actually done (with coaching). I’m glad I’m not.”
Bolser’s first meeting with his new players will likely come virtually, as COVID-19 has dictated much of the communication in the sports world for the past three-plus months. With re-opening plans for schools and sports being but in place, Bolser hopes to have his first face-to-face with his Golden Eagles on July 6, the date most athletic programs around the state will resume.
He’ll only get a month or so with the basketball players, many of whom will also probably be involved with fall sports, so that will be their primary focus. Still, the importance of relationship building will start again soon for Bolser, and he’s very much looking forward to it.
“Your goal every game is to go out and win but that’s not the purpose of why we do it,” Bolser said. “I love the game of basketball, but most importantly, I love to be able to develop a relationship with the student-athletes. And that aspect of it, from being an AD, you kind of lose that because it’s so different. Within the basketball program, we want to continue to have the highest of expectations and build on the tradition … That means we’re going to push and challenge the girls to be the best athlete they possibly can be and the best teammates.
“Starting July 6 hopefully we’ll be able to go two days a week. I want the girls to be able to get in the weight room and be able to spend some time in the gym,” he added. “I’m not necessarily worried about getting out and competing. Everybody is in the exact same boat. It’s more important that they get to know who I am and I get to know who they are as individuals, that there is a relationship (start to) develop. They can start to understand that, obviously, I care about their skill level and how they develop, but I’m gonna care about them more as people.”