This is what star forward Luke Schaefer had to say about his tearful embrace with Medina boys basketball coach Chris Hassinger after scoring 30 points in the Bees’ 55-52 Copley Division I District final win over Archbishop Hoban:
“Everything this team does, everything we’ve accomplished is because of him. He’s a huge part of my life. He’s a huge mentor, and not just basketball, but from a life standpoint he’s helped me out in so many ways, from discipline to hard work to family stuff to relationships in life.
“Really, I owe everything to that guy. He’s awesome, so I went up to him and I had to give him my heart, you know?”
And this is what Alexis Smith, a 2013 Medina graduate who played for Hassinger on the girls team and is now majoring in nursing at Ashland University, posted on her Facebook page after a recent visit with the 45-year-old coach and physical education teacher more commonly known as “Hass”:
“Many people may know Hass’s infamous quote, ‘Life’s about relationships,’ and I just wanted to thank him for the impact that this phrase, as well as his presence, has had on my life over the years. It’s what led me to want to pursue a career as a pediatric nurse (and) it has led me to start the little sister program for Medina girls basketball. …
“From breaking clipboards during games to … working through how to respond to different kinds of adversity in life, our conversations like today are full of life lessons that are never forgotten. Words can’t describe how thankful I am for those experiences! So here’s to you being you Hass and all of the lives you’ve influenced and motivated like mine over the years.”
His Bees (18-7) set to play powerful Massillon Jackson (24-2) in a University of Akron Regional semifinal tonight at 7, Hassinger was shown those comments Wednesday afternoon in his coaching office. Within moments, he was bawling.
“That says it all,” he said through plentiful tears. “That’s why I do it. It’s the relationships you build. I’m not a guy who can sit behind a desk. I’m a people person.”
A bundle of energy who stands 6 feet tall and has somehow gained seven pounds to push him to a hulking 160 — “We’ve eaten a lot of pizza lately in celebration,” he said — Hassinger teaches, coaches and interacts according to the motto Smith referenced: Life is about relationships.
Senior small forward Jackson Sartain, a third-team All-Northeast Inland District selection, referenced it while talking about his coach.
So did assistant Mitch Charvat, who was with Hassinger when the girls program went 63-26 and won three Northeast Ohio Conference River Division titles in four seasons, and is still with him now with a boys program that has gone 52-26 and won two district titles in three seasons.
That makes Hassinger just the third boys coach in Medina County history to reach the regional level two times, the others being Medina predecessor Jody Peters, who coached for 13 years, and Brunswick’s Joe Mackey, who just finished his 21st campaign.
But it’s not just that Hassinger, whose combined lifetime record is 115-52 (.689), has won. It’s how he has won.
“You’ve probably heard this a million times, but he’s really big on, ‘Life is about relationships,’” Charvat said. “It’s not a saying he just came up with. It’s something he lives, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a student, player or parent.
“He’s all about relationships. He has an unbelievable ability to remember names and he’s developed uncanny relationships. It makes people want to be a part of the program even more.”
Hassinger is outgoing, extremely friendly and usually sports a wide smile, but he’s also intense, driven and fully capable of getting in a player’s face, especially a very good player.
“Chris is not a cusser,” Charvat said. “He rarely uses those types of words. But he is not afraid to challenge players when they’re playing badly. He will get on them, especially the best players. He believes the best players need to be mentally strong. He can and will get on them, but those players know he believes in them.”
That’s because Hassinger has demonstrated, through his actions way more than his words, how much he cares about his players, not only as athletes, but as people.
“He wants the best for all of us,” Sartain said. “He pushes us every single day. He wants us to succeed as much as we can. When we leave high school, he wants us to be prepared for the real world.”
A do-the-dirty-work player who scored a grand total of 44 points in his senior season at Wadsworth (1989-90), Hassinger knows not all players are the same.
Some need constant praise and assurance. Some need to be built up, torn down and built up again. Some respond only to criticism and challenges.
First-team all-district selection Schaefer, who had 17 points in the fourth quarter Saturday as Medina rallied to beat Hoban, falls in the latter category, so much so that he’s the all-time leader when it comes to Hassinger tongue-lashings.
“I can say anything to Luke,” Hassinger said. “I can tell Luke he’s the worst player in Ohio and that he’ll never win at anything. Then he will prove me wrong.”
Hassinger’s face lit up as he talked about Schaefer, but then he was interrupted by a special needs student who stopped by to tell him a quick story.
Then he got a text message. It was from former player Taylor Burke, The Gazette’s Senior Female Athlete of the Year in 2011 who went on to play soccer and high jump at the University of Florida, wishing him well against Jackson.
Moments later, his interview concluded, Hassinger bolted up the steps to find one of his players and an assistant coach. Less than a minute later, while high-fiving students along the way, he was at the other end of Richard H. Clevidence Gymnasium.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Charvat said, shaking his head in amazement. “His thing is if you’re going to be part of something, you have to be in it 100 percent. He can’t sit down. He’s always doing something.
“Yet he always has time for people. With a wife and four kids, he still always makes time. I don’t know how he does it, to be honest with you.”
On a normal weekday night, Hassinger goes to sleep around 11 p.m. During basketball season, he often wakes up at 3 a.m.
“I’ll get up at crazy hours,” he said. “I’ll watch film at 3 a.m.”
By film, Hassinger means game film, and he doesn’t watch it just once. Prior to Medina’s district semifinal game against Stow, for instance, he watched film provided by Bulldog opponents 15 to 20 times.
Until pulling a muscle about a year ago, Hassinger was also a regular participant in 6 a.m. pickup games at the high school, but these weren’t your typical pickup games. There were four players to a team, nothing was out of bounds and it was make-it, take-it style. When a team scored, it threw the ball off the wall behind the baseline, maintained possession and raced to the other end of the court.
“We only played for 45 minutes,” Hassinger said, “but it felt like 2 hours.”
Now would probably be a good time to again point out that Hassinger and wife Hilary have four children of their own. Drew is a sophomore at Medina, while seventh-grade daughter Hayden, fourth-grader Luke and third-grade daughter Reese are in the Wadsworth school system, where the family lives.
“What she does on a daily basis is a miracle,” Hassinger said of his wife.
Hilary, by the way, is an extremely healthy eater who avoids red meat, so the running joke between Hassinger and oldest son Drew is, “What kind of grilled chicken are we having tonight?”
When Hassinger is out with his coaching staff, however, anything is fair game. Ditto for any time he’s around older brother Barry, who has a food trailer that dishes up funnel cakes, brownies and bologna sandwiches, all of which are fried.
“He eats like crap,” assistant coach Carl Walcher bellowed while listening to Hassinger talk about food. “And he doesn’t gain a pound.”
With an unreal metabolism, Hassinger’s lone Kryptonite is sitting still.
“You need to ask my wife,” he said. “Everyone sees me as this energetic person, but any time I sit down, I fall asleep.
“But I don’t need much sleep. I can take a 10-minute nap and I’m good to go again.”
Ties that bind
After the Bees defeated Stow in the district semifinals Thursday night, Hassinger and Walcher went back to Medina and watched film in the coaching office until about 12:30 a.m. Friday.
Walcher finally went home around 1 a.m., but Hassinger ended up sleeping in his office until he was awakened by a janitor at 5 a.m.
Fully rested after 3ﾽ hours of shut-eye, Hassinger immediately bolted off to Giant Eagle and spent $150 buying various food items for his staff and players, then began game-planning for the district final against Hoban the next night.
Thanks largely to Schaefer’s heroics, the Bees beat the Knights and are now set to face a Jackson team led by 6-foot-8 Butler recruit Kyle Young and 6-5 Logan Hill, who will play at Toledo.
“I think they’re the best team in the state on paper,” Hassinger said. “Fortunately, our kids are not scared of anybody. They’ve played a tough schedule. They’ve been tested. They’ll be prepared and ready.
“I want them to approach it with nothing to lose. I want them to come out knowing they can win this basketball game. We’ve prepared for it. We’ve played teams like them (in the Greater Cleveland Conference). We want to come out knowing we can win.”
It sounds trite, but regardless of the final score tonight — or of any game, for that matter — Hassinger and his players have already triumphed.
That was true when the Bees started the season 10-0, it was true when they finished the regular season by losing seven of their last 12 games and it is true now that the Bees have regrouped to win three tournament games.
It’s true because relationships that will last a lifetime have been developed.
“That’s the No. 1 thing,” Hassinger said shortly after reading the comments by Schaefer and Smith that started this story. “Ask anyone who knows me. If you say, ‘Life’s about …,’ they’ll finish with ‘relationships.’ That’s what gets coaches through down years. It’s why I do this. It’s why I love doing this.”