Aaron M. Smith
News Herald Sports Editor
ELMORE – It wasn't easy.
In his first year as varsity girls basketball coach at Woodmore, Fred Williams traveled a bumpy road, hoping to implement a new philosophy while trying to win over a team and community that had grown accustomed to long-time coach Mike DeStazio's style.
Williams resigned his position recently and will not return to Woodmore in any capacity.
"I'm still not sure I made the right decision," Williams said. "My wife has chewed me out ever since I stepped down. Sometimes I fell like maybe I threw in the towel too quickly. But other times, I think that it will probably be best."
Woodmore finished 8-14 in Williams' only year, but the season will be remembered mostly for the Wildcats' stunning 62-60 victory over Lakota in the first round of the Division III sectional tournament.
Junior Megan Abbey led a furious second-half comeback, capping an inspiring performance with two free throws with 2.9 seconds left to win the game. Woodmore had trailed by as many as 21 points in the third quarter.
The Wildcats then went on to nearly upend top-seeded Cardinal Stritch in the second round.
"I really feel this team learned a lot from me and improved drastically from the start of the season," Williams said.
Woodmore principal and athletic director Hobart Johnson agreed.
"I am very grateful for what (Williams) was able to do for that team," Johnson said. "He is a good man, a remarkable man. His calm demeanor was different than what the girls were used to, but I think he was able to win the support of the team and of some of the community members who questioned him at the beginning."
But the support from the community wasn't always there for Williams. In some instances, certain fans verbally abused the head coach from the stands, sometimes interrupting team huddles during time-outs. Johnson said Williams handled difficult situations with class.
"He was always a real gentleman about it when it got tough," Johnson said. "The frustration was there, but he was always a gentleman. I learned a lot about patience from him."
Williams could only take so much.
He received a form sent to all Woodmore coaches, asking about his intentions of coming back for another season.
Williams went to meet with Johnson to discuss the possibilities.
"I asked (Johnson) what his gut feeling of what would happen if I said, 'yes'" Williams said. He said he would personally recommend that the board rehired me. He told me that he could no promise me that everything would change next year.
"So, we sat and our 10-minute talk turned to about half an hour," Williams continued. "I finally told him that I was going to say, 'no.' Ten or 15 years ago, I would have fought it all the way through.
"I didn't want to just get pushed through 51 percent to 49 percent (by the school board)," he continued. I wanted to have more support form the community, and I don't think that would have happened."
DeStazio, who coached at Woodmore for 32 years before resigning after the 2002-03 campaign, is currently in his first year on the Woodmore Local Schools Board of Education. DeStazio cited difference with administration as his main reason for stepping down as coach.
Johnson respected Williams' decision, but not before trying to persuade Williams to stay.
"Like any first year, it's going to be difficult," Johnson said. "I hoped that he took that into consideration before his final decision. I encouraged him to make this his decision and not the decision of others."
Williams, who said he loves coaching, thought one more time about coming back.
"When I was in his office, I was choking up a little after talking to him," he said. "I really like the idea of being a head coach, but I couldn't stay for another year. I may regret that later."
Johnson said the school is being "very diligent" in the process of hiring Williams' replacement.
Williams said he has entertained the idea of taking a junior-varsity coaching job at Otsego and has thought about applying for the varsity coaching job at his alma mater Springfield. But for now, Williams' future is undecided.
What he does know is that if he doesn't take another coaching job, Williams will be in the stands next winter cheering on his Wildcats as they embark on another chase for the Suburban Lakes League crown.
Williams also knows that it won't be easy.