By BRETT MARSHALL
Former Syracuse High School standout basketball player Bryce Simon had returned home two years ago from a successful college career, first at Pratt Community College and then at NCAA Division I American University in Washington, D.C.
He also had spent one year as a graduate coaching assistant at American.
Prior to his arrival in western Kansas in the summer of 2010, Simon wasn't sure what he was going to do, let alone consider coaching the sport where he gained stardom for the Bulldogs.
But for the past two seasons, Simon has been a Rule 10 assistant coach to Jeff Mathias for the Bulldogs boys team, where Simon once starred for some of the best teams in school history and was a two-time Telegram All-Area first team selection in 2004-2005.
On Monday, Simon was approved by the Syracuse USD 494 Board of Education to become the head girls basketball coach, where he will be assisted by long time SHS math instructor and coach Kent Brown.
"The one word I keep using over and over is excited," Simon said Wednesday night in a phone interview. "Once I got back to helping Jeff (boys coach Mathias), I got the itch to get into coaching. It's exciting to have a chance to be a head coach and put in those plays you used to draw up at home. I'm excited to have Kent helping out. He's been a big part of Syracuse basketball for a number of years. Having him is huge."
Syracuse High School athletic director Marty Lehman said the school knew they had a good one when Simon returned.
"We're very excited to have somebody with the background and experience of Bryce to be our new girls coach," said Lehman. "It's not just his Division I background that is exciting, but Bryce knows how to get it done. He led our boys program as a player and now as a coach, and a lot of our success was due to Bryce's leadership and that of his teammates."
Simon takes over the Lady Bulldogs program from veteran coach Mark Akers, also a graduate of Syracuse High School, whose supplemental contract was not renewed by the Board of Education. The past two seasons, the Lady Bulldogs struggled to records of 3-18 and 1-18, but through his career Akers had posted a 353-203 record as a head coach.
"Every year, a board looks at the supplemental contracts (for coaches) and decides whether or not to renew, and in this case, the board decided to go in a different direction," said Joan Friend, USD 494 superintendent for the past nine years. "Mark's done an outstanding job for us through the years, but the board decided it was time to move on."
For Simon, he simply wants to bring an infusion of excitement back to a program that was once highly competitive.
"The last two years are not indicative of the big program that the school has had with girls basketball," Simon said. "It's not like there's not some history to having good teams. We have had them. I just want to get the girls to where they want to work, to get better."
Simon said he will be inheriting a young team for the 2012-2013 season, noting that there might even be just one senior on the roster.
"Actually, it's kind of nice because we'll put in a lot of new things and you won't have to just have some of them for one year and then see them leave," Simon said. "We'll have a good number of them for two, three years."
And while coaching at his alma mater brings some added expectations, Simon said he can't wait to get started.
"There's nothing I'd rather be doing than coaching the girls program here right now," Simon said. "It's a great opportunity."
Lehman said Simon will bring high expectations to the girls program after his successful prep career at SHS.
"He knows what the expectations are of the program to succeed and we're looking forward to his leading the program," Lehman said. "Mark did a heckuva service for Syracuse High School and the district for 20-some years."
Brown, who had sons play at SHS through the years, has been instrumental in directing the summer basketball program that maintained a high level of success over the past 15 years.
"Kent has had as much to do with the success as anybody, and most people in town would tell you that," Lehman said of Brown. "To bring him, and Bryce, into the women's program here is huge."
Ulysses High School will be searching for new boys and girls basketball coaches with the recent resignations of boys coach Jason Jones and girls coach Eric Flaton.
Jones, who guided the Tigers for the past four seasons and to a 44-42 record, is headed to Ocala, Fla. (north of Orlando) where he will be the boys coach at Class 6A Lake Weir High School.
"It's a big school, a great opportunity for me and I've got family that live just a few hours away," said Jones, a native of Colorado. "Ulysses had a good group of sophomores and freshmen coming up and I don't think the talent level is bare. They've got some good kids for the next few years."
During his four years, Jones' teams went 5-16, 11-10, and then 14-8 each of the last two seasons. He will teach physical fitness and weight classes at Lake Weir. Jones told The Telegram on Wednesday in a phone interview from Florida that he had accepted his new position and resigned from Ulysses about 10 days ago.
Flaton, the Lady Tigers' head coach for the past three seasons and also the head track coach, has accepted a similar position at Coffeyville Field Kinley High School in southeast Kansas.
A native of Parsons, Flaton said both he and his wife have family still in Parsons, and that was one reason for moving. Both Ulysses and Coffeyville are Class 4A schools.
"It's been a good ride here and I've enjoyed the people in Ulysses," Flaton said. "The school, the kids have all been great to work with."
Ulysses High School athletic director Jason Kenny said the search is under way to fill both positions and the school hopes to have hires made in time for the start of the summer programs that are now permissable under the Kansas State High School Activities Association.
"We want to move quickly and thoroughly and have somebody in place by the summer for both positions," Kenney said. "It's an ongoing process as we speak in searching for new coaches. I think both Jason and Eric moved our basketball programs forward and we wish them the best as they move on. Anytime you have young coaches, it's difficult to keep them here in western Kansas, but we think we have a lot to offer, too."
Kenny had additional praise for Flaton as the Tigers' track coach.
"We're having a phenomenal track season and we've got a lot of young kids in the program," Kenney said. "That's a reflection on the job Eric and his coaches have done in getting kids interested to compete."