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Kim Triskett

She grew up with the game

14th of a series...

Staff Writer

Kim (Henson) Triskett wasn't born in a gymnasium, but she was pretty young when she made her first visit, and she's seldom been far from the sound a bouncing basketball since. Triskett has spent a lifetime learning to play the game and learning to teach others to play.

"It was probably before I can remember," Triskett said when asked when she first played basketball. "I grew up in the gym. Dad (Tom Henson) was coaching and Mom (Carla Henson) was the cheerleading advisor. I have fun recalling those times. That's when I got the bug."

There are no signs that she'll shake the bug any time soon.

"I enjoyed it then, and I still enjoy it," she said.

The Henson name is, of course, synonymous with Grand Valley athletics. Tom Henson was the Mustangs' boys basketball coach for almost three decades and is now the football coach. Her younger sisters, Kelly and Krystal, were both standout multi-sport athletes for the Mustangs. Jim Henson, Triskett's uncle, was the most successful football coach in GV history and is currently an assistant at Edinboro University. Jimmy Henson, her cousin, is the head football coach at Jefferson.

KIM (HENSON) TRISKETT goes for a steal
during a home game against Cardinal.

At the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation dinner Sunday, on Triskett, a standout guard for the Mustangs in her high school days and now the GV girls basketball coach, will join her father as a member of the ACBF Hall of Fame.

"This is a very big honor," Triskett said. "I was very surprised when Mr. (Karl) Pearson told me I was going to be inducted. It's quite an honor."

As a youngster, Triskett was the water girl for the boys basketball team. On game night, she would wear a shirt with the colors of the opposing team and "Beat Falcons," or whatever the intended victims called themselves, emblazoned across the front.

"I remember those shirts," Triskett said when someone reminded her. "Well, actually, those were my dad's shirts."

Triskett made the most of her hours in the gymnasium.

She learned to play basketball, and she learned to play as a member of a team. Even as a player, Triskett looked at the game as a group endeavor. The personal accolades were never as important as the success of the team.

"I was fortunate to be able to play varsity as a freshman," Triskett said. "And I got to play two years with my sister, Kelly. I'll always cherish that. By the time I was a senior, I was able to show the younger kids some things. I just remember the whole experience as being a whole lot of fun."

A 1990 graduate of GV, Triskett played basketball under Cyndy Thomas as a freshman and sophomore and for coach Ron Chutas in her junior and senior years. The Mustangs were 47-38 over that four-year span, going 14-8 during Triskett's junior year, the 1988-89 campaign.

She was a guard for the Mustangs, although her role varied.

"Sometimes I was the point guard, and sometimes I was the off guard, depending on the rest of the cast," Triskett said.

Whatever the Mustangs asked her to do, Triskett did it well. She finished her high school career with 845 points, 249 steals, 523 rebounds, 165 assists and a free-throw percentage of 63.5. During the 1987-88 season, Triskett grabbed 224 rebounds and her teammate Tammy Busser, another ACBF Hall of Famer, had 234.

"We had a very competitive team," Triskett said. "We won the Grand River Conference my junior year. We were able to compete with the teams we played. We always gave them a game."

Triskett has the utmost respect for both of her high school basketball coaches, but she remembers some of the coaching techniques stand out more than others.

"For Saturday morning practices, Coach Chutas used to bring orange juice and donuts," Triskett said. "We'd work, and when we were done, we'd enjoy ourselves.

"There was never a dull moment with Coach Chutas. He had us moving all the time. We ran a lot, but we really worked at things, too."

For his part, Chutas remembers with fondness working with girls with such talent.

"It was a great privilege to coach an athlete like Kim," he said. "She was a great player with a great attitude who always worked very hard.

"She was a great rebounder and 3-point shooter. She had a real sense of the game."

Working with athletes like Busser and Triskett has only taken on greater significance over the passing years to Chutas.

"When I started, I had Kim and Tammy and I don't think I completely realized what a great foundation we had," he said. "Those girls were so coachable and so hungry to win. I think if I had told them the sky was pink, they'd have believed it. They were so willing to learn the fundamentals of playing good basketball."

Orwell and the surrounding communities have always had a strong interest in GV athletics. With the Mustangs and Pymatuning Valley in the same conference at the time, the games between the two schools were always memorable, but none more so than the meeting of the girls basketball teams at GV Triskett's senior year.

"PV had a pretty good team that year," Triskett said. "They were 16-0, but we caught them off guard that night and managed to get a victory. But what I remember most was not being able to hear Coach Chutas in the huddle during timeouts. And that was at the old school, where the stands were on one side and the team benches were on the other side in front of the stage.

"It gave me goose bumps."

Of all her accomplishments on the court for the Mustangs, Triskett places the highest value on her assists and rebounds, because they were of the highest value to her team.

"Basketball is such a team game," she said. "If you get an assist, it means you're getting the players around you involved and creating opportunities for them to score.

"And rebounding, whether at the offensive or the defensive end creates opportunity, too. It either gives you another chance to score or a chance to go down and make something happen at the other end.

"I was the third rebounder on our team. When you have a third person who can rebound, someone to help your post players, that makes it harder on the other team."

Some of Triskett's accomplishments have slipped down the GV all-time lists, but she's OK with that, delighted even.

"Some of my players have passed me, and I'm really proud of that," she said.

Playing the game was a learning process; Triskett worked hard to be a better player and a better teammate.

"The kids on the team change every year," Triskett said. "I played as a freshman and had to find a way to fit in on the team with the older girls. The next year, I was still young and there was a new group of older girls.

"When I was a senior, I tried to work with the younger girls and help them learn to adjust and fit in. That's a skill that helps you all through life."

Triskett's high school athletic accomplishments went well beyond the basketball court. In 1989, the Mustang softball team came within a game of going to the state tournament. Triskett did her part, pitching a no-hitter in the regional championship game against St. Thomas Aquinas. But the Mustangs couldn't push a run across and lost, 1-0.

"That was a heartbreaker," Triskett said. "I don't remember how many hits we had — maybe two or three. We were right there, but we couldn't get a run. We went through the whole range of emotions that year — finally getting out of the district tournament and then making it to the regional championship. It's a disappointment when you get to that level. But that's part of sports, too."

Pitching and playing point guard have their similarities, and some differences, too.

"In softball, it all starts with the pitcher, but the mindset is a little different," she said. "In softball, you get one shot. If the hitter finds your mistake, you have to live with that.

"Basketball is more forgiving. If you turn the ball over, you can hustle down and maybe get a steal or a rebound and help your team get it back in 10 seconds. If you give up a home run, it takes a little longer."

Triskett earned All-Ohio honors in softball and went on to pitch for Youngstown State University. But even then, her game was basketball.

"I had some opportunities to play basketball at the next level," she said. "But the softball package was more enticing. And with two sisters at home, it just seemed that it was the route to take. But basketball has always been my passion, my first love."

After college, Triskett landed a job teaching at PV, where she was an assistant girls basketball coach on the staff of another ACBF Hall of Famer, Melody Nowakowski's. And while it was close to home, Triskett's goal was to get back home, back to GV.

"I told the superintendent when he hired me that if something opened up at Grand Valley, I'd take it," Triskett said. "And Coach Nowakowski and I talked about it, too. She could understand, because she went back to her old school."

In the summer of 1998, a third-grade teaching position opened up in the GV system, and Triskett was hired to fill it. For the next three seasons, she was the girls basketball JV coach on Chutas' staff. When he retired after the 2000-01 season, Triskett was named head coach.

"This is really the ultimate goal,to get back here and be head of the program and try to have an impact on something that was started long before I was even here," she said at the time.

Coaching lessons are always there for those who listen, and even as a teenager, Triskett had listened.

"At the boys basketball games, I'd listen to my dad in the huddle during timeouts," Triskett said. "I was always amazed that he knew just what he wanted to say. I realized that you can't waste any time in those situations. You only have a minute or 30 seconds."

There were other lessons, of course, and Triskett learned many of them from the people she played for and worked with. She feels very fortunate to have had so many fine mentors.

"To have been able to be around people like Mel Nowakowski, Ron Chutas and Cyndy Thomas — that's pretty good company to keep," Triskett said.

As a player, Triskett strove to be the ultimate team player. As a coach, she considers team-building to be her most important calling.

"The challenge is to get everybody, with all the different personalities, to work together," she said.

"The personalities change from year to year as the girls mature and the younger girls come in. You need to get them all working together to achieve the common goal.

"Sometimes it's frustrating, but I keep trying to learn. Right now, I'm reading a lot of books by John Wooden."

Life, like basketball, takes teamwork. Married to her high school sweetheart, Tom, and with two daughters, Abby, 8, and Maddy, 3, Triskett deals with much more than teaching and coaching by day's end. But it all gets done. And it all goes back to getting everyone working together.

"I get lots of help," Triskett said. "My husband is wonderful. When I'm not there, he's Mr. Mom. My parents and sisters are great. Kelly takes Maddy when we have to go long distances.

"My parents are at 98 percent of my games. Tom's mom and dad get to a lot of the games, too. I've just got a good supporting cast, and I couldn't do it without them."

Always busy and often hectic, it's the life Triskett enjoys.

"A friend asked me what I'd be doing if I wasn't doing this," Triskett said. "I told her, whatever it was, it would have something to do with sports. I can't imagine my life without sports."

Her most telling comment: "I say, ‘It's a whole lot of fun' a whole lot, don't I?"

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