REGGIE HAYES: Jonathon Fuelling returns to Bellmont to try to revive boys hoops

Bellmont boys basketball coach Jonathon Fuelling runs practice Tuesday at Bellmont. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of News-Sentinel.com)
Bellmont boys basketball coach Jonathon Fuelling, right, talks with his team during a break in practice Tuesday at Bellmont. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of News-Sentinel.com)

DECATUR – Long before he became the latest coach trying to resurrect Bellmont High School boys basketball, Jonathon Fuelling told his son a story.

It was a lesson about making the most of opportunities when they arise.

“I had told Kade one of my biggest regrets was not playing high school football,” he said. “I remember my mom driving me up to (Bellmont’s) Worthman Stadium as a freshman and I just could not get out of the car.”

The memory still bugs Fuelling. So he advised his son to avoid looking back with regret. Carpe diem. Seize the day.

Fast forward to 2017. Jonathon Fuelling was offered a shot at coaching at Bellmont, where he was once a standout basketball player. The job would also bring with it the chance to coach his sophomore son.

“Are you going to coach?” Kade Fuelling asked his father.

“I don’t know yet,” Jonathon Fuelling said.

“Don’t let this be like your freshman year of football,” Kade replied.

Jonathon Fuelling had to smile at his son’s comeback. “I guess sometimes your kids do listen when you’re talking to them,” he said.

Fuelling, 44, took the job, and it’s a rebuilding one of the highest order. Bellmont hasn’t won more than six games in a season since 2008-09. It hasn’t had an above-.500 record since 2004-05, the last season of a high point in the school’s boys basketball program. Under coach Shaun Busick (now at Zionsville), the Braves won 20 or more games in four of seven seasons, capped by a 24-3 year in 2004-05.

It’s been a bit of a drought ever since.

“Nobody’s going to fear Bellmont,” Fuelling said. “Whether they respect you or not, who knows? But it’s OK to come in under the radar and maybe surprise some people.”

Fuelling is in his 14th year of teaching at Heritage High School, and was the girls basketball coach from 2004-05 to 2009-10. His wife, Machelle, another Bellmont alum, also teaches at Heritage. They began dating in high school, and both played basketball at the University of Saint Francis. They have three children: Kade, Kenzie and Kord.

Fuelling previously coached boys basketball as an assistant under Chris Benedict at Columbia City. He had also volunteered with the Bellmont program under Kevin Leising early in his career, when one of the assistant coaches was Dale Manis, Bellmont’s current athletic director.

Manis asked Fuelling if he would be part of a search committee to find the Bellmont coach prior to this school year. Fuelling, a 1991 Bellmont graduate, came on board. He helped them find their top candidate. The job was offered, and accepted, and the details were being worked out.

“We had our guy and it fell through at the last minute,” Manis said. “I go home that Friday and I told my wife, ‘We’re dead in the water. I don’t know what we’re going to do.’ I was pretty distraught.”

The next morning Manis received a text from Fuelling, asking him how long he’d be taking applications for the job.

“Kind of half-jokingly, I said, ‘Why, are you interested?’ He replied yes,” Manis said. “He would have been a prime candidate if he had put his name in originally. I think his fire got ignited sitting through interviews and talking with former players and stakeholders in the community.”

Fuelling left the search committee, interviewed for the job, and landed it.

He brings the passion of a former player, combined with the desire of a community member and a parent. Manis has a heavy investment in the program, too, both as athletic director and parent. Manis’ son, Brady, is a junior guard.

“Jonathon has seen (the program) in its heyday and he’s seen it when it’s not so good,” Manis said. “When we were interviewing, he could see other people who were invested and what they wanted to see, and he threw his hat in the ring. …I don’t know how we get so lucky sometimes.”

Fuelling has a project on his hands. But he’s excited about the prospect. He will continue to teach at Heritage, hustling over to Bellmont at the end of the school day. He can make the drive in 18 minutes, he said.

“I tell you what, we return about 95 percent of our scoring and we return a lot of bumps and bruises from a bunch of sophomores that played and got a lot of varsity minutes and experience,” Fuelling said. “They’ve grown basketball-wise, and even physically.”

Fuelling found it didn’t take long to get back into the swing of coaching boys basketball. He still has folders of practice plans from when he assisted Benedict. He was part of the coaching staff when Columbia City went to the Class 4A state finals in 2004.

“Everything is brand new for us,” Fuelling said. “I don’t want to say we’re starting from scratch, but everything we’ve done and talked about is ‘Our biggest game is our next game.’ I don’t want them to think about last year or the year before.”

They should do as Fuelling says, and as he now does: Seize the day.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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