Alumnus Kyle Penrod is new Southern Wells boys basketball coach
The Allen County Athletic Conference gained their third new boys basketball coach late last week. Southern Wells announced that junior varsity coach Kyle Penrod would be taking over the program following the exit of Ben Burman.
Penrod had been the junior varsity coach for four seasons at Southern Wells. Prior to that, he spent time on the staffs of Joel Roush at Wes-Del and John Irwin at Madison-Grant. Irwin also coached Southern Wells from 2001-2004 and Roush was on the Raider staff last season.
Heading into his fifth year at the school, Penrod teaches math and physics. He attended Wabash College for a year and graduated from Ball State.
The last name Penrod is not new to Southern Wells. Kyle, the new head coach, is a 2006 graduate and a former Raider basketball player. His grandfather, Jerry Penrod, coached at Southern Wells for 30 years and was the program’s head coach from 1997-2001. The elder Penrod led the program to one of six ever Sectional titles in 2000.
The Raiders went on to win the Regional that year as well in a one-point win over Bethany Christian. It remains the program’s only Regional title.
Despite his family’s history with the program, Penrod doesn’t feel much pressure taking over.
“Not really pressure, but more of a blessing that I know the people and they know what to expect from me and I know what to expect from a lot of them,” Penrod said. “They will know me. They know how I behave and my style and my ideas.”
He also noted that over the next several years, he will have kids coming up into the program whose fathers and uncles played with him.
The coming years could be good for the Raiders, Penrod says. Under coach Brody Tarter (2012-2014), Southern Wells started to develop their youth feeder system, something kept up under Burman.
Where Southern Wells has benefited recently from some move-ins, the focus will now shift to the homegrown talent.
“We are going to see that benefit. The first class that really started doing it are our current seventh graders and we’ve got 22 kids in that class that are going to come out for the team this year,” Penrod said. “We are going to see the benefits in numbers.”
The ACAC race is expected to open up this coming season with most teams working through turnover from graduation. While the Raiders did lose some strong players as well, they will return senior Thomas Biddle and junior Kreigh Roush, who were big parts of their late season run.
Southern Wells was 2-4 in the ACAC last year, beating South Adams and Woodlan. They also lost both games in the ACAC Tournament as past of a 2-10 start. The finished 11-15 in Burman’s fourth and final season at the helm.
Penrod also expects a strong season from senior Colton Paxson, who split time with the junior varsity and varsity a year ago.
“He kind of put the commitment to go hard all of the time and once he did that, there were some games where he was one of our best players,” Penrod said.
Their schedule for next season has yet to be fully released, but they will visit Wabash and host Blackford and now-sophomore sensation Luke Brown, who made headlines statewide as a freshman for his scoring prowess.
Even in conference, the Raiders see schools significantly larger then they are, from a 2A school like Bluffton, all of the way to Class 4A Jay County.
“I wouldn’t want to get rid of those games, even if you offered me someone else. The kids look forward to it, they get up for it and its fun to play in those games because if you play hard and you win, you really did something,” Penrod said.
Former coach Flava Sirk led the Raiders to four straight winning seasons from 1994-1997. They have only had two other winning seasons in the last 24 years, coming in 2002 and 2017.
“I remember a few years ago, us having to guard [Jay] Houck from Jay County. And then once you got playing some schools our size, there wasn’t anybody as good as him. So that experience, you can draw on ‘hey, remember what we did to him?’ we can draw on those experiences and the adjustments that we made,” Penrod said.
After their 2-10 start a year ago, Southern Wells ended up winning six straight, topping Wes-Del for a Sectional title before losing to Seton Catholic in regional play. It was the school’s sixth sectional following titles in 1982, 1996, 2000, 2010 and 2011. Only in 1996 did they have a winning record when capturing that title.
But Penrod sees that success after struggle as something to build on and a tough regular season as only making the Raiders stronger. He says that while there are some games on the schedule where Southern Wells will not be as athletic and strong, it will toughen them up for the postseason when they are not always at that disadvantage.
“We want to focus on us and are we doing the things we want to do and not so much focus on the result. Obviously winning is super important, but if we are taking care of the things that we can do, especially when we start playing 1A schools of our size, all of the sudden we are the team that is a little quicker and more athletic,” Penrod said.
Penrod will join John Baker of Woodlan and Adam Gray of Heritage as first year head coaches within the conference with Gray and Penrod as first time head coaches completely. They are three of eight boys basketball coaches in their first year with a program in the area.
Only Aaron McClure (Adams Central) has spent more than three seasons with a current boys basketball head coaching position in the ACAC.