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Inside the Chrome Dome (archive May 2007)

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 Ballenger Leaving KHS to Coach Hamilton Heights

Knightstown High School basketball coach Chad Ballenger had a tough decision to make, weighed all of his options, and came to the conclusion that it was time to move on.

The Panther mentor who compiled a 71-46 record in five years leading the basketball program here has accepted the head coaching position at Hamilton Heights High School.

The Hamilton Heights school board will make the official announcement tonight at 5 p.m. Ballenger will be leading a Huskie program that won 42 games over the past four years, compared to the 70 games that Ballenger won in his first four years at Knightstown.

The decision wasn’t an easy one usually soft-spoken man who metamorphosed into a fiery coach during basketball games.

“It’s nice to be able to leave a situation under your own terms,” Ballenger said Tuesday afternoon. “But it was also a very difficult decision because we have an outstanding group of kids coming up in the program. This is an outstanding basketball community, with great parents and tremendous school support. Even when we didn’t play well or win many games last year, we still had great crowds. Everyone wanted to see these young kids develop, and everyone had an unbelievable attitude about that.”

Leaving Knightstown wouldn’t be easy for those reasons and many more. The coach admitted he had to do some sole searching.

“When you have the kind of support you get from a community like this, it can be pretty scary when you think about leaving,” Ballenger said. “Last year I turned down the Kokomo job, and Maconaquah approached me about their head coach opening recently and I turned them down too. It was very flattering that they approached me, and maybe that opened my eyes up a little more to taking a chance. Making a move like this concerned me, but sometimes in life you just have to take a chance.”

The move will be a return home of sorts for the coach, who began his career at Eastern (Greene) before coming to Knightstown. He still makes his home in that area, and Hamilton Heights is just 11 miles from that house.

There are other opportunities and challenges waiting for him at his new assignment.

“I won’t be teaching in my area,” Ballenger said. “I’ll be teaching special education. That’s a new challenge for me and I’m very much looking forward to it.”

Despite overwhelming and occasionally surprising support for the program last year, it was still a difficult season for the coach. Knightstown fielded an extremely young team, using freshmen and sophomores on a varsity team that finished just 1-21. The previous three seasons, Knightstown won 57 games, three sectional titles, and the 2005 regional. They lost just 76-73 to eventual state champion Forrest Park.

To make matters more difficult, Ballenger went through a divorce during the basketball season.

“It was a pretty rough year,” he said. “I had some personal issues with the divorce, and I just felt it was time to move on. That’s not to take anything away from the kids we have here, because they are a great bunch and I’m not leaving this program in a bad state. There’s a lot of talent coming up.”

Ballenger said he’s looking forward to being at a larger school that offers more resources, a larger student body, and an opportunity for a fresh start with a new, challenging teaching assignment.

“I don’t have any regrets,” he said. “I really liked the people here and we had a really successful run. There are a lot of good years ahead for the program at Knightstown and I know they’ll do well.”

Ballenger gathered his basketball players together Tuesday morning and gave them the news.

“I’ve always told the kids I would be honest with them, and I wanted them to be the first to know,” he said. “I’m more than confident they will be all right, and who knows, maybe some of them will be happier. But they’re a great group of kids and they’ll be just fine.”

Ballenger said assistant coaches Justin Linch and Darrin Haines will run the summer camp programs, which will continue as scheduled and without interruption next month.

Despite a 1-21 record last season, Ballenger leaves Knightstown as the most successful coach in the school’s history with those three sectional titles and lone regional crown. Prior to his arrival, KHS had gone 20-62 in the previous four seasons. In his first four years, they won 70 games.

He wasn’t just a successful coach. Ballenger was also a class act, and he’ll be missed.




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