Karla Rieckers said what she enjoys most about being a teacher and coach at Brownstown Central High School are the students she works with in the classroom and in the gymnasium.
“I think it’s the student-athletes that we have,” she said. “This year I’m blessed with (intelligent) student-athletes. I was checking grades the other day, and I don’t think any of my kids had a ‘C.’ They are definitely students first and athletes second, where they put school work first.
“I enjoy being around them. Every group of kids you have are different, and you have to get to know kids and find out what works best for each group of kids that you’re going to work with.”
Rieckers mentioned when the Braves played Seymour last Thursday, that game drew a large crowd, and it was the County vs. Cancer game.
The coach said she gets her players involved in the community.
“Over Thanksgiving break we went to the nursing home and did some things with them,” Rieckers said. “We try to give back to the community because the community is so good to us, supporting us and coming to our games or listening to our games on the radio.
“Brownstown is a really unique community to live in. Everyone just stands behind you.”
The Braves have won seven of their first 10 games.
“The girls put the time in; they come to open gym, they compete in the summer and come to the games that we have and the tournaments, and they don’t miss,” Rieckers said. “They are so fun to be around. It’s been a real joy to have these girls this year because they work hard, they listen and they try to take it out on the court the things we want them to do.”
Rieckers graduated from Brownstown Central in 1987 after playing basketball for two years and volleyball for four years.
She said she was unable to play basketball after tearing her ACL at the end of her sophomore year. She played volleyball her junior and senior season wearing a knee brace, and had reconstructive knee surgery after the season.
She coached JV volleyball and basketball, the latter for 11 years, working with Randy Frederick, Lou Sommers and Paula Workman.
Rieckers received her teaching degree from Indiana University Southeast and began teaching at Brownstown Central in 1997. She stopped coaching and teaching in 1999 when her daughter (Kasandra) and son (Derek) were born.
She coached at Sauers St. John’s for five years and coached the 2005-06 team to a record of 29-1 and to a third-place finish in the National Lutheran Tournament at Valparaiso.
Rieckers became head girls basketball coach at Brownstown Central for the 2007-08 season and has compiled a record of 166-76 entering tonight’s game at Salem
She said becoming a head coach had its difficulties at first.
“It was kind of a turmoil for me because my kids were both young,” Rieckers said. “ I think Paula (Workman) had been the varsity coach for maybe 17 years. My husband (Pat) and I talked about it a lot at length. I didn’t apply right away because I didn’t want it to affect my children. Being a head coach is such a commitment, and I didn’t necessarily want to take that time away from my family and my children were young then.
“After we discussed it and I talked to Mr. (athletics director Mark) DeHart, I thought the gym would be a good place for kids to grow up in. I thought if somebody comes in and stays another 17 years, I would be too old by that time to come in and want to start a program and give it all the energy that it needed so I applied and I was fortunate enough to get the job.”
The Braves’ 2010-11 team advanced to the Class 2A state tournament (at Fort Wayne) and finished with a record of 23-6.
Rieckers said she thinks the girls are stronger with their fundamentals in today’s game than when she played.
“I think the girls are much better at fundamentals today then back in the day when I played, and even before then,” Rieckers said. “That’s not to say that there weren’t very good teams, and very good players then, but just overall the fundamentals that the girls have has improved and continues to improve, and I think the speed of the game is much faster.
“Back in the day we would pass it around I don’t know how many times before we would look for a shot or something. Now, we like to play a faster-paced game and try to get more points on the board. I don’t remember some our scores, but they were really low-scoring games at that time.”
She attributes improved play to teaching fundamentals at a young age.
“I think it’s more the fundamental programs that we do, because now we do something with third and fourth grade,” Rieckers said. “Twenty years ago we wouldn’t have thought of having a third-grader come in and starting to do things with basketball, but if you want to be competitive and compete with other schools that’s what you have to do any more.
“We do our summer program and get our kids to come in, so I think that’s a big advantage, and just having the kids work on their skills on their own time. We compete in a couple tournaments in the spring. It’s not a true AAU team. We go play more like school ball in the spring after we’re done.”
Rieckers has changed the Braves’ summer schedule to face some different opponents. In the past she had her team play in leagues and in a tournament in Seymour
“We had been in a league up until last year,” Rieckers said. “I decided that I wanted to branch out and play some different people, so we went to Bloomington twice and played Bloomington South, Bloomington North, Edgewood and White River Valley — just get some different teams that you don’t play during the year.
“We go to Transylvania Team Camp, which the girls enjoy, and I think that’s a good bonding time for our team.”
A big change has been the addition of class sports. The Braves currently play in Class 3A.
Rieckers said she welcomes class basketball and recalled when she played the Braves were joined by Seymour, Crothersville, Medora, Jennings County and Austin in the sectional.
“Going to the class system has evened it out a little bit, although we’re probably one of the smallest schools in 3A,” Rieckers said. “I certainly wouldn’t diminish our state run that we made and say I would want to go back to a single class because that was a very memorable year for my kids and players, and they still talk about it today.
“What’s unique about that group is Sammie Bane and Kate Shoemaker were my seniors, and they liked volleyball better than they did basketball at that time. I talked them into sticking out basketball and playing.
“When I talk to them today they’re so happy they stuck with it. Kate and Sammie went on to college to play volleyball. Haley Brown and Kourtney Settle played volleyball in college so it was nice to take a lot of volleyball players and for them to be successful in basketball.”
Karla’s husband, Pat, is an assistant coach and formerly coached at St. John’s.
“We’ve both kind of grown up in the gym and had a love for the game,” she said.
LeeAnn Borden has coached with Rieckers for several years, and assistant coach Luke Warren was a manager with the 2010-11 team that went to state.
Brooke Ebbing is coaching the fifth-grade team, Settle coaches the sixth grade, and Shoemaker coaches the seventh-grade team. All are former players.
Rieckers said you have to be adaptable to have success in today’s game and take advantage to your teams’ strengths.
“Sometimes you’re blessed with teams that are quicker, and you can push the ball and get up and down a little more, and other times you don’t have that speed, so you want to slow the pace down and not get in a running game with someone who does have speed,” Rieckers said.
“As a coach you have to constantly adjust to the kids you have. This year we don’t have a lot of height. Ashley’s (Schroer) my tallest player at 5-10, and we play a lot of schools who have 6-foot players, and my girls have battled against them.
“We do have some speed this year so we try to play that to our advantage and every year we have to adjust to the girls that we have.”
The Braves have strengthened their schedule and play five Hoosier Hills Conference teams, and will compete in the Toby Yoho Tournament at Eastern (Greene) again later this month.
“I want to make my schedule strong because you have to play stronger teams if you want to get better,” Rieckers said, and talked about the strength of the Mid-Southern as Eastern (Pekin) won the Class 2A state title last season, and North Harrison has been a state finalist the past two years.
Austin won the state in Class 2A in 2010, and the MSC has had three Miss Basketballs.
“When you look at our conference, I think every school in our conference has had an Indiana All-Star except Brownstown,” Rieckers said. “ The level of play in our conference says a lot about how competitive our conference is.
“With North Harrison having to move up (to Class 4A), I think our sectional is wide open. On any given night I think it is going to depend on how the draw goes and who is going to put together the best three games.”