CLINTON, Wis. — Jeff Spiwak didnt have to look far to find his next boys basketball coach.
In fact, the Clinton athletic director could see his house from the school parking lot.
Spiwak hired John Gracyalny, a Clinton resident since he was in third grade, as the new head coach of the program. Gracyalny served as Clintons interim coach after Denny Morris resigned early in the 2016-17 season.
Gracyalny, whose residence backs up to the Clinton High baseball field, said he was excited to take this opportunity on.
“Being a varsity coach is something Ive always wanted to do,” Gracyalny said. “Ive got a lot of passion for this community and for the boys basketball program in particular. Ive been able to build relationships with these boys and their parents, and Im excited to see what we can do with the program.
Gracyalny has been a coach in the Clinton program for the past eight years. He began coaching his son, Caleb, in fifth grade. When those kids were in seventh grade, I started volunteering as an assistant coach at the freshman level. That job became available when those kids were freshman and I was able to coach at that level for a couple of years before I took the interim job this year.”
Gracyalny, who has two younger sons in the program as well, will continue to serve as president of the Clinton Youth Basketball Program, a role he has served since the program was created last year.
“I really want to continue to be hands-on with the youth program,” Gracyalny said. “We want to be able to implement what we are doing on the varsity level all the way down to the fourth grade level. Before, there was nothing structurally in place to make sure there was some continuity. We want to have kids that, by the time they come to us in ninth grade, are fundamentally solid and totally understand what we are doing in terms of plays and terminology. Then we can build on that, instead of having to teach re-teach kids the basics of basketball. When you do that, you just put yourself behind, and its not a way to run a successful program.”
Spiwak said Gracyalnys commitment to the program was a big factor in his being the choice over the four other candidates interviewed.
“His passion for the program, the school and the community were really evident,” Spiwak said. “Hes coached a lot of these kids at every level and hes just got an unmatched commitment to the care of the program. We wanted someone who was looking at this job as a long-term opportunity, and someone who can build it up and see it through.”
The Clinton athletic department has seen a litany of turnover in the past year. Wrestling, softball and boys basketball positions were all newly open, while longtime girls basketball coach Mike Powers recently issued his resignation, a position that should be filled within the next week.
Spiwak, in his first full year as AD after replacing the retired Ray Vance, is looking at the turnover as a net positive.
“Whats important to me as an athletic director is finding coaches what share the vision that I have,” Spiwak said. “My vision is different than Ray Vances because we are different people. I dont like to see coaches leave, but Im looking at this as an opportunity to build a program of like-minded individuals. We want to bring kids up that arent just basketball players or football players, but kids who want to be a Clinton Cougar, period. Hopefully well have a program that has bolstered its continuity.”
Thinking in the shorter term, Gracyalny is looking forward to next season, when his team returns rising seniors Tyler Halsted, Zach Krause and his son Caleb.
“Weve got a really strong nucleus returning,” Gracyalny said. “We lose some talent for sure, but the kids we have back have done well and I think through our summer workout program, we can get some of the younger kids ready to play.”
Gracylanys hiring is expected to be approved by the school board when the next meeting convenes Monday, May 1.