CHAMPION - Who says you can't go home?
Not Ryan Fitch or Jeff Thompson.
The Champion graduates are returning to their alma mater. Fitch, a 1995 grad, and Thompson, a 1982 grad, will coach boys basketball and baseball, respectively.
"I like to think I'm coming back to give back to the school that gave so much to me," said Fitch, who replaces Doug Foster. "From athletics to academics, Champion prepared me for life."
Fitch played soccer, basketball and baseball for the Golden Flashes and earned a scholarship to Roberts Weslyan in Rochester, N.Y. He compiled a 61-27 record, including an 18-6 season this year, in four years at Pymatuning Valley. He started coaching junior high basketball in Warren, spent three years as a junior varsity assistant at Howland, was the head coach at Badger for one year, assisted at Lakeview for three years and helped at Liberty for one year. Fitch resides in Howland and is a teacher at Badger.
"Anything that was closer to home would be a step in the right direction for my career," Fitch said. "This couldn't have worked out any better. Champion is the ideal spot for me."
Mark Mollohan, a former Bristol head coach, and a current assistant in the Northeastern Athletic Conference will join Fitch's staff.
The Golden Flashes went 3-19 in 2012-13. Over the summer, they will attend camps at Penn State-Behrend in Erie, the Oberlin College Shootout and a summer league in Youngstown.
Thompson brings over 20 years of baseball coaching experience to his hometown. In his first year at Bristol in the late 1980's, the Panthers went 7-9. Three years ago, under Thompson, they went 12-12. This year, they sit at 8-9.
"The records are deceiving," Thompson said. "I'm proud of the way we helped turned the baseball program around after some years when they only won two or three games."
Thompson has been the head girls basketball coach at Champion for 14 years. His son, Daniel, is an eighth grade baseball player at Champion. And, just like his sister, Dana - a 2010 graduate and basketball player - he'll have to fight for a spot.
"Anybody who knows me knows I treat all my players the same," Thompson said. "There's no preferential treatment."
After 10 years, Tim Cope is stepping down as Golden Flashes baseball coach. Over 16 years (six at Southington), he led teams to five district championships, three regional championships and four state final appearances. Cope will retain his role as athletic director and looks forward to spending more time with sons, Preston and Collin, and wife, Tracy.
"I would like to thank all of my players, coaches and administration," Cope said. "I have been blessed over my career. I have made some lasting relationships in the brotherhood of coaching."
Both Fitch and Thompson spoke highly of their AD.
"He's a great guy who takes a sincere interest in the school and its students," Fitch said.
Added Thompson, "He has run an outstanding program - top to bottom - for many years. I'm excited to carry on his tradition of making Champion a respected program in this area.
"You don't get many chances to come back to your home and do something you love doing. I'm thankful Tim gave me this chance."