Passing down their Cougars hoops knowledge

Alumni comprise CHS girls basketball coaching staff, sharing their experiences with the players

The Columbia girls basketball coaches are graduates of the school. From left are first-year head coach Aaron Breitman and assistant coaches Chenae Earle, Stevana Sims and Jacob Sumner.

By Paul Brubacker

Special to News-Record

MAPLEWOOD/SOUTH ORANGE  — Most basketball teams are lucky when they have a good coach who knows the game. 

The Columbia High School girls basketball program has four good coaches who not only know the game, but also know the court, the locker rooms, the hallways and all of the challenges and triumphs that go with being a Columbia Basketball Cougar.

That’s because the team’s new head coach, Aaron Breitman and his assistants – Chenae Earle, Stevana Sims and Jacob Sumner – are all CHS alumni who played basketball for CHS. Breitman and Sumner graduated from CHS in 2008. Sims and Earle in 2009.

With the season underway, the quartet of alumni coaches see themselves as a kind of secret weapon that could help fuel their teams to more wins this year.

“Returning as coaches shows the current players that there is a reason to be invested in Columbia girls basketball,” said Sims, who played guard in high school and was a team co-captain in her senior year. “It also gives our players access to people with a shared experience that resembles what our players may face every day.”

Breitman, who has been with the program as an assistant coach for the past three years, said the makeup of this year’s coaching staff was something he had envisioned as he aspired to be a head basketball coach at Columbia. 

“Bringing on alumni coaches was always part of my plan,” said Breitman, who played forward all four years he attended CHS. “I believe that if you played here, graduated from here and had a calling to come back here, it must mean that you really care about the success of this program, the school and the community.”

Sumner, who played guard in high school and is now a seventh-grade social studies teacher at South Orange Middle School, affirmed Breitman’s belief.

“I think we are all uniquely committed to the program, the players and our community being from here,” said Sumner, who is in his fourth year coaching in the girls basketball program. “We also have some institutional knowledge that I think also allows us to problem-solve and relate to players in a way that we otherwise might not have been able to.”

Earle, who also was a co-captain in her senior year and went on to play point guard for the four years she went to Emmanuel College in Boston, echoed Sumner’s thoughts.

“We walked these same hallways, shot on the same hoops, ran the same baselines and grew as athletes and individuals at Columbia,” said Earle, who is making her debut as a coach this year. “We know what it’s like to create lifetime bonds with teammates that become family, the challenges of balancing academics and athletics, and the ability to push through adversity to become better athletes and better people.”

Breitman said he sometimes gets a kick out of hearing some of the chatter among the players.

“When our athletes talk about their teachers or specific classes, my coaches and I start to smile,” he said. “Not because we miss being in those classes, but because we had some of those same teachers and took some of those same classes. Because we share those same experiences as our players, we can relate to them on a different level than those who have not walked these halls.”

While everyone has winning on their minds, the alumni coaches say that the season ahead is about more than basketball.

“We are not here just to coach basketball, but to develop young leaders for the future,” said Sims. “With our connection to CHS girls basketball and its eminent history, we know the groundwork that needs to be laid in order to continue the legacy.”

Earle agreed with her colleague.

“The most important thing to us is to coach and develop the next generation of women that are currently in this program and that will come through this program in future years,” she said. “We are incredibly proud to be Columbia alums and we are forever grateful for the opportunity to grow and develop this program and the girls within it.”

Breitman said that he hoped the players would learn the same valuable lessons he learned while attending Columbia and playing for the boys team.

“I truly believe that Columbia High School is a special place. It helped shape myself and my peers to be the people we are today,” he said. “Being a graduate of CHS and an athlete here taught me that life is not going to be easy. If I wanted something, it would not be handed to me. I had to work for it, and work harder than anyone else. That’s my commitment to this program, my coaches and, most importantly, the student-athletes.”

The Cougars defeated Bard High School Early College 71-26, for their first win of the season on Thursday, Dec. 21, in Newark, improving to 1-2 on the season.

Photo Courtesy of Paul Brubaker