Family bonds tested by rivalry

For decades, the Gannon-Mercyhurst rivalry has provided local sports fans with exhilarating entertainment, as well as ample ammunition for fodder among each school’s respective backers.

For many ardent supporters, they won’t give a second thought when they enter the Mercyhurst Athletic Center Wednesday donning the kelly and white or maroon and gold.

But for a family with a foot in each camp, such a situation is anything but black and white.

At 7:30 p.m, Gannon assistant basketball coach Thurman Schaetzle will find himself in uncharted territory when he takes to the bench opposite his familiar Lakers. Schaetzle is in his first season as an assistant with the Knights after graduating from Mercyhurst in the spring. In addition to his attendance, Schaetzle has also held a strong affiliation to the school through his father, Marty, who has served as the Lakers’ head football coach since 2002.

“It’s definitely a different feeling, and one that I’ve been looking forward to seeing the game from this side of things,” Thurman Schaetzle said.

As a student, Schaetzle compiled an impressive baseball career, in which he captained the Lakers’ 2011 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Championship squad. The leadership role suited Thurman, who said growing up in the coaching environment fostered his interest in the job.

Despite having to move four times before attending high school at Mercyhurst Prep, Schaetzle said he has always been captivated by the unique coaching dynamic, and has become accustomed to its rigorous demands.

“Coaching is pretty much the only lifestyle I’ve ever known,” he said. “It’s the only way I can see myself. I can’t see myself going to an office from 9 to 5 every day in a suit and tie.”

Marty Schaetzle said Thurman’s interest in coaching is not a surprise, as he has long been enamored by with the prospect of following in his footsteps.

“When you grow up around that environment, and you get an insight to the culture and what it entails, a lot of times you think it’s neat and you know that’s what you want to get into,” Marty said. “He has always talked about coaching basketball, and so far it’s been a great experience for him.”

Such a dynamic is not new to the Mercyhurst-Gannon rivalry, as the challenge of breaking family ties became a yearly occurrence for Gannon alumnus Connor Kimball, who played defensive back on the Knights’ football team from 2006-10. Kimball took to the opposite sidelines of his father Joe, who has served as Mercyhurst’s athletic director since 2009, as well as his brother, Bryant, a current senior, who started at safety for the Lakers.

Kimball said the week leading up to the Niagara Cup had a different feel in that his family avoided talking about the game.

“I know when I played, my dad would root for us except when we were against Mercyhurst, he would obviously want to win,” Kimball said.“I’m sure it’s the same way with (Thurman) and his dad—he wants to see him do well and win, but when they get together with Mercyhurst, he’ll be rooting for his school.”

“Families are above rivalries.”

As a non-paid volunteer, Schaetzle has provided a helping hand anywhere he can for the Knights, as he tries to take in any lessons he can pick up along the way.

And the experience hasn’t been limited to 2-3 zones and pick and rolls.

Upon entering the Hammermill Center, Schaetzle notes the championship banners dangling overhead as reminders of the tradition that Gannon basketball proudly embraces.

“I’ve been in Erie for 10 years, and it’s definitely a Gannon town when it comes to athletics, especially basketball,” Thurman said. “Erie itself associates itself with tradition, and Gannon basketball has a lot of tradition even going back to the 60’s and 70’s.”

“Mercyhurst hasn’t really made its mark, but it’s something Gannon has already accomplished.”

Such rhetoric could be interpreted as fighting words if it wasn’t for the close relationship between the father and son, who often discuss the challenges and trials of their craft.

“We talk about the different philosophies and the lessons you teach kids, as well as handle certain situations,” Thurman said. “Talking to my dad or Coach Reilly, that’s really the only way I can learn these things, since they’ve been doing it for so long and understand how to get the most from their players.”

Reilly said Schaetzle’s grasp of the job is obvious, as he seems to recognize all it entails.

“He’s a coach’s son,” Reilly said. “He understands what goes on behind closed doors and all the work that’s involved.”

For the coach’s father, although he said he won’t likely attend the game due to recruiting commitments, he wouldn’t say which side he’d be on.

“I will say blood is thicker than water,” Marty said. “If I don’t make it to the game, I know my wife will be on the edge of her seat.”

JOE CUNEO

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