By Marc Weems
When Youngstown State University head basketball coach Jerry Slocum retired, YSU was set for a culture shock. Just two weeks later, YSU hired former Fairmont State University head coach Jerrod Calhoun.
Fast forward five months, Calhoun and staff have been working hard for and in the community.
“We wanted to do an event that was a reasonable cost for fans to get a chance to meet our coaches and players,” Calhoun said. “It started off as what was named ‘Penguin Premiere,’ which was the premiere of our players and coaches. We were going to tie Derek Rivers into it. Unfortunately with his knee injury, we had to change our plan. Our hearts go out to him.”
Rivers, former YSU defensive end and current New England Patriots defensive end, tore his ACL two weeks before the NFL season was to begin.
“This is a unique opportunity for fans to start thinking about basketball,” Calhoun said. “Although it is football season, we want to start getting into basketball mode.”
Calhoun also said this is a unique chance for fans to actually talk to players and coaches like never before.
Kevin Bruinsma, YSU’s director of men’s basketball personnel, has been here through Slocum’s last few years and stayed on with Calhoun.
“This has been awesome to see,” Bruinsma said. “Coach Calhoun and I have been friends for over 10 years. So him taking it over and infusing a lot of energy has been great. He has really embraced what Youngstown stands for. That’s why I think there has been so much excitement from the community and fans.”
Bruinsma said that Calhoun’s message is so relatable because his values and beliefs are so close to how everyone in the community feels as well.
“I think one of the big things that he [Calhoun] wanted to do was stay in people’s mind. Whether that is social media like Twitter. Or maybe that’s staying in the news. The Warren Tribune has been great, the Vindy is picking it up and you guys, the Jambar, do a great job of covering us.”
Bruinsma said the key has been staying relevant in everyone’s head in a time where basketball isn’t fully relevant.
Along with the Penguin Premiere on Sept 7, YSU men’s basketball is also hosting its Fourth Annual Wine Taste on Oct. 10.
“We wanted to do something in the month of September to stay relevant,” Calhoun said. “It has been my job to make sure that these kids are out in the community. At the same time, this a fundraiser where all the money will go directly back to the program.”
As part of Calhoun’s community outreach, Calhoun and his staff put together a very large amount of clothes and shoes for the disaster relief of Hurricane Harvey. This came after a tweet from the University of Houston’s basketball coach, Kelvin Sampson, asked for donations to the program for help in the storm.
“To be honest with you, I’m still a little bit in shock,” Calhoun said. “It has been amazing how this has all come about. It started from a tweet and I directed that to [Kevin] Bruinsma. I told him that I want our program to get involved. Next thing we know, we put a tweet out to the community and the response was overwhelming. It has been awesome to see. We had a full truck go out today.”
He said this goes to show just what the community can do when they all put themselves together.