That all changed when Coach Mike Apfel, who’s been teaching Physical Education at John Adams since September, 2002, decided to start up the girls’ JV softball and basketball programs at the school. Since that time, those teams, as well as the John Adams girls’ JV volleyball team, (which Apfel also coaches) have all become some of the most successful programs in their respective leagues.
Apfel started girls’ JV teams in softball (in April 2003) and basketball (in January 2005), each from scratch, and took over the girls’ JV volleyball team in September, 2006.
Normally, new teams at any level in virtually any sport, will go through initial growing pains. However, Apfel’s teams have yet to suffer through a losing record in any season in any of the three sports he’s coached.
In six seasons thus far, Apfel has guided the John Adams JV girls’ softball team to a 52-10 record, including a perfect 8-0 mark in 2005. Since there were no playoffs due to financial and scheduling restrictions, John Adams was named JV Girls’ Softball League Champions three straight years, from 2004-2006.
Apfel guided his JV girls’ basketball team to back-to-back second place finishes 2005-06 and 2006-07 and a breakout 11-2 season in 2007-08, during which his team closed the regular season with eleven consecutive victories and the first-ever JV playoff berth in John Adams history.
His volleyball team went 3-3 in 2006 and 4-2 in 2007, before finishing 7-0 this year, a record which earned Apfel’s squad a league championship (again, there were no league playoffs during any of those years due to budget considerations).
None of that success occurred overnight, however. The coach has remained dedicated enough to guide three successful teams while also shaping a positive development for students in his physical education classes.
As a JV coach, Apfel has overcome the types of challenges that varsity coaches do not have to face. “I can only recruit freshmen and sophomores,” Apfel said, “Whereas the varsity coaches can not only dip into my pool of potential recruits, they can also take the best players from my teams, and often try to do so.”
That’s proving to be a difficult task for the varsity coaches at John Adams, since Apfel has been so successful in creating an environment in which his players have been able to thrive. As a result, Apfel’s freshmen and sophomore players often simply choose to stay with him at the JV level when given opportunities to make the jump to varsity play.
Making his players comfortable in that way so they can flourish is something that comes naturally to Apfel. “It’s about fostering relationships, bonding, and putting people first,” he says. “Each of my teams have a sense of belonging, like we’re a family. I teach them that once they learn to gel together off the court or off the field, they’ll gel on the court or on the field.”
Going with his team to eat, to Met games, on a Yankee Stadium tour, or traveling to Long Island to play a non-league game are just a few of the ways Apfel has either rewarded or motivated his teams.
After stating that “It’s mostly about the players” and that coaches like himself often get too much credit and too much blame, Apfel insisted on recognizing a long list of his players for this article.
Since space was limited to do so, we’ll settle for stating that Apfel’s basketball team is going along with their coach’s idea to switch from blue to pink jerseys during the entire upcoming season, in an effort to raise cancer awareness.
Another example of putting people first.