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Nathan Pennypacker

When Bryan Merritt left the Chickasha boys' basketball program, the existence of that void hurt more knowing it was vacated by one of the town's native sons.

So followers of the program should be happy to know it's been filled by another.

"I played here and grew up here," said Nathan Pennypacker, who was confirmed as the new boys' basketball head coach last week. "I managed to be on a pretty good team that went to a few state tournaments. I also coached with Merritt for one year, but I decided to go to another school to, not necessarily do it my way, but just to seek a different opportunity and go on a different path."

That different path was at Pioneer Public School, where he coached boys and girls basketball from 2011 to this year. Before that, he assisted Merritt in 2010, fresh out of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma with a health and physical education degree he received in April of that year.

His past was a major factor in his hiring, Athletic Director Yohance Brown said, as he was selected from "several applicants from throughout the state.

"Getting that fit in the program is more important than anything to me, because success at other programs may not translate to success at Chickasha," Brown said. "He's a Chickasha kid who grew up in this town and came through this program during a period when it was very successful. We felt like he had the full gamut of what we wanted in a head coach."

As a young coach, Pennypacker has the ability to relate to more easily relate to players, which is important for the type of program he desires.

"We're going to come in and work hard every day, but I want it to be a fun environment," Pennypacker said. "If you're not having fun with what you're doing, it's not going to be something you want to do."

He believes an atmosphere like this allows the players to pursue their potential and, possibly, beyond that. Pennypacker said this is evident in Chickasha's run to the state semifinals last season.

"That's how you end up doing things you shouldn't be able to do," he said. "To be honest, the team last year probably should not have been able to make the state semifinals, but they worked hard to achieve that."

Pennypacker said he has struggled with the idea of how to balance being a coach and remaining someone the players feel is approachable, more akin to a friend.

"To me, you have to form a relationship, whether they're a freshman or a senior. Then, it becomes a situation where they don't want to disappoint you. If they do something wrong, they're not upset that you're yelling at them; they're upset that they have upset you.

"I want to be friends, but they know when practice starts it's time to work. I like to keep those things separate. You may have a terrible practice or game, but outside of the gym I forget that."

Instilling this type of attitude in the team may be made all that easier with some of the kids Pennypacker coached at his previous school vying for spots on his next varsity squad.

"The sophomore group is who I had at Pioneer, and that's what really attracted me to Chickasha," he said. "That class is unbelievable to watch and we have a few juniors and seniors mixed in to give us a very good group that could be successful, depending on your definition of success."

For Pennypacker, this means working hard and having the right attitude; but, he is not shy about touting the ability he believes this squad still has even without the now graduated E.J. Golightly and Joey Sylvester.

"I believe so, yes," Pennypacker said about the Fightin' Chicks having a chance to copy or better last year's efforts. "We're in a unique situation. It's almost like I've got a team that's brand new. There are the younger guys I know. tThe older guys have been there, but many of them were not playing as much. E.J. and Joey are hard to replace, but I think this is a good group of guys."

Either way, Pennypacker said he is happy to be back at the team that gave him his first coaching experience three years ago and at the school where he found basketball success before.

"My initial reaction when I found out was 'yeah, let's do it.' That's a basic human reaction, though. After thinking about it, I knew I would really love to come back and coach where I had played and where I had success before."

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