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Democrat and Chronicle

Scott is a perfect Fitch for Fairport basketball

By Scott Pitoniak
Democrat and Chronicle columnist

(March 6, 2004) — Fairport’s quest for its first Section V boys basketball championship in nearly three decades has been costly for former Red Raiders coach Jeff Fitch.

But the payoff could be priceless.

Should Jeff’s son, Scott, lead Fairport to a sectional title over unbeaten and heavily favored Rush Henrietta tonight, then the father won’t care much that he’s out $400 on a Texas condo he and his wife rented for the entire month of March but have yet to use.

He’d be ecstatic to see his son accomplish in just three seasons what Jeff could accomplish only once in 33 mostly stellar seasons as the Red Raiders coach — win a sectional crown.

Coach Scott Fitch leads Fairport against top-seeded Rush-Henrietta in tonight’s Section V Class AAA championship game.

And what if Fairport loses for a third time to R-H this winter?

“Well, he’s already been busting my chops about how I’m costing him $60 a day, so imagine what I’m going to have to hear if we lose,” Scott says, chuckling. “Dad will be moaning about how much I set him back every time I see him. It’ll be brutal, especially on the golf course.

“But I already have my comeback ready. I’ll tell him he should have had faith that we would make the finals before the season began and this wouldn’t have happened. Poor planning on his part. He should have booked for later in the month.”

Even though Jeff hates to lose at anything — even when the competition is his own son — he would love nothing more than to see Scott not merely equal his coaching achievements but surpass them.

In their case, blood is thicker than hardwood.

Father and son are closer than the coats of varnish on a basketball court.

Scott has been following in his dad’s footsteps since he was a wee lad. The gymnasium at Fairport High School became their second home. It’s where Jeff built his reputation as one of the area’s most respected basketball mentors, earning Section V Coach of the Year honors nine times in a vote of his peers. And it’s where Scott honed the skills that would make him an All-Greater Rochester selection while playing for his dad at Fairport and later earn him NCAA Division III Player of the Year honors at SUNY Geneseo.

Three years ago, when Jeff stepped down as Fairport’s coach, Scott was named his successor.

A year later, the Fitches were inducted into the Section V Basketball Hall of Fame together — Scott as a player, Jeff as a coach. They’re the first father-son combination to be so honored.

And, now, as Scott calls the shots for a third straight season, Jeff is fulfilling a different role. In his own words, he is “an interested spectator who has an in with the coach.” Actually, he’s much more than that.

“Scott has been very gracious in allowing me to remain a part of the program,” Jeff says. “The first year I stayed away because I wanted to give him some breathing room. I didn’t want the holdover players to be confused about who the real coach was. Last year, I started helping out in some of the practices. And, this year, I’ve probably been to about 90 percent of the practices. It’s great for me because it’s meant I haven’t had to leave the game cold turkey. And I get to see my son do something I loved and he loves.”

Jeff watches games from the stands, and the coach in him can’t help but analyze. But Scott never feels like someone is looking over his shoulder and playing Monday morning quarterback. He welcomes the extra set of eyes and the years of wisdom his father brings to the table. Scott will call his dad on the way home from games and the two will briefly rehash what transpired.

“It’s strange because usually what he says will be my thoughts, too,” Scott says.

But there are times when father doesn’t know best; when Scott says thanks, but no thanks to his dad’s suggestions.

“You know how it is with fathers and sons,” Scott says. “Each one thinks he knows it all. Each one is stubborn. Fortunately, I have a great relationship with my dad and I bought into the way he does things a long time ago.”

From his vantage point in the stands, Jeff can’t help but notice how much Scott reminds him of himself when he was a young coach.

“It’s scary, but the way he crouches or folds his arms are all similar,” Jeff says. “And I’ll get people come up to me and say the same thing.”

And Scott is realizing that it’s not just the mannerisms that he inherited, but also the wisdom.

“I’ll say something to a kid, and it will dawn on me that, ‘Geez, that’s just the way my father did things when he was trying to motivate somebody,’” Scott says. “It’s weird.”

During the intense semifinal game between East and Fairport earlier this week, flaring tempers resulted in some pushing and shoving and the ejection of an East player.

Scott made sure his players quickly returned their focus to the game.

“I was proud of the way he handled that,” Jeff says. “He got them back to thinking about the strategy they would employ once the game resumed. He was thinking about not only the first possession, but the one after that and the one after that.”

For all his success, the only blemish — and it’s a minor one — on Jeff’s coaching resume is a 1-for-6 record in sectional finals. Scott was a ballboy on some of those teams, and he saw the pain it caused his dad and the players.

“I guess you could say I’m doing this for my dad, but also for all the Fairport basketball players, past and present,” Scott says. “It’s a good basketball community and it’s been a long time since we’ve brought the title home.”

And if the Red Raiders were to pull off the upset, it would mean that Scott wouldn’t have to hear about how costly the game was every time he headed to the golf course to play against his dad.

“If we lose, he’ll be all over my case about the money he lost on that unused condo,” Scott says. “And if we win, I’ll be able to remind him that I’ve got as many sectional titles as he earned in a million years. Either way, there’s going to be some father-and-son needling going on.”