Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Welcome Homecoming for New Falls Church Coach, Staff
By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, June 21, 2007; VA29

T.C. Papageorge is sitting on a bench in front of Falls Church High School, his alma mater. At 24, he is only a few years removed from his days roaming the halls here as a student and athlete. Now, he returns, charged with the task of rebuilding the basketball program.

The team is coming off a 4-18 season, has won just 13 games the previous three seasons and hasn't had a winning season since 2003. Papageorge is asked how he intends to turn things around. He leans in and chooses his words carefully.

"Program continuity," Papageorge said, is one of his favorite terms. "We are going to have the freshman, [junior varsity] and varsity programs all running a consistent scheme, and everyone is going to communicate. When the seniors have to run with the juniors, we don't want them to be strangers."

Behind him, longtime friend and new Jaguars Assistant Coach Ryan Healy nods and offers a look that appears to say, "Just you wait and see. . . ."

Papageorge is the fourth coach in eight years at Falls Church. He was hired to replace Tony Harris, who left for the same position at Stuart.

Papageorge and Healy coached the freshman team at Fairfax the past two seasons. Their new challenges are difficult to understand "if you haven't gone to Falls Church," Papageorge said.
Papageorge, who owns and operates a painting franchise, and Healy, a special education teacher at Oakton, were starters on Falls Church's football, baseball, basketball and golf teams together before they graduated in 2001.

Papageorge's brother, 22-year-old Steven, was a member of the Jaguars' only district championship basketball team in 2003. He played basketball at Catholic University for the past four years and is expected to join the staff as a varsity assistant.

"It's almost like the stars aligned. [Steven] graduated, Tony Harris left for Stuart and the door was open, and we had to run through it," Papageorge said. "There isn't a place we'd rather be. The three of us together, doing what we love to do, affecting young kids, playing basketball -- a game that we love -- having them compete at a higher level and caring about their personal success."

Papageorge comes to Falls Church with little coaching experience but with plenty of enthusiasm and energy.

"The reason I'm really proud of him is because if he would have hung on and waited, and coached with me for a few years and been a varsity assistant for a few years, he could have landed a big job, but he is really embracing this challenge," said Fairfax Coach P.J. Kelly, who coached at Falls Church from 1994 through 1999. "This is not going to be easy, and he is aware of that."

Papageorge compares the challenges presented at Falls Church with those he faced in his first few years as a business owner. While pursuing his bachelor's degree in marketing at George Mason University, he purchased a painting franchise. He took the company from $50,000 in revenue in its first year to more than $1 million this past year.

"It took so much legwork to get out in the streets knocking on doors. There were so many different things I had to do to build the momentum," said Papageorge, who is the franchise's nationwide leader in sales. "Every year since, it's gotten easier and easier, and it's grown. . . . So I can see a direct comparison to that. We are going to have to work our tails off."

The work has started for the trio. They have reinstated the Falls Church High School summer basketball camp, which had been out of commission for six years. They have entered the Jaguars into two summer leagues and secured a spot in the Pohanka Chantilly Classic Annual Holiday Basketball Tournament in December. Even with school out of session, 22 players turned out last week to meet Papageorge and express interest in playing.

"We are going to bring players back from Steven's district championship team, and they are going to be working [the players] out for their very first workout," Papageorge said. "Other coaches who would have taken this position wouldn't have those resources. We know the community, we know the people, and we know what the students experience walking through these halls."

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