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Basketball court brings order to Woodstock AD’s life

  • Woodstock Union High and Middle School Athletic Director Quaron Pinckney watches Bianca Harrington pass the ball in a play he was teaching the middle school basketball team at practice in Woodstock, Vt., Thursday, Jan. 10, 2020. Pinckney is coaching the middle school girls basketball team this season. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Quaron Pinckney is in his second year as athletic director at Woodstock Union High and Middle Schools and faced with a shortage of coaches, he stepped in to coach middle school girls basketball this season. Pinckney leads a practice in Woodstock, Vt., Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Quaron Pinckney gathers the Woodstock Union Middle School girls basketball team for a cheer at the close of practice in Woodstock, Vt., Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. The team was preparing for a game with Richmond Middle School on Friday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/13/2020 10:29:19 PM
Modified: 1/13/2020 10:37:20 PM

WOODSTOCK — Quaron Pinckney looks like a giant. Standing on the worn-down hardwood of Woodstock Middle School’s gymnasium, he’s instructing his 14-player, seventh-grade basketball team through their next drill. He wants four groups to run a drill that only needs three groups, which each player quickly points out.

Instead of giving what could’ve been a justifiable eye roll, the 6-foot-2 Pinckney flashes a quick smile. Somewhere in the back of his head, he’s thinking about how if he talked back to his high school basketball coach, Danny Hurley, he probably would’ve been thrown out of the gym.

But that was then. This is now.

Now, he’s a 29-year-old making his way through his first full-time job as Woodstock High’s athletic director, supervising both high school and middle school sports. He wasn’t supposed to be coaching this team, either, but he’s embraced the added responsibility.

Pinckney’s falling back on his past to coach. He’s installed a motion offense. Before the Wasps break for the day, he reminds them to get to the gym right after school the next day.

“We have a game tomorrow and the bus leaves at 4,” he says. “We’re walking through a few things before we get on that bus, OK?”

Pinckney’s in shape, he retained the frame of a college basketball player. The basketball IQ that earned him a scholarship to St. Michael’s College remains high.

As a kid growing up in the Bronx, N.Y., basketball was always going to be Pinckney’s ticket to college. After two consecutive seasons of not making the varsity team at All Hallows Institute, a small catholic school in the Bronx, Pinckney opted to not let his dream fall to the wayside.

Through the help of an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) coach, Pinckney’s game progressed. He spent his sophomore season improving his skills. The next year, he transferred to St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J., where he repeated his sophomore year and played for three years for Hurley, who is now the men’s basketball coach at UConn.

Day in and day out, Pinckney practiced against the likes of Lance Thomas, who went on to Duke and an 8-year NBA career, and Samardo Samuels and Corey Stokes, who went on to play at collegiate powerhouses Louisville and Villanova, respectively.

“I commuted via train every day the last year and a half,” Pinckney said in a recent interview. “So I had to take two trains from the Bronx to Newark. It took an hour and a half plus the walk from the train station. That’s depending on whether the trains are functioning right, too.”

Still, it worked. He averaged 10.5 points per game and was named a third-team all-state prep selection while helping St. Benedict’s reach the state prep A championship game his senior season. It was good enough to land on the radar of coach Tom O’Shea, who offered Pinckney a scholarship to St. Mike’s in Colchester, Vt.

Pinckney played two seasons until O’Shea resigned. The coaching change proved to be a critical juncture for Pinckney, who ultimately walked away from his scholarship, gave up on the game of basketball and rededicated himself to school.

With the help of scholarships and financial aid, he graduated in 2012 with a degree in mass communications. He took a job coordinating marketing at Smugglers’ Notch, a ski resort in Jeffersonville, Vt.

It took him a little bit over a year to realize what he already knew — marketing wasn’t for him, and he badly missed basketball. He left the job in March 2014 and soon after took a job waiting tables in a bar in Williston, Vt., and turned his attention back to basketball.

For three years Pinckney was the junior varsity coach at Rice High in South Burlington while coaching Lone Wolf, a Burlington-based AAU team. It was fun, but he had bigger aspirations.

He began taking online classes through Castleton University to earn his master’s degree in athletic leadership and administration in 2016.

By 2018 he had finished the program and was actively searching for that next step.

“Trying to make sure I’m working enough,” he said of that time. “Pay my mortgage and all my other bills. Finish out my program, all that stuff while looking for a new job.”

In April 2018, Pinckney still didn’t have a job. He was rebuffed by Milton, Oxbow and Rice. But he got an interview with Woodstock. A second interview followed, where he had a meet and greet with students, coaches and parents along with a tour of the facilities.

Then, he didn’t hear back.

“And I’m like, geez, what’s going on? You know, I’m kind of in limbo,” he said. “Like, gotta start figuring out what the next step is if I don’t get it.”

Eventually he got a call from Mary Beth Banios, the Woodstock superintendent. The two met in early July where they had a conversation about what his goals would be for the athletic department and where their philosophies aligned. At the end of the discussion, Pinckney had a job offer.

On Aug. 8, 2018, he began work as the Woodstock athletic director. Three weeks later, with the academic year starting, Pinckney still was trying to getting acclimated. That first year, he said, was all about learning and holding things together.

While his attention is focused on the athletic department, Pinckney also hopes that he is making an impact in other parts of the school. As the only black person working at the school, he’s looked to mentor black students. He also spoke at last year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.

“It’s been great to know that there are people that have come from my background because I know how to help them,” he said. “I know some of the struggles that they go through as well. Hopefully, I can be a resource.”

On the middle school basketball court, Pinckney is immersed in his driving passion: basketball:

He has started to find himself really enjoying it. The team is made up of fifth through eighth graders playing a seventh-grade schedule.

Pinckney is just trying to teach the next generation how to play the game he loves. The game that has brought him countless opportunities in life and ultimately brought him to Woodstock.

“I think he’s a really good coach,” eighth-grader Grace Modarai said. “He’s strict but also fun at the same time. He of course makes us do our drills because then we wouldn’t get anything done. We wouldn’t be able to run a play if we didn’t. But he also makes it fun; he doesn’t take himself too seriously.”

Pete Nakos can be reached at pnakos@vnews.com.




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