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Martin’s Ascher, Springfield’s Kleiner coaching girls’ basketball for decades

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While his adversaries dress as if they're lobbying for job interviews, screaming and yelling at their players, Ascher communicates with a slight smile and a hand gesture, the message in his movements as clear as his unconventional wardrobe.He doesn't look it, but Ascher is a giant in girls' high school basketball, a legend whom other coaches point to as a model for their success. Murry Bergtraum's Ed Grezinsky, the most successful coach in the PSAL at the moment and who led the Lady Blazers to a seventh straight PSAL title Sunday, calls Ascher his muse, his source of inspiration. Here's why: In 24 years at August Martin, Ascher has won 12 city championships, an estimated 15 to 20 division titles, and sent over 70 kids to Division I and II colleges on scholarships.Through all the accolades, he has earned the right to dress as he pleases. Besides, it's his eccentricities that have endeared him to his players. As he looks forward to another season of coaching, the wise-cracking former basketball player at CCNY mentions the quality that has framed his career and kept him going. "It's the kids- they're fun," he said. "It keeps you from going old. It's a good trade-off: I help them to get into college out of high school, and they help me stay young."Ascher was hired in 1980 after a teacher at IS 238 in Jamaica, where he worked, told him about an opening at August Martin. Apparently, nobody else wanted the job and Ascher, never one to follow the herd, signed up, turning the struggling program into a city powerhouse.He won three games the first season, nine the second, and went 15-3 the third, completing a renovation that forever changed the course of girls' hoops in the city. Ascher, a resident of Rego Park, is now grooming his successor, assistant coach Steve Fartardo, whose mother is a librarian at the school, for when he eventually decides to retire. He expects to leave coaching in the next couple of years.How does the image unconscious Ascher want to be remembered?"That when practice was over, the kids were happy; they went home adjusted, and they wanted to come back the next day- that's how I want to be remembered."Janet KleinerJanet Kleiner is a fighter. She fights the refs, her players, the opposing coaches, anyone who doesn't conform to how she thinks the game should be played. In her 24 years as head girls' basketball coach at Springfield Gardens, Kleiner has been an earsplitting presence along the sidelines, where she has fought every minute of every game until the final whistle sounded.To the uninformed, the site of Kleiner, a tall, wiry woman, flipping out during a contest is a curiosity waiting to be explained. These days, women who coach basketball are as rare as female referees running to make a call, and those who do often temper their managing style with modesty for fear of making waves in a mostly male-driven profession. But Kleiner, who has won over 300 games, six division championships, and qualified for the playoffs 14 times in her career, is not waiting to explain who she is. She is sitting on the bench following a game, trying to figure out what went wrong and what went right.To the uninformed, Kleiner may look like she is burned out, like a castaway who has just returned to land. To her players, she is a second mom, always there to lend a helping hand. "I love what I do, it's that simple," she said. "I look forward to coming to work every day for the new challenges. I just moved up three freshmen from JV to varsity, and I can see down the road how I'm going to be able to teach them and utilize their abilities and that excites me. I think many of us are just born with a talent that sets what we'll do in life."She is not screaming anymore. The two-time coach of the year- an honor that was bestowed upon her by two local daily newspapers has a soft side that the unenlightened don't know about.Kleiner is in love with her job. It's the first thing she thinks about in the morning and the final thought that races across her forehead at night. This season, Kleiner, who was raised in Laurelton and attended Springfield Gardens, guided a team that went 5-11 last season to an 11-5 finish and a birth in the playoffs.She no longer worries about her job security like she did when she was hired in 1979 by Springfield Gardens and the horrible budget crises of that time was still frightening. She was happy to be employed, happy to be working in the place where she attended high school. However, she was teaching English and Biology and Math instead of coaching, and that wasn't the storybook ending she had in mind. So Kleiner spent two years assisting head basketball coach Linda Kolodney until 1981 when she took over the main job because Kolodney wanted to start a family of her own. Kleiner, with her hand on the pulse of her players, has been doing it her way ever since.Reach reporter Mitch Abramson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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