Like father, like son; Kennedy’s passion for coaching at Ripley is easy to find

Mark Martin
Special to Jackson Newspapers
Ripley girls basketball coach John Kennedy takes great pride in being the son of former Ripley boys head coach Kent Kennedy.

As John Kennedy works hard in both practices and games as Ripley’s head girls basketball coach, he can visualize this gentleman throughout the process.

Whether it’s a drill in a workout or coming up with a certain strategy during a timeout in a game, he sees this individual in his mind and also hears his voice.

Of course, there are many times the man he looks up to is at the game and his voice can be heard loud and clear.

Kennedy’s love for coaching came naturally.

After all, he grew up the son of coach.

His father, Kent, was a successful high school basketball coach during his educational career.

Kent Kennedy’s head coaching stops on the court included Calhoun County, Gilmer County and ultimately Ripley.

The move to Ripley is how John Kennedy became a talented point guard for the Vikings in the late ‘90s and is now the hard-working head coach of the girls basketball program at his alma mater.

“I say a lot of my playing style and coaching style comes from him,” said John, whose present Lady Viking team is enjoying success early on, including a state ranking in Class AAA. “He believed you leave everything on the court. Whether it’s diving for loose balls, grabbing every rebound you can. Doing whatever you could to help the team.”

The biggest thing the younger Kennedy took from his father, who moved into administration following the 1985-86 season as Ripley’s head boys coach, was discipline.

“That is by far above anything else what I learned the most watching him,” said Kennedy.

“Plus, being patient on offense. How your body is set. Again, just all of the little things.”

It certainly paid off having a former coach as his father when he was coming up through the ranks as a player.

When Kent Kennedy took over as Ripley’s head boys basketball coach in the season of 1981-82, John Kennedy was entering kindergarten.

He played in the Ripley Midget League program and eventually was a standout point guard at Ripley High, where he graduated in 1997.

His father is the only administrator in county history to be both the head principal at Ravenswood High School and Ripley High School.

“He taught me to be the hardest worker. Whether it was on the court or watching film,” Kennedy said of his father. “After games in high school, we would stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning watching film. My mom (Jane, a long-time kindergarten teacher in Jackson County) would finally come in and say, ‘Kent, enough is enough, he has to go to school in a few hours.’”

Those are times John Kennedy cherishes to this day.

“That taught me a lot about the game. It was a tremendous help as I got into coaching. It taught me about a player’s tendencies. It just helped me out so much in so many areas.”

Kennedy said it wasn’t immediate in his young life if coaching was what he wanted to get into. But the more thought he gave to leading a team, the quicker it became reality.

He attended Glenville State College and WVU after high school.

Sometimes, Kennedy has a hard time believing his coaching career is in the same gymnasium (the Ripley Health Center) where he once played.

Kent Kennedy made a name for himself at Gilmer County, where he grew up.

He guided the Titans to some outstanding seasons.

Kennedy had gone to old Normantown High School, one of five schools that merged to former Gilmer County in the late 1960s. John Kennedy’s mother went to old Glenville High School.

Normantown’s history is well-documented. Its tiny school won the West Virginia High School state championship in 1945, when there was just one classification (today there are four).

It was the classic “Hoosiers” before “Hoosiers” type of story.

Kent Kennedy grew up with a lot of pride instilled in him as to what that team accomplished.

Normantown’s nickname was the Vikings.

And years later, he would not only play for the Vikings but later coach the ones on the court at Ripley High School.

John proudly wore the blue and white and helped the boys program reach the Class AAA State Tournament of West Virginia in 1996 under head coach Randy Anderson. It marked the first time a Ripley team had reached the promised land of the state tournament.

It remains Ripley’s only appearance in Charleston.

Anderson is now a successful head coach at Boyd County High School in Kentucky.

“I had two great coaches at Ripley in Coach A and Coach (Rich) Skeen,” Kennedy said. “I reach out to them and talk to them. They’ve been through it.”

Prior to Anderson’s arrival at Ripley, the program had struggled to advance very far in postseason play.

In fact, Kent Kennedy’s 1985 Viking squad was the first to ever win a sectional game since Ripley had become Class AAA in 1970.

Anderson has led Boyd County to the prestigious Sweet 16 Tournament in Kentucky.

Skeen, meanwhile, won a Class AA state championship as a girls coach at Sissonville. He was the first person to ever lead Ripley’s girls to the state tournament.

John Kennedy has worked tirelessly to build a respectable program at Ripley.

The program has enjoyed three trips to the state tournament. Besides the team Skeen coached, current Ripley boys assistant Steve Hunt took two other Lady Viking squads to Charleston and reached the semifinals.  

John Kennedy wants to add another chapter to the state tournament history. From there, he wants to see Ripley girls basketball have an annual presence in the capital city.

The long-range goal is a state championship.

“You have to dream big,” he said.

With his parents roots in Gilmer County (his mother, Jane, was a teacher for many years in Jackson County), John Kennedy feels he’s had the best of both worlds.

And his professional life has had the bonus of being the son of a coach.

“Dad is always with me on the court.”

John Kennedy wouldn’t have it any other way.

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After a season-opening win against Ravenswood (52-31), in which McKennan Hall scored 26 and Sophie Nichols added 25, Ripley has faced off with the likes of Lewis County (77-37), Scott, Point Pleasant, Coal Grove, Riverside and Sissonville.

In a 48-40 victory over Scott, Nichols scored 18 and Hall added 12. Kyanah Baldwin was also in double figures with 10. Erin Ryan chipped in six and Ellie Hosaflook scored two.

“Sophie was our spark plug in the second half with her effort and scored. Kyannan stepped up big-time with her leadership,” Kennedy said.  

The Lady Vikings dropped a tough, 42-41, decision to Coal Grove, Ohio. Nichols paced the scoring attack with 24. Hall had 12. Baldwin finished with four and Ryan hit a free throw.

“They were a senior dominated lineup and it showed,” said Kennedy. “This game will make us better.

Ripley bounced back with a 48-35 victory over Point Pleasant, who is under first-year head coach Cody Greathouse.

“It’s always nice to go on the road and win,” Kennedy said.

Nichols had 15 points to lead the way. Hall and Baldwin also hit for double figures with 12 and 11. Ryan had six and Corbin Casto hit for two.

The Lady Vikings handed Riverside a 62-37 setback.

“We played more of an up-tempo style of game in the first half and took a lead going into the half. We were able to speed them up and pressure the ball early.”

Hall had 21 In the game while Nichols contributed 18. Baldwin scored 11 and Ryan supplied 10. Olivia Greathouse finished with two points.

Kennedy praised the student section following a 57-48 win over Sissonville.

“When games get tight like they did, that’s when we need our student section to get it rocking.

“Morgan (Shanklin) stepped up for us defensively in the second half, getting deflection after deflection. Corbin Casto came in and gave us a ton of valuable minutes. Ellie came in late in the fourth to help handle the ball and give us everything she's got (on) every possession defensively. Kyanah had a huge fourth quarter and Erin is sacrificing her body taking charges every game.”

Nichols paced the offensive attack with 18. Hall and Baldwin each scored 12. Addy Morrison finished with 10. Shanklin had five.