Sunday, February 18, 2018
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Friends Fisher and Sherwood faceoff

It was around this time two years ago when Manheim Central boys basketball coach Chris Sherwood came to a realization about his assistant coach, Charlie Fisher.

“We were playing Lebanon in the first round of the league playoffs,” Sherwood recalled in an interview last month. “I was gonna go watch Lebanon play Hershey in a late-season game. He (Fisher) wanted Cedar Crest. He said ‘Let me have an opportunity to go scout Cedar Crest. I’ll do the whole thing.’ ”

Manheim Central wound up beating Lebanon in the opening round of the LancasterLebanon League playoffs, setting up a Tuesday practice to prep for a semifinal game against Cedar Crest.

The situation worked out quite nicely. Fisher already had a gameplan drawn up from what he had seen when scouting the Falcons. So Sherwood let Fisher run the entire practice.

“I remember thinking, ‘My time with this guy is limited,’” Sherwood recalled. “I knew at that moment I had lost him.”

Sherwood’s inclination was right. The ensuing offseason, Fisher got the head coaching gig at Ephrata. Now in his second season leading the Mounts, Fisher will meet Sherwood for the first time this season when Ephrata travels to Manheim Central tonight.

Although it’s the second encounter overall between the coaches, it’s the first with high stakes. You see, Manheim Central played at Ephrata early in the 2015-16 season. But at the time, both Fisher and Sherwood had a pair of young rosters still developing. Tonight, the Mounts (6-0 league, 11-2 overall) and Barons (5-1, 9-1) go head-to-head as the top two teams in the L-L Section Two standings.

“It’s going to be interesting being on the other side of the bleachers,” Fisher said. “We played there last Saturday for that showcase, but we were still sitting on the home side. So sitting on the other side will be different.”

It’s been a story in the making for years. Technically, since 2010, when Sherwood returned as the Manheim Central coach after a stint as an assistant coach at Penn State Harrisburg under his longtime mentor, Mike Gaffey.

“When I saw Charlie, I saw myself with Mike Gaffey,” Sherwood said. “I saw exactly in Charlie what Mike saw in me when he took me under his wing.”

That 2010-11 season, Fisher was the Barons’ ninth-grade coach while Sherwood led the varsity. Fisher, though, sometimes double-dipped when the opportunity arose, coaching the ninth-grade practice after school then swinging over to help out at the varsity practice in the evening.

Fisher and Sherwood also worked — and still do — down the hall from each other as teachers at Manheim Central Middle School.

For as much interaction as they had, though, there were still barriers, as in any young relationship. Those barriers, however, had no option but to be stripped away when tragedy struck the Manheim Central community on a Sunday in January — in the heart of the basketball season.

A car accident took the lives of four students. One of them, DeVaughn Lee, was the leading scorer of the Manheim Central basketball team.

“I remember like it was yesterday,” Fisher recalled. “When that happened ... I’ll never forget ... he (Sherwood) called me on a Sunday. From that day on our relationship ... we’ve been inseparable ... we were at the funerals together, we were at meetings together. When he spoke on stage at the funeral I went on up on stage with him. Everything we did, we did it together. It gave us a bond that’s hard to describe. It made us closer than you can imagine.”

Fisher joined Sherwood’s varsity staff the next season. Having already been through the worst of circumstances together, they were more than strong enough to endure the sub-.500 season that followed in the 2011-12 campaign.

“We were kind of each other’s rock,” Sherwood said. “Knowing there was gonna be better times at Manheim Central.”

After a first-round District Three playoff appearance in 201213, the better times came in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, when the Barons won a combined 49 games, twice reached the district semis — making it to the championship game in 2014 — and twice competed in the PIAA tournament, winning a first-round state playoff game in 2015.

“We did it together,” Sherwood said of coaching alongside Fisher. “We went through those two incredible seasons, we watched film till 4 in the morning together.”

Fisher and Sherwood now watch film separately, as they’ve done the last two days in preparation for tonight’s meeting against each other.

But even though they’re opposing coaches, they’re still best friends. Going through the darkest and brightest times together can do that for just about any relationship.

“If you’re going to play in a big-time game,” Fisher said, “you might as well do it against your best friend ... against the guy who taught me almost everything I know. I’ll take it.”