When legendary Harmony boys basketball coach Terry Kruise passed away after a 13-month battle with cancer, not only did the basketball world lose an amazing coach, but an even more amazing person.
In the nine years since his passing, the area has missed “Teach” and his basketball, which meant coaching kids to not only be good basketball players, but great people.
Now, Kruise’s oldest daughter, Kierstyn, and his “adopted” daughter Dawn Wolfe are trying to continue the legacy that Kruise started in 1993 when he became the head coach at Harmony High School.
Kierstyn Kruise is currently coaching junior high girls at Central Cambria with a fellow teacher, Brandon Kochinsky, and Sarah Lockard. But she got her start as a volunteer assistant, along with Wolfe, at Cambria Heights.
Wolfe’s coaching career started even earlier, as Terry pulled her in to help coach Harmony’s junior high girls team in 2009.
“I had just graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in Art from Slippery Rock University,” Wolfe said. “I don’t think I had much say in the matter. I just came home from work one day, and Terry told me I was going to be his assistant and handed me a stack of paperwork to fill out. I hadn’t even considered becoming a coach at that point, I just enjoyed watching Kierstyn, Makenzie, and Kamden play.”
Wolfe has been a part of the Kruise family for many years.
“A lot of people may not realize it, but the Kruise Family took me in when I was in middle school,” she said. “My mother battled a host of ailments and was in and out of the hospital a lot and I had an absent father. My maternal grandfather did the best he could, but needed help getting me to and from sporting events.
“I also think he wanted me to have a more stable environment and a strong male role model in my life. I wasn’t there the day he had the conversation with Terry about helping raise me, but I know he knew I would be in good hands.
“That’s just how the Kruises have always been though. They’ve helped raise a lot of kids, and I’m very fortunate to have them in my life.”
Wolfe is now the assistant junior high girls basketball coach at Cambria Heights, a place she’s been since 2013. She has also served as head junior high coach and varsity assistant coach at the school. She spent four years at Harmony prior to that.
Both Kierstyn Kruise and Wolfe say they can remember their earliest memories of Terry coaching.
“My earliest memories of Terry coaching are from elementary school,” Wolfe said. “I would have been in sixth grade the year his team made it to the District 6 finals, and I just remember it being this really exciting time for everyone.
“There was so much school spirit and pride in the boys basketball program at Harmony and seeing how excited and enthusiastic he was ALL THE TIME helped build my love for the game.”
Kierstyn says her memories are also from those years as well.
“My dad had us out on the court as early as 3 or 4 years old,” she said. “There is a home video of us “playing” basketball on our court at home and he was explaining that when you have the ball you have to dribble everywhere you go or you’re traveling. We were always learning.
“My earliest memory of him coaching is probably when they won their game in the state playoffs at IUP. I remember being so proud of him and so proud that he was my dad.”
Coach Kruise had a storied career at one of the smallest PIAA schools in the state. He took his team to the PIAA playoffs five times, District 6 playoffs 11 times and finished his career with a 294-168 record. He spent 22 years at Harmony and 18 seasons as its boys head coach.
But, it was things he did off the court that helped shape the young men and women he taught.
“So much of my coaching philosophy comes from him,” Wolfe said. “He was such a strategist and hard worker and that is something I definitely learned from him. Basketball didn’t end when practice was over. There were still hours of work to do behind the scenes and I learned how to game prep that way. I’m not sure people other than our family members and his assistant coaches knew how much time he put into his practice plans and game prep.
“He had a lot of very successful seasons at Harmony, seasons where we beat top teams in the state and that all came from his ability to prepare for each game. He had to go into every game as an underdog and figure out how to beat bigger, faster, and stronger teams. He outcoached a lot of coaches, and it was the best training I could have gotten.”
But there are also some quirky things she’s adopted from Terry as well.
“On a funnier note, I picked up some weird habits that have continued to stick,” she said. “The one we joke about the most is that Fall open gyms for junior high can’t start until after the Harmony Fair. Cambria Heights people don’t quite get that one, but it’s still a good time frame.
“Winter sports previews are like Christmas and you must always get one from the Mirror, Trib and The Progress. You must also keep them on you at all times in case you need to reference it in January. Most drills shouldn’t last more than seven minutes because players get bored. You must always come to practice with a written plan that you store in binders marked by year so that you can look back on them when needed.”
Kierstyn said she also pulls a lot of things she remembers her dad doing into her coaching.
“I think the most important thing my dad taught me is that winning is fun, but at the end of the day it’s about people,” she said. “If you can help your players become better people and better athletes then you have done your job. If you can do that and win, it’s an added bonus.
“My practices are set up a lot like my dad’s, because that’s how I learned. We center up at the beginning to set the tone and talk about the practice or game before and center up again at the end to plan for the practice or game ahead. My dad always used Dick Devenzio’s quote ‘a quiet gym is a losing gym”’ and I live by that. Our practices are loud and I expect my team to be clapping and cheering for their teammates during almost every drill. I think that atmosphere is contagious and important to keep up the energy.
“Some of the rules that I learned from my dad off the court and continue with my team are simple things like don’t cut corners, be respectful to the other team/coaches/referees, don’t leave garbage/empty water bottles on the bench, don’t use the word ‘can’t’, and thank the people who came to watch you play.”
Coach Kruise taught at Harmony, something his daughter Kierstyn is now doing at Central Cambria.
“I am currently a Speech-Language Pathologist at Cambria Elementary School,” she said. “I feel so blessed that I get to coach at the school where I work. I feel like it really fosters that sense of community and belonging. I love my job and I love my school.”
Wolfe, who originally majored in art, has gone back to school to get her teaching certificate and will graduate in December 2021 from IUP. She currently works for an IT company called CJAWS, Inc. that services K-12 schools. She spends most of her time at Cambria Heights.
With both at rival schools in the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference, they coach against each other now, something that sets Coach Kruise’s wife, Kathleen, on edge.
“It’s hard for Kathleen because our schedules mirror each other,” Wolfe said. “In the LHAC we all play the same day, often in different directions, so the big anticipation is always the CH vs. CC game when the whole family can be there. The grandmas even make it out for this one! She also keeps book and does team Mom duties for Kierstyn.
“The CH vs. CC game is always stressful for Kathleen. We had to eliminate trash-talking a few years ago so I think it has been less stressful since then!”
“My mom is our biggest fan,” she said. “She doesn’t miss a game and her support means the world to me. She likes to spoil my team by bringing my girls cookies or cupcakes every game. Some of my girls call her “Grandma Coach.”
Still at the end of the day, it’s more about fun that the win — sort of.
“It’s definitely competitive,” said Kierstyn. “We are both very competitive and we both love to win. I think that competitive nature in us makes it all the more fun. At the end of the day we love each other, want each other to be successful, and we support each other. Basketball gives us something else to talk (or obsess) about and bond over, which is so special.”
Both say they want kids to fall in love with the game, just like Coach Kruise taught.
“His presence was electric and his passion was contagious,” said Kierstyn. “The Point Guard College (PGC Basketball) teaches its athletes that you are either contributing or contaminating the environment around you. My dad was a contributor and I can say with 100% certainty he made every room he stepped in better.”
“How enthusiastic he was just to be in the gym,” said Wolfe. “His energy set the tone of practices and we try to do the same thing. I know Kierstyn runs her practices like that as well and when they see how excited you are it helps build leaders. I’d also want them to know that no matter what, never give up. There was never an obstacle too big and he always went into every situation ready to fight.”
Sounds like Kruise’s legacy is in pretty safe hands.