West Chester Henderson coach Jason Ritter coaches his new team for the first time at Philly Live this past weekend. (Photo: Nicole Ambruch/CoBL)
When Jason Ritter left Downingtown West five seasons ago, he had two young daughters and a commute that just didn’t leave him enough time to be home with them.
Ritter knew he wanted to get back at some point, but things would have to line up just right.
The opportunity presented itself last month when the West Chester Henderson head coaching position became available.
With his daughters a little bit older — now able to come watch dad coach — and the school a 10-minute drive from his home, it was the perfect opportunity Ritter was waiting for.
“I’ve been itching to get back into high school ever since I left,” Ritter said. “It just had to be the right job at the right time. I think Henderson filled both of those things.”
Ritter was the head coach at Downingtown West for five seasons from 2011-2016. His teams combined for a 47-11 record during his final two seasons, winning the Ches-Mont National both years and the league title in 2015.
Henderson is coming off a 16-8 season in 2021-22 under former coach Rob Frattura in which the Warriors finished third in the league behind West Chester East and Downingtown West and advanced to the second round of the District 1-6A tournament.
All-Ches-Mont second team selection Nyle Ralph-Byers (2024) and All-Chest-Mont honorable mention Connor Fleet (2024) are back this season to lead the way for Ritter and the Warriors.
“For me, I think my experience in the Ches-Mont, the success that I’ve had will bode well,” Ritter said. “But I always say, ‘It’s not about the Xs and Os. It’s always about the player,’ and we have a couple good players that can kind of carry us there, but it’s going to take the rest of the guys to kind of elevate our game to match those two kids if we want to do something special next year.”
Ritter was officially approved by the school board in late May, so he hasn’t had much time with his new team. He let assistant coach Briheem Adger, the team’s JV coach last season, coach the Warriors in the Penncrest Shootout earlier this offseason.
He estimated Hendersson had about four open gyms before the team at Philly Live I in two games Saturday. The Warriors didn’t have any offenses installed as their final practice before the event was interrupted by a fire alarm.
“We just had to play,” said Fleet, after hitting a game-winner in Henderson’s final game of the event. “Whatever came for us, we had to take.”
Henderson went 1-1 on Saturday. The Warriors lost 73-51 to Hightstown (N.J.) before Fleet’s last-second shot gave Ritter his first (unofficial) win at Henderson — a 64-63 victory over Central Regional (N.J.).
“I saw some good things there,” Ritter said. “I saw things that we needed to clean up, some bad tendencies they have, but I also saw some really good things.”
Ritter is still getting a feel for his team as players have been in and out during the spring and early summer. He said there are four returning varsity contributors he hasn’t met last year due to the other sports they play.
The goal for Ritter before the start of next season is to overhaul the way the Warriors play both on offense and defense.
“We’re having open gyms the rest of the summer, getting the guys in the gym and meeting more of our guys,” Ritter said, “and walking through our plays and walking through our philosophies of defending, playing together, extra passes, hustling, communicating. They’re all things that they need to improve from things I’ve seen over the last month.”
The early impressions of Ritter from his new players are positive.
“He’s great. He knows what he’s doing,” Fleet said. “When he runs practices, every minute we’re doing something. He’s making all of us better.”
Ritter stayed close to basketball even after leaving Downingtown West. Along with following his former players, he works with Coaches vs. Cancer and is the District 1 boys basketball tabulator. He also kept busy coaching his daughters in various sports.
There are a few unheralded aspects of being the head coach at the high school level that Ritter forgot about in the past six years that he’s been reminded of in his first month back as head coach.
Moreso, however, he’s embraced being back with a group of kids everyday and helping them grow.
”The grind of it all kind of hits you. The grind of open gyms. The grind of weekend tournaments. The grind of meeting the kids and all their schedules, AAU, summer jobs,” Ritter said. “You’re kind of back right in it where there’s a lot of things I didn’t love about high school basketball that kind of came up on the first month of the job and reminded we why I didn’t like it,
“But then there’s just being with the kids in the gym is the most exciting thing. Just being with the kids in practice, that’s what I missed the most. It’s not all the games. It’s not the championships. Everyday practices with the kids are what I missed the most.”
*Editor's Note: Jason Ritter is formerly the camp director for City of Basketball Love.