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Back at Big Red: Forte returns as girls basketball coach

STEUBENVILLE — Angelita Forte loves working with the youth and the game of basketball. Becoming Big Red’s head girls basketball coach for the second time just made too much sense for her.

Former head coach Jeff Lombardo joined the boys basketball program earlier this year. So, when the opportunity presented itself, Forte was right on top of it.

“What I love doing is putting those two together,” said Forte, who is the Youth Services Coordinator for the Steubenville City School District. “It goes beyond the game of basketball, but also empowering these young ladies to help them grow and become productive young women in today’s society.

“I’ve been to many different places with coaching from every level from elementary to Division I (collegiate) basketball. I’ve been able to work with a lot of young ladies and have seen different parts of development. This is a critical age for these young ladies when it comes to their personal growth and learning how to be a part of a team that will later on be a part of a work group.”

Forte was Big Red’s head coach for a few seasons beginning in 2003. After that, she joined Sylvia Crawley’s staff at Ohio University from 2006-08. When Crawley, a Steubenville native, was named head coach at Boston College, she took her OU staff with her, including Forte.

A 1989 graduate of Wintersville High School, Forte stayed in Boston for three years before moving to Columbus with her only child, Michael.

“My son has special needs, so I went back to pick him up and lived with him in Columbus for a year to help get him situated,” she said.

That year was 2011. During her brief time there, Forte coached the Pickerington Central girls squad. The following year, she moved back to Steubenville to become a full-time teacher.

She returned to Big Red’s bench as an assistant coach from 2012-16, with the final two seasons under Lombardo during his first years as head coach. During the four years away from the court, Forte graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville, earning her master’s in education and administration.

Forte played for the Wintersville Golden Warriors during her high school days.

“I played all five positions,” she said laughing.

After graduating, Forte took a few years off before walking on the girls team at West Liberty University. It was there she earned her first degree in health and physical education.

Also a minority representative on the Ohio High School Athletic Administration East District board, Forte likes what she has seen so far from Big Red.

“They are enthusiastic and excited about getting back on the court,” Forte said. “They’ve had some open gyms. The turnout was really good.

“It was an injury-riddled end to their (2019-20) season that I think contributed to their early exit out of the tournament. Now everyone’s excited to get back on the court.”

Last year’s squad finished 12-11 overall and earned the eighth seed in the tournament but fell to ninth-seeded Minerva, 58-53, at home.

Forte, however, will have one of the team’s best players in senior Makayla Abram returning. She missed all of last year with a leg injury suffered during an early practice. She was a third-team All-Ohio member as a sophomore.

“With Makayla, I remember her before I was coaching again her as a little kid coming around. To see where she is at in her high school career is really impressive and nice to see,” Forte said. “She’s developed really nicely.”

Forte also has talent returning in junior Elexis Martin and sophomore Kylie Maxwell. Martin averaged 13.5 points per game last season and was a second-team All-Eastern District member. Maxwell, a special mention, burst on the scene partly due to the numerous injuries to Abram, Madison Fields and others.

“She (Martin) comes from a basketball, athletic family,” Forte said. “Her father played for Big Red. She has an older sister who played and did well for Big Red. Two of her aunts played for Big Red. She definitely has the genes and is carrying the torch for her family. She has it in her blood.

“Watching the games with Kylie, you can tell that she understands the game of basketball and is just a great addition to the program.”

Forte hopes to return to the court for a full slate of games. With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world, it is anybody’s guess what this season will look like. Forte is making sure her team is aware of the situation and what may come.

“We focus on the health side of it as far as social distancing while they’re at open gyms,” she said. “If you’re not participating, make sure you wear a mask. We’re making sure the equipment is always clean before and after practice. We’re taking all of those precautions so that they have a good understanding of it.”

Until a final decision is made, Forte and Big Red will be going through the motions of preparing for a full season with no setbacks. Four years can be a long time for a returning coach, so getting started right away is a must.

“We’re enjoying the moment so that there are no regresses,” Forte said. “If we don’t have a season, then they’ll know what they put in to this point. They’re enjoying where they’re at during this point and time. If we focus too much on whether or not there will be a season, then why I am going to work hard now?

“They’re fully aware of the possibilities. We’ll face it at the moment if it comes. Right now, they’re focused on making the effort.”

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