Keeping the game in the family

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Schaal cousins connect through Gillett girls basketball program

Greg Bates, Times Herald Correspondent

Gillett High School senior Kaitlyn Schaal is one of four Schaals that are part of the Gillett girls basketball team this year. Schaal is the second-leading scorer at 10.7 points per game, and her younger sister, freshman Karissa Schaal, chips in 7.5 points per game as the fourth-leading scorer. The two are joined by their cousins, Sharon and Sammy Schaal, who serve as assistant coaches on Gillett’s varsity team. (Times Herald file photo)

Aptly enough, it would all go down on Schaal Road in Gillett.

The Schaal relatives all lived within five miles of one another and would frequently gather in the summer at their grandma’s house. The kids always ventured outside to shoot hoops on a small slab of concrete. Teams would get mixed up, some of the elementary and middle school cousins would take on some of the high schoolers. The games were intense.

“The rule at Grandma’s was always ‘no foul unless there was blood,’” Kaitlyn Schaal said.

It’s apparent, these girls didn’t mess around.

“If you went in and talked to Grandma, you were a baby,” Shannon Schaal said. “There was no point in whining to grandma.”

Games at Grandma’s provided plenty of entertainment, and was the start to something special. It’s where the Schaal kids got their first taste of sport they now love. It’s also where the cousins formed a tight bond.

Now a decade after those meaningful games at Grandma’s, the Schaal cousins are reunited on the court.

Shannon and younger sister Sammy are assistant coaches on this year’s Gillett varsity team which includes their cousins — Kaitlyn and younger sister Karissa.

Even though they are a few years apart, they all get along well. Shannon, who graduated from Gillett in 2011, is the oldest at 25. Sammy, 21, who played at Coleman, graduated in 2014. Kaitlyn is a senior this season and Karissa is a freshman. Shannon and Sammy’s dad, Brad, is the older brother of Bret, Kaitlyn and Karissa’s dad.

“Great people. I love the Schaals,” Gillett girls basketball head coach Justin Daul said. “They’ve done nothing but great things for our hoopsters club.”

It’s a family dynamic that’s very special to all four Schaals in the Tigers’ program.

“It’s really fun. I really enjoy it,” said Shannon, who is in her third season coaching at Gillett. “We’re a really close family, extremely close.”

Sammy spent last season as the head coach Coleman after two years as an assistant. She decided to join her sister on the Gillett staff this year.

“Sammy, she sees the whole broad picture having 23 games of experience leading a varsity team,” Daul said. “Shannon, she is a defensive specialist. They mesh well with each other, very well.”

The older Schaals now are able to coach and teach their younger cousins.

“It helps a lot knowing that they know what I can do and what I can’t do, and they can yell at me a lot more than coach Daul can,” Kaitlyn said.

There might be some aggressive coaching directed toward the younger Schaals, but it’s a sign of tough love. Shannon and Sammy want what’s best for their cousins.

“They don’t push them aside or favor them — if anything, they’re harder on them,” Daul said. “That helps them. It kind of helps me, too, to be honest with you, to kind of shy away from it. It allows me to coach the other kids. Shannon is very, very hard, specifically on Karissa, the potential that Karissa shows.”

There might be some tense moments at practice, but there are certainly much more lighter moments. The four cousins keep practices loose.

“Sometimes I think we get on coach Daul’s nerves, because we’re always screwing around at practice and laughing about something, us four,” Shannon joked. “It’s hard to sometimes be serious.”

There tend to be quite a few inside jokes between the family members.

“During practice we’re always making jokes and people would be like, ‘What is that from?’ And we’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s just a joke from Grandma’s,’” Kaitlyn said.

Kaitlyn, who is a two-year starter but didn’t go out for the team last season, is enjoying her senior season with her sister. She and Karissa had never had the opportunity to play on the same team until this season.

“It’s fun,” Kaitlyn said. “We’re able to read each other’s minds, so we can like pass the ball when needed. Sometimes we fight, but we get over it after a while.”

Both girls are having solid seasons for the Tigers, which are off to a 9-4 start. Kaitlyn is the team’s second leading scorer at 10.7 points per game. Karissa is coming off the bench and contributing 7.5 points per game, which is fourth on the team.

“I’m really proud of them, they’ve come a long way,” Shannon said. “It’s really cool to see them play together. The chemistry they have together — just some of the plays they make together it’s like, ‘OK, that’s weird.’ How did she know she was going to be there?”

“Having Kaitlyn come out and then Karissa, adding her as a freshman, she’s just been a pleasant surprise,” Daul said.

“All of them have done a terrific job. … I love having them all around.”

The girls’ dads, Brad and Bret, try to attend as many Tigers games as possible. Grandma Sharon Schaal also doesn’t miss many games.

The cousins still try to gather at Grandma’s once a month.

“It’s fun when we go over there now and she’s like, ‘Well, what’s going on at practice this week?’” Shannon said. “She doesn’t really say much about it, I know she’s proud of us. Grandma’s always proud.”

Unfortunately, this will be the only season the four cousins will be on the same team. Kaitlyn will be graduating in May.

“It’s going to be sad to see Kaitlyn go, it’s been really fun coaching her,” Shannon said. “It’s going to be different next year without Kaitlyn there, but Karissa will have her own time, too.”

“I hope Karissa develops into the same path that (Kaitlyn’s) going,” Daul said. “It’s been a pleasure having Kaitlyn on the team. Having the Schaals on the coaching side has helped made me see the game in a different light and helped me on the other ends. It’s just been a pleasure.”