Brian Magie has enjoyed success with Standardbreds. He is pretty good with Mustangs, too. Magie, a 54-year-old harness racing trainer from Chesterfield, N.J., is in his fourth season of coaching the girls' basketball team at New Jersey United Christian Academy in nearby Cream Ridge. The school is for students in grades seven through 12.
When Magie took over the girls' basketball program, the Mustangs were coming off a winless campaign in 2009. In Magie's first year, the squad went 3-12. In 2011, the team finished 5-9. Last season, NJUCA went 15-5, despite having only seven players, and lost in the semifinals of the Penn-Jersey Athletic Association playoffs.
"The first year was spent mainly working on fundamentals and trying to get rid of the losing mentality,” said Magie, who previously coached rec basketball and softball. "The whole thing was to get them believing in themselves.
"They had no problem believing in their faith, but if they didn't believe in themselves they were setting themselves up to fail.”
Over time, Magie got his players to understand how each could help the team in her own way, whether it was offensively, defensively, or working hard under the boards for rebounds.
"In life, you have your role and the same is true on the basketball court,” Magie said. "I told them if we all performed our roles individually, as a whole we would be successful. These girls are very unselfish. They took their roles to heart.”
Magie is probably best known for training 1996 Meadowlands Pace winner Hot Lead. Known as "the iron horse,” Hot Lead was a popular pacer at the Meadowlands, in part because of the green goggles he wore while racing.
In addition to Hot Lead, who was the 3-year-old male pacer of the year in 1996, Magie trained stakes-winners such as Awesome Gal, I Married A Witch, Panedict Arnold, Panspacificflight, She's Game, and Woodsie And Buster.
"I like him,” junior co-captain Megan McKeon said. "It's great playing for him. I didn't know what to expect because I never played basketball until freshman year. He's taught me a lot. He's a great coach.”
New Jersey United Christian Academy opened its doors in Cream Ridge in September 2004. The school attracts students from around the area in addition to having some on-campus living.
There are just fewer than 100 students at NJUCA, with nine girls playing basketball. As might be expected with a small number of students, there is a close-knit atmosphere at the school. It also is special in terms of friendship and camaraderie, Magie said.
"I don't know if there is a place where ‘mean' doesn't exist,” he said. "But if there is, this is probably it.”
The athletic program does more than provide activities and chances to develop leadership skills; it also helps promote awareness of the school.
"Even if we go somewhere and get beat by 50 points, it puts the school out there,” Magie said. "It might guide the right student to the school at the right time.”
Of course, finding success on the basketball court is still part of the experience – and fun. Despite graduating several key players from last season's team, the Mustangs are 9-6 this year.
"What we've been able to accomplish here is great,” Magie said. "It's a tribute to the administration and to the parents. We've showed a tiny school can compete.
"It's as much a thrill as to win the Meadowlands Pace.”--by Ken Weingarnter/Harness Racing Communications