With Bethany's 62-36 victory over Howe Military on Jan. 12, boys basketball coach Jim Buller won his 300th career game--the most by any Elkhart County coach at one school. Buller passed John Longfellow's 299 at Elkhart, but is second in total county wins as Longfellow also won 65 games at Nappanee. Bethany athletic director Dan Bodiker is particularly impressed that Buller has accumulated this many wins while mostly playing schools the same size or larger.
Dubbed the dean of Elkhart County basketball coaches by a local sportswriter for his 28 seasons as Bruin head coach-the longest tenure at one school by any active coach in the county-Buller has earned respect as an excellent basketball coach not only within the Bethany community, but also among his peers and in the wider community. Bodiker views one of Buller's strongest coaching strengths as his ability to scout opponents and sense their weaknesses, which seems to be affirmed by frequent calls to Buller from fellow coaches wanting advice on common opponents. And in a sport where successful coaches often move on to larger schools with more prestige and money, one local public school board member once asked Bodiker, "How have you been able to keep Jim Buller at Bethany so long?"The answer of course is Buller's commitment to the mission of Bethany: its students and players. In fact Buller says, "one of my greatest rewards in coaching is the relationships with players that continues as they grow into adults." He takes time to not only coach basketball skills, but to nurture faith and leadership skills in his players. His captains do more than meet with officials before a game. They function more like assistant coaches as Buller talks with them regularly about their teammates-who needs to be encouraged or who is feeling included/excluded.
Buller, however, downplays the personal achievement and sees this milestone more as an accomplishment of the school, especially in his being supported and allowed to continue coaching after some down years that would have likely had him moving on in a larger school system. He also credits learning from longtime Bethany coach and athletic director Dan Bodiker as well as many good assistants over the years, some of them former players who remain good friends. However, Krysten Parson, varsity girls basketball coach and former assistant under Buller, turns the credit largely back to him: "He doesn't just teach his players, he teaches his coaching staff too. I learned more from Jim in one year than I had in my previous years coaching."