Assistant coach Jason Toton tabbed to take over Judges boys’ basketball program
WINCHESTER — It had been 27 years since Handley High School had to make the kind of announcement it made Tuesday morning.
If Jason Toton has his way, it will be another 27 until it happens again.
Toton was officially introduced as the new Handley boys’ basketball coach at a press conference held in the Maddex Hall of Fame lobby, becoming just the ninth head coach in the program’s history.
“It’s a great honor to follow in the footsteps of such an elite group of coaches,” said Toton, 33. who has spent the last 11 years as a varsity assistant. “I’ve had opportunities to leave in the past for other head coaching opportunities and I haven’t done that because when I first came here 11 years ago I felt like this was home.
“Just the sense of everything, of the tradition and the Handley pride ... this is where I started and this is where I want to finish my career hopefully.”
A business education teacher at Daniel Morgan Middle School — he also coaches the track and field team — Toton moved to Winchester after graduating from Oakland City University in Indiana in 2002, where he majored in business education and was a member of the varsity basketball team.
He quickly joined the staff of then-Judges coach Tommy Dixon, who announced he was stepping down after 27 years at the helm in June, and his work in the program over the past decade made him an ideal candidate to take over.
“We had a very talented applicant pool and the committee had a very tough decision to make,” said Handley director of student activities Rick Lilly. “What sold us was the vision Coach Toton had and the kind of direction he wanted to take the program.
“He is uniquely qualified to take over the head position. He was able to show great respect and understanding of the tradition and history here at John Handley High School, but more importantly he was able to put his stamp on the program and more importantly, his stamp on what he wants the program to look like.”
Toton takes over a team that is coming off a 21-5 season that included a sweep of the Northwestern District regular season and tournament titles, winning the Region II, Division 3 championship and advancing to the Group AA state quarterfinals.
With three of the top six players returning — including the reigning Region II, Division 3 Player of the Year in 6-foot-8 standout Cameron Jackson — the cupboard certainly isn’t bare, which is exactly what the man Toton’s replacing wanted.
“I always said that someone gave me a very good program and I wanted to return the favor to the guy who came after me,” said Dixon, who took over for Bill Isherwood in 1986.
“Jason’s ready to step up to the next level. One of the big reasons why I got out at this time is simply because I knew if it was given to him it would be in good hands. He’s a hard worker, he’s going to make these kids mind themselves and do things right and I can say nothing but positive things about the way he has grown in this community and in basketball.”
Toton credited Dixon with helping him get to where he is today, calling him “both a mentor and a second father.”
Toton doesn’t plan on changing much in terms of style of play, stating that the Judges will still use their size and athleticism to push the ball up the court and harass opponents on defense, and although it will be a new face leading the huddle, the Judges players don’t expect much of a change in the coaching style either.
“They’re pretty much the same, Coach Dixon is a little tougher, but Coach Toton means business,” said rising senior Tre Brown, who was the team’s starting point guard last year. “He doesn’t smile any more than Coach Dixon.
“I think we’re all pretty glad that Coach Toton got the job. He’s been with us since middle school, so it just helps us out a lot. I think it’s really good to have somebody that knows how we all play.”
With a core of Jackson, Brown and wingman Solomon Finley returning for their senior seasons, the expectations will be high right out of the gate for Toton and his staff.
But, like any good coach, he said his focus is on working on the little things and improving every day in order to have what he hopes will be the first of many successful seasons at Handley.
“There’s been a rich basketball tradition here not just with Coach Dixon the last 27 years, but to think that there’s only been nine basketball coaches here at a school that’s been here for  years is quite an accomplishment. I look forward to the task of hopefully carrying on the Handley tradition into the next basketball era.”
— Contact Kevin Trudgeon at firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1