By Blake Ells
Ronald Steele hadn’t had time to finish unpacking his office before there was work to do.
Within his first two months as the new athletics director at John Carroll Catholic High School, Steele hired a new girls basketball coach, Destiny Frazier, and a new baseball coach, Jared Bonvillain. He oversaw great turnover among the assistants on his football staff, and he took over head coaching duties for a boys basketball team that lost nine seniors and didn’t win an area game in 2016-17.
It’s not quite the same athletic dominance that he left behind at John Carroll more than a decade ago.
“John Carroll is surrounded by very good schools,” Steele said. “Kids have opportunities to go to really good public schools. And we’ve had a lot of turn-over here; five baseball coaches in five years, five girls basketball coaches in five years.”
He was one of those girls basketball coaches. He led the Cavaliers in 2015-16 before accepting the boys basketball job at Cornerstone Christian for the 2016-17 season.
His brother, Andrew, also was one of those boys basketball head coaches. Steele served as a volunteer assistant under his brother during the 2014-15 season, before his brother left for a graduate assistant role at the University of South Alabama.
Now, at just 31-years-old, Ronald Steele takes the reins of a proud athletics program that boasts state championships: 10 in boys soccer over the years, five in girls soccer, three in boys basketball, three in volleyball, two in boys indoor track and one in boys and girls tennis, girls indoor track, girls cross-country, track and field and football.
He won two of those basketball championships as a player. During his junior season, he led the Cavaliers to a 36-0 mark and earned the state’s “Mr. Basketball” honors for his performance in both his junior and senior seasons.
“Ty Parker was the first coach that I had here, and he was a strong influence on my desire to be a coach when I was older,” Steele said. “I admired the way that he combined Christian love and coaching. My dad was a coach, and I played for coach Marty Smith. Those three men had a great impact on me.”
Europe as a Spring Board
Following his career as a four-year starter at Alabama, Steele married his wife, Artesha, and the couple journeyed to Europe, where he spent time playing professional basketball in Italy, Turkey and Israel. He had some success from 2009 to 2014, but as he approached 30, he knew that he and his wife wanted to return home to begin their family.
That’s when his coaching career began its rapid ascent: a year as a vol- unteer assistant to his brother for the John Carroll boys basketball team, a year as the head coach of the John Carroll girls basketball team and a stint as the boys basketball head coach at Cornerstone Christian.
After leading the Eagles to a 9-1 region mark in his first and only season at Cornerstone, he got a call from John Carroll.
“I was happy at Cornerstone Christian, and I felt like I was doing what I was called to do,” Steele said. “John Carroll had a new administration and a new president. Father Bob Sullivan wanted to bring alumni back. They approached me about leading the athletic program. I had already done a lot of that at Cornerstone, so it wasn’t as overwhelming as it could have been.”
And the bonds of home are difficult to deny.
“As an alumnus, you have a much larger investment,” he said. “You want to see every program do as well as it can. Our priority here is to reinforce Christian values through sports. The things that you learn through sports – self-discipline, hard work, attention to detail – those are the same things that guide you through life.”
His familiarity with the structure of the private school will prove beneficial. Steele’s focus is beyond the walls that contain his program on Lakeshore Parkway.
He strives to begin at Toy Bowl, the Catholic youth sports association of the Diocese of Birmingham, with first through sixth grades. He’ll work with middle school, freshmen and junior varsity teams. His vision is to redevelop the culture to give aspiring students and athletes a reason to attend John Carroll.
“Most of our kids aren’t going to play sports in college,” he said. “We hope they do, but we measure our successes by maximizing their potential as people.”
Steele was very nearly a wide receiver at the University of Alabama, as he was at John Carroll. It wouldn’t have interrupted his basketball career; he was an aspiring two-sport star. He said UA coach Mark Gottfried never discouraged him from playing both, but rather, he made the decision because he worried that maintaining his grades would be much too difficult.
Now, he’ll have time to spend on both sports.
“My focus is to make each program the best it can be,” he said. “I’m the basketball coach, but my dedication is to John Carroll Catholic High School. I plan on working with all of our coaches and giving them the resources they need and I also plan on giving all of our kids the tools that they need to be successful.”
The Cavaliers begin their football season at St. Clair County on Aug. 25 and their volleyball season hosting Pelham on Sept. 5. ❖