Born in Michigan City, Indiana, Coach Bona came to Emmanuel first as a student athlete where he played basketball and met his soon to be wife, Gloria Martin. Emmanuel was a two-year school at the time, so Bona graduated with his AA degree and went on and finished his Sociology degree and basketball eligibility at Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, NC.
After finishing his degree in the spring of 1975, Coach Bona was approached by his former Emmanuel Basketball Coach, Jim Ganey who asked him to join his staff at Emmanuel as an Assistant Coach and teach physical education classes.
It wasn’t until after his first year coaching under Coach Ganey that Bona realized his passion for coaching, a conversation with then Athletic Director Bill Shirley helped change his perspective.
“I went to him and told him I was struggling with what I wanted to do,” Bona said. “He asked me, how long have you been playing basketball? He then asked me to think of all of the years I’ve played basketball, all of the coaches and experiences I’ve had as training to prepare me for being a coach so I could give it back to others.”
Mr. Shirley went on to ask Coach Bona, “Do you not think that maybe the Lord has something to do with you being involved in Athletics for that long of a period of time, that maybe he’s placing you in a position so that you can guide and direct others?”
This inquiry changed Coach Bona’s perspective and is something that has guided him throughout his tenure at Emmanuel.
In 1980, with the implementation of Title IX, Emmanuel began its very first Women’s Basketball program, hiring Bona as their Head Coach. Since then, Coach Bona has served in several roles at Emmanuel including full-time Athletic Director and Assistant Professor, but when Emmanuel began the membership process with NCAA Division II four years ago, Coach made the decision to return to coaching the Lady Lions full-time.
With a lot of success, Coach Bona has received interest to coach other basketball programs, including Clemson University, with the Tigers recruiting him as an Assistant Women’s Basketball Coach a few years ago, but Bona has decided to remain at Emmanuel.
“I’ve had this question asked of me, why so many years here, why would you not go somewhere else?” Coach Bona said. “I think in the natural eye, people could see that there would be a much more attractive situation out there but I think the reason we’ve stayed here this long is that Emmanuel has been a calling for both my family and me rather than just a job. I think that makes all the difference in your life’s choices and decisions.”
Emmanuel is unique to Coach Bona because lives are changed here, including his.
“I got saved when I came to Emmanuel as a student and basically was transformed in my approach to everything,” Coach Bona said. “I see it not just with the student athletes but because I have taught classes, with a lot of our students, why would you not want to be a part of something that changes lives forever every day?”
Coach Bona says he always prays prior to going on a recruiting trip that the Lord will help him recruit the players He wants here at Emmanuel.
“I’ve recruited some kids that I’ve wondered if this is really the place they need to be, but it’s a growing process,” Coach Bona said. “And maybe I don’t see it as much while they’re here but when I go onto their Facebook page five years later and it’s all about Jesus, I see that the seed’s been planted in their life.”
Bona tries to share his faith with his players on a daily basis.
“My terminology with our basketball team is that we try to teach the players to act like Champions do,” Coach Bona said. “We have a list of about 12 things that we emphasize to them, all of which you can apply
Biblically and to their life struggles on a daily basis. We have kids that come from so many different family and economic backgrounds, different countries and every one of them is a little different so we try and blend them into a team, thinking the same way, it requires time and training.”
Coach Bona can think of three coaches who have helped guide him throughout his career, Coach Jim Ganey, Coach Arlon Beadles, and current EC Men’s Basketball Coach TJ Rosene.
“Coach Ganey when I first came here taught me a lot of things about human relationships,” Bona said. “In recruiting you have to be able to talk to anybody and I wasn’t really used to that. Coach Ganey helped me to realize that you have to be willing to talk to anyone, get to know as many people as you can and introduce yourself and the college to them.”
Coach Bona learned some of the technical side of coaching and the X’s and O’s from Coach Beadles.
“Coach Beadles was more reserved, he was outgoing but he was technical,” Coach Bona said. “Coach Ganey would run a few plays where Coach Beadles would run many, but was more reserved in his personality. So the combination of those two really helped me build my coaching philosophy.”
“My relationship with Coach (TJ) Rosene also helped me. I was the Athletic Director when he was hired and our offices are right next to each other so we’re always interacting. He’s a great coach, how he does things with his athletes, how he treats them in regards to their character, the mechanics of the game of basketball, I think our relationship has been a real benefit to us both.”
Each year, there is excitement surrounding Coach Bona’s basketball program, but this season there seems to be added excitement, with several of his key players returning.
“We had a very successful year last year and we have a majority of our players returning,” Coach Bona said. “And of that majority we have a very good group of leaders that are not only good basketball players but leaders off the court as well. So that’s the exciting part, when we present simple ideas like Go to Class and Give 100%, 100% of the time, that’s like old stuff to them. The combination of the ones we have coming back with the seven new ones coming in, they come from different backgrounds, but this group is so like minded and the more they’re around each other they’ll see that. If you have very good leaders and character on your team, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”
As they strive to act like champions from a character and work ethic standpoint, Coach Bona looks to Scripture, specifically Matthew 6-8, and four words Jesus uses during his Sermon on the Mount, “Don’t be like them,” to help guide his team.
“We’ve used those four words as our capstone, if we’re going to act like Champions and followers of Christ then we need to begin acting differently from everyone else around us,” Coach Bona said. “An example, if we lose a game in our gym, how are we going to act and treat the other team when we get ready to shake hands? Are we going to ask them to come together at the end of the game and have prayer, or are we just going to be upset about it and walk away? We want to be different but in a Jesus kind of way, with kindness, approachability, and of course Love.”
His advice for students aspiring to go into coaching? Pray about it.
“I would suggest if they can do an internship or assistantship to do it,” Coach Bona said. “Talk to as many people as they can so they can get a feel for if that’s what they want to do. Once again, make sure if it’s something you want to go into that you feel a calling for that. Get involved in as many programs as you can, so that when you’re ready to make that decision it’s clear to you. God will help show you the way.”
The Lady Lions will begin their 2016-2017 season on Friday, November 18th, taking on Georgia College in Dahlonega, Ga.