All-star games are often regarded as swan songs for the players — one last chance to represent their high school on the basketball court.
Only this year, their coaches will join them in that pursuit, at least in the West Virginia North-South All-Star Classic.
Charleston Catholic’s Bill McClanahan, a co-coach for the South, and Tucker County’s Tom Gutshall, one of two coaches for the North, will both work the sidelines one final time during the June 20 boys all-star game at the South Charleston Community Center.
“I get the chance to enjoy being with the kids one more time,’’ said McClanahan, who also coached in the North-South game in 2003.
During the recently completed season, McClanahan and Gutshall each announced his intention to step down — McClanahan telling his team on Feb. 22 and Gutshall informing his players at the end of their loss to Notre Dame in the first round of the Class A state tournament.
McClanahan guided the Irish for 13 seasons, taking them to the state tournament 10 times and winning three titles. Gutshall, who turns 63 later this month, coached the Mountain Lions for 30 seasons, 20 of them ending at the state tournament.
Tucker County didn’t win any championships under Gutshall, but played in the Class AA finals in 1998 and the Class A title game in 2004.
“It’s a great way to go out, really,’’ Gutshall said, “and I’m honored that they selected me. I made up my mind this year, and it’s hard to resign. It’s hard to give it up. It’s one of the hardest things I ever did in my life. I love the competition, and I’m going to miss that — 41 years is a long time.
“If you look at it, it’s kind of disappointing. Not that I didn’t have a nice career, but it would have been nice to win one, but it wasn’t meant to be. You figure if you’ve been down there 20 times, if you’re any coach at all, you’d win one, don’t you think? I didn’t know if we were going to make it down there this year. I’m fortunate in that I wanted to coach my last game in the Civic Center. You want the last one to be a win, but that never happens.’’
Serving as the South co-coach, McClanahan will work alongside Greenbrier East’s Jim Justice, while Gutshall will share North coaching duties with Washington’s Don Bullett.
McClanahan appears ready to savor his time on the bench for this year’s North-South game, which at present is set to feature three Division I players — George Washington’s Jon Elmore and Greenbrier East’s Rondale Watson and Obi Romeo — as well as seven Class AAA first-team all-staters.
“I’m looking forward to having a front-row, floor-level seat for some of the best talent in West Virginia,’’ McClanahan said. “As a basketball fan, that’s pretty special, but sitting on the bench will be incredible. I’ll be more of a spectator than a coach in that situation.
“For the first 30 minutes, you want to make sure everybody gets a chance to play and have fun. The kids that are there deserve to be there. Let them play and have fun. As a coach, especially for me being done, I’m going to enjoy every single second — laugh with them, smile with them, enjoy the good plays and forget the bad ones.’’
Gutshall, who doubles as Tucker County’s boys track coach, appreciates the opportunity to coach basketball one more time against McClanahan, since their teams were regularly state-ranked rivals who maintained a long-distance series in recent years.
“It will be special coaching against him,’’ Gutshall said, “and really special this year because it’s one more time for both of us. Not that that means anything, but just to be with him will be great. I have too much respect for him and his program. I’m glad I get to see him one more time on the basketball court.
“And with all these great players, it means a lot to me. Coaching with Coach Bullett will be fantastic. We’ll try to put one or two offensive sets in, and they probably won’t run them. All-star games are pretty much no defense, run and gun, and that’s not normally the way I play. But it will be fun for them and it’s an honor to be selected.’’
The contest will follow its usual format, with the pregame skills competitions beginning at 6:15 p.m. — free throw shooting, 3-point shooting and slam dunk.
Tipoff for the game is tentatively set for 7:30. Admission is $5 for everyone.
The South, which won last year 92-81, leads the current series 25-6 since the game resumed in 1983.
The West Virginia Athletic Directors Association, which sponsors the game, will award a pair of $500 college scholarships — one to a player on each team.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.