Catholic continues dominance in Class A GEISA

Charleston Catholic basketball coach Bill McClanahan led his team to the Class A finals before retiring.

Winning never gets old.

Charleston Catholic captured its sixth straight Class A Gazette Excellence in Sports Award, which signifies West Virginia’s top overall high school athletic sports programs in the classification. The Fighting Irish won their 10th award in the 18 years the newspaper has compiled the rankings, the most titles in any of the state’s three classes.

“We still track it and talk about it,’’ said Catholic athletic director Bill Gillispie. “Our tennis coach came in my office last week just to stick his head in and said, “Hey, did we win the GEISA?’ It’s still something we take pride in every year.

“All of the coaches talk about it. We get on each other. Before the [state] track meet [assistant] coach [Ashley] Shepler told [baseball] coach [Bill] Mehle that the track team was going to pick up the slack for the baseball team. It’s just a credit to our student-athletes and coaches for the commitment they make to be successful on a high level.’’

The standings, compiled by the Gazette since the 1996-97 school year, are based on a system that awards points (8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1) to the top eight finishers in each of the 19 sports sanctioned by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission. Catholic once again more than doubled the point total of any other Class A school except runner-up Williamstown, which finished second for the third straight year. The Irish outpointed the Yellowjackets 59 1/2-40 in claiming their award. (See Page 3B for chart.)

This time around the Irish, who won five state titles last year for the most in any class, did it with depth, only capturing one state title (golf) but scoring in 12 sports. Catholic, though, produced four state runner-up finishes in boys basketball, boys tennis, girls cross county and girls track. The Irish’s boys and girls programs carried the load equally, topping Class A in their respective divisions. Catholic’s boys tallied 30 points and scored in five of the nine 10 while the girls totaled 29 1/2 points and netted points in seven of nine 10 sports.

Securing the golf title always gets the Irish’s school year into championship mode, as it’s the first state championship contested. The Irish won that sport for the third straight time and fifth in the last seven years.

Gillispie, who is also the golf coach, credits the longevity of the school’s coaching staff for the long-running success. Mehle (18 years), boys and girls track coach Scott Welch (15-plus) and boys basketball coach Bill McClanahan (13), who stepped down after the season, and Gillispie (10) have established winning traditions.

“I think what really helps us instead of having good teams all of our coaches have bought into good programs,’’ said Gillispie. “They’ve been here a long time. They’ve established programs. No matter if you lose kids to graduation, you’re still going to be competitive every year. We just don’t have that turnover.’’

Catholic gave longtime Principal Debra Sullivan, who has been instrumental in setting the athletic tone for nearly 30 years, a proper send-off. Sullivan announced in April that she was retiring.

“We’re glad we can send her out with another GEISA,’’ Gillispie said. “She was writing about that in the [school] newsletter [Monday]. When your principal takes pride in it, all your coaches and student-athletes are going to take pride in it as well.’’

Catholic displays its GEISA Awards and trophy prominently at the school’s athletic facility on Hillcrest Drive.

“It’s the first thing you see,’’ said Gillispie.

Catholic will receive another permanent plaque signifying its achievement, as well as another year of custody for the traveling trophy.

Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at or 304-348-4811.

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