By BRAD SPAHR
WILLISTOWN - In the fourth quarter of the Villa Maria basketball team’s 67-30 win over visiting Sacred Heart on Tuesday evening, a little girl from the crowd wandered out onto the court as the game was in progress. No one noticed her for a few moments as the action continued, until Villa Maria head coach Kathy McCartney saw her and went out and helped her off the floor.
Everyone, it appears, wants to play for the legendary coach.
McCartney, now in her 27th year with Villa Maria, hit a prestigious milestone on Tuesday as she became just the 22nd high school girls basketball coach in Pennsylvania history to record her 500th career win.
A packed crowd turned out at Villa Maria to root her on and celebrate her achievement. It included former players, family, and former coaches.
All of them spoke glowingly about not only the type of coach McCartney is, but the special human being she is as well.
"I sobbed there at the end of the game," said former Villa Maria standout guard Kellie O’Rourke, a 2012 graduate who helped lead the Hurricanes to back-to-back District 1 Class AAA titles the last two years. "I couldn’t think of a better person for this to happen to.
"She gave me a D once on my math mid-term; I still give her a hard time about that," joked O’Rourke. "I could have a really bad game when I played for her and she wouldn’t yell at me afterwards or make me feel even worse about it. She would put her arm around me and make me laugh. I couldn’t have asked for a better coach to have played for."
Longtime Villa Maria athletic director Maurene Polley has known McCartney for years. Polley, herself a very highly regarded field hockey coach who has helped lead the Hurricanes to the PIAA Class AAA title game in each of the past two seasons, addressed the crowd of supporters following Tuesday’s game.
"The star that shines the brightest of all today is Kathy McCartney," Polley said. "Each of these 500 wins represents many years of blood, sweat and tears.
"Although 500 wins is a personal milestone to many, they mean nothing to Kathy compared to the influence she’s had on so many kids over the years. She’s made a great life for herself at Villa Maria, and touched so many lives along the way."
Among the many in attendance to have played or coached with McCartney over the years was current West Chester East head coach Moe Blatt. From 2000-09, Blatt worked with McCartney as an assistant coach at Villa Maria. Blatt couldn’t help but laugh when asked if McCartney would have 700 career wins by now if he hadn’t coached with her over the years.
"That’s probably true," joked Blatt. "Kathy hates these things. She doesn’t want any attention on herself. It’s all about the kids with her.
"She’s an example of all the good there is in high school basketball. She’s had numerous opportunities to move up and coach at the college level over the years. She’s always felt she could make more of a difference with these kids. That’s the type of person she is."
For over a decade now, Helen Hoban has sat beside McCartney on the bench as an assistant coach. Hoban, a 1992 Villa grad who helped lead the Hurricanes to their first district title, has seen first-hand what McCartney has meant to the school as both a former player and current friend.
"I probably gave her a few of those gray hairs when I played for her," said Hoban. "She’s as good a person as you’ll ever meet. She’s dedicated her life to this. To me, she’s way more than a basketball coach."I think the biggest tribute to her tonight is all the alumni that came out for this game. Everyone loves her."