Another day … another hall of fame for Bellaire’s Ammirante
There are hall of fame coaches.
There are hall of fame people.
Then there’s Gene Ammirante.
The former Bellaire Big Reds’ head coach falls into both categories and not many can claim such a feat.
Ammirante won a lot of games (476 to be exact) during his 30-year career as the head coach at Bellaire High School. He won plenty of OVAC titles, made six trips to the regional and in 2004 guided the Big Reds to their only appearance in the Ohio State Tournament.
There’s plenty more that Ammirante did for Bellaire High School, his student-athletes and the sport of basketball in the Ohio Valley that will not show up on a resume or hall-of-fame plaque.
However, when you put all of the characteristics together it equates to his rightful induction to the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame held Saturday night in Columbus.
Ammirante and hall of fame speeches are becoming synonymous. The state hall is his third in a span of less than two years. He’s also been inducted to the OVAC and District 12 Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Similar to when he was inducted to the OVAC Hall, Ammirante passed much of the credit to his players.
“I believe that when players are enshrined into a hall of fame, they (along with their teammates), put themselves there, but when coaches are enshrined, it’s the players who put coaches in.”
I’ll buy that to a degree, coach.
It takes good players to win and Ammirante had plenty of those as he pointed out that he coached four future professional athletes along with several future collegiate basketball players.
However, there were several times that it was Ammirante’s coaching and willingness to adapt styles to his personnel that led to a lot of victories.
The Big Reds showed up in the regional in Athens with a team that averaged 44 points a game because Ammirante convinced them to sell out on the defensive end and be patient enough to get the best possible shot on the offensive end.
Ammirante was – and still to a degree is – an old-school guy. He’s not going to email you anything, retweet or send you too many text messages. But, he knew how to adapt to his players. He was a players’ coach, which explains why so many remain close or in touch with him still to this day.
Another thing that Ammirante did so well was keep things in perspective. I remember covering the Big Reds’ regional final victory against Chesapeake in Athens during that 2004 season.
As he sat on the bench, watching his team celebrate and cut down the nets inside the Convo for the first time, I asked Ammirante if he felt like he had removed a monkey off his back after being so close to getting to Columbus so many times?
And as honestly as he ever answered any question I asked that season – and there were a lot – he said, “No, because if I had a monkey on my back, a lot of other guys have much worse on their backs.”
He was probably never more correct. Because, while it’s every coach and team’s dream to get to that point, Ammirante would have slept the same if they’d lost that night.
It was just the kind of guy he was. He wanted to win every game, but Ammirante always had things in perspective. By the same token, there were nights in late December or early January when the Big Reds might have won decisively, but Ammirante wasn’t pleased because of how they handled time and score down the stretch or something else, which would have been easily overlooked by the fans and even media.
Ammirante was one of four coaches to be inducted during the ceremony, which surrounded the Ohio North-South Games.
His speech certainly hit home with those attendance at the banquet. For instance, OHSAA Assistant Commissioner Jerry Snodgrass – a former high school basketball coach himself at Findlay High School – tweeted, “2 minutes of listening to Gene Ammirante and you KNOW why he was successful! What a great person!”
A short-time later, Snodgrass tweeted again about Ammirante’s speech, which had a great mixture of seriousness and some humor, “Company Execs..want a motivational speaker for your employees? You GOTTA Call Gene Ammirante from Bellaire.”
While it was his ‘Saturday Morning with Coach A’ basketball program that became a staple in Bellaire during his career, this past Saturday night with Coach A is something that those in attendance won’t soon forget.
In talking with Ammirante about the banquet, he couldn’t quit raving about how well he and the other inductees were treated. They received a plaque and a hall of fame ring, but Ammirante seemed most excited with the fact that his picture was on a placemat at his table.
“What a first-class event all the way around,” Ammirante said. “I’ve got to be honest, it was a very special night.”
Ammirante also belongs in the people’s hall of fame.
A genuine, caring family man who sincerely insists his favorite coaching memories are coaching his son, Jerry, and nephew, J.R. Battista, but also was a regular at Wheeling Central girls’ games watching his daughter, Lindsay.
On top of that, Ammirante continues to look after his 94-year old mother, Josephine.
Even as he was preparing for his special night this past weekend, Ammirante’s thoughts were with his mother in Wheeling. According to his daughter’s post on her Facebook page, Ammirante checked in with his mom no fewer than three times during the course of the evening.
Basketball was a major portion of Ammirante – and his entire family’s life – but actually family has always been the biggest part of his life.
Just another example as to how Gene Ammirante is a first-ballot lock for the human beings hall of fame, too.
I’m not sure what other halls of fame are possible for Ammirante to be inducted to, but if there is … the committee shouldn’t even have to think about it. It should be a unanimous decision because he belongs.
Congratulations, Coach A!
Staskey can be reached at email@example.com or reached on Twitter at @TLSportsSeth