Bill Cleary reflects on successful career as Serra Catholic basketball coach, athletic director

Friday, April 2, 2021 | 2:36 PM

As Bill Cleary reflects on his 30-plus-year career at Serra Catholic, he has more than a few fond memories to look back on.

From winning four WPIAL championships and a state title in 2005, to the bonds he shared with players, coaches, parents and community members alike, Cleary is grateful for it all.

“Serra Catholic is a special place and it will always be close to my heart,” he said. “Everyone there has made it a great experience for me, one I’ll always remember and cherish.”

After 34 years and more than 650 victories as Serra Catholic’s girls basketball coach, Cleary officially decided to call it a career last week. At the end of the school year, he is set to retire after 38 years as athletic director as well.

Cleary informed his players of his decision following their final practice last week before Serra Catholic made the formal announcement Saturday.

“I knew going into the school year that this was probably going to be my last year as both AD and coach,” said Cleary, who is one of four WPIAL girls basketball coaches to win more than 600 career games.

“I retired as a teacher three years ago, and I just felt the time was right for me to step away.”

An outpouring of support for Cleary has been shared through a number of social media posts over the past week.

The countless Tweets, Facebook comments and text messages didn’t go unnoticed.

“I had to recharge my phone in the middle of the afternoon,” Cleary said with a laugh. “When you’ve been coaching for so many years, you don’t realize the type of impact you had. I just went to work and tried to do a good job every day. The support has been overwhelming and humbling. I will never forget it.”

In his three-plus decades at the helm of the Eagles, Cleary became one of the most successful coaches in WPIAL history.

He finishes his career with a 657-196 record and a whopping 10 WPIAL championship game appearances, including one this winter.

The Eagles never had a losing season with Cleary as head coach and failed to reach the postseason on just one occasion.

While Cleary’s WPIAL and state championship teams will always hold a special place in his heart, he’s particularly fond of the group he coached this year, too.

The Eagles went unbeaten through the regular season, a feat Cleary had never accomplished, and won their 18th section championship under the veteran coach.

Serra rolled into the WPIAL title game with playoff wins over South Side, Carlynton and Winchester Thurston before ultimately falling short of a WPIAL title with a loss against Neshannock.

Despite not getting the desired end-of-season result, Cleary considers his final season as a head coach a massive success.

“This season was just magical. Those girls gave everything they had to this program,” Cleary said. “They were together, they pulled for each other and they proved to be a real solid group. I will never forget this team; it was a special one.”

Cleary has a lot to be proud of based on what he accomplished as Serra’s athletic director as well.

When he first took over the role in the early 1980s, Serra Catholic had just six sports — cross country, boys golf, football, basketball, softball and track and field.

Since then, a number of other sports have been played at the school, including soccer, volleyball, cheerleading, hockey, bowling, swimming and baseball.

“We always wanted to provide more opportunities for our students to participate in athletics,” Cleary said. “I always rooted for our kids and always wanted to make sure their programs were in good hands.”

Cleary doesn’t anticipate returning to the sideline, but he admits he may attend a couple of games in the future.

“I’ll never turn my back on them,” he said.

But with his career as a coach and athletic director coming to an end, Cleary is excited for what’s next.

He said he hopes to work on his golf game, partake in a bit of traveling with his wife, Maureen, and spend some more time with his 11-year-old grandson, Riley.

“We’re going to enjoy life and see where it takes us,” Cleary said. “I’m looking forward to it.”


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