Well, we’ve come to the end of the road.
Today is the final installment of top 10 coaches of the past 25 years in Northeast Philadelphia, and once again, we had a heck of a hard time putting together this list.
This one was hard because of the volume of great coaches, because today we’re looking at the best of the rest. Today’s list will include head coaches who aren’t in football, soccer, basketball, wrestling, swimming, softball or baseball.
This was a challenge because there are so many great ones out there. It’s also a challenge because unlike the other sports, there is very little information about these teams out there.
This was a fun list to do, however, because we got to look at some sports that don’t always get the recognition they deserve. We talked to a lot of people and think we got a nice, diverse list of great coaches.
Overall, this has been a stressful, but very fun series to do. And it’s drawn some spirited responses. Many agreed with our picks, many disagreed, and all were right. There are no perfect answers to these, but it was fun to talk about the greats over the years.
If this summer has taught me anything, it’s that we have had great coaches around these parts over the past 25 years. When you see theses lists, and even men and women who didn’t make the list, it’s pretty incredible the number of legendary, and more importantly caring, coaches our athletes are lucky enough to have.
It was a fun summer project, but after this week, we can turn our attention to the 2022-2023 school year. Can you believe it’s time to get back to camp?
Thanks for playing along, and here’s our final list!
1. Lisa McNesby
A lot of our top coaches got their props for the amount of times they won Public or Catholic league championships. But the Bambies cheerleading team, every year, has its hopes set on a national cheerleading championship. And the Bambies rarely disappoint.
McNesby took over the program in 2001, and ever since it has become the top cheerleading program in the Catholic League. But Hubert’s success goes far beyond the Philadelphia area.
The Bambies have won three state championships, and have finished in the top five 15 times at nationals.
McNesby’s team has won every Catholic League championship since 2013, when it officially became a Catholic League sport.
McNesby always points out she has great assistants, but that’s a credit to her, too. Many of her former cheerleaders return to help out the program when they leave.
2. Mitch Kline
Frankford, Northeast, Washington
Track, basketball, softball, field hockey
When Kline passed away in 2016, the world didn’t just lose a great man, it also lost a tremendous coach.
Kline began coaching at Frankford in 1981 when he took over the cross country program. He didn’t stop there, going on to coach four other sports, and won a Public League championship at each of them.
Prior to retiring, Kline had racked up 13 coach of the year awards, and while he was a great X’s and O’x guy, he got the most out of his players because they loved him.
The best run of his career might have come at the end, winning four consecutive Public League field hockey championships with Northeast before retiring in 2009.
3. James Donnelly
The Catholic League has very good bowling and during Donnelly’s 25-year tenure at Judge, the Crusaders were always in the thick of things.
And a lot of times they proved to be the best. Donnelly won six championships during his time at Judge, winning the league in 1995, 1996, 2004, 2009, 2013 and 2014.
Donnelly had coaching stints all over the city, including the bowling coach at Cardinal Dougherty and the junior varsity baseball coach at North Catholic, as well as running the bowling program at Summerdale Boys Club where he also helped coach baseball and was the club’s president, but the Father Judge grad wore the baby blue and red proudly.
Sadly, Donnelly passed away in 2019 after a brief illness.
4. Ed Ulmer
Track, cross country
For 50 years, the runners at Archbishop Ryan were in great hands. They were led by Ulmer, who spent half a decade calling the shots at the school. And those years went as quick as his runners.
While coaching the boys team from 1966 until 2016, and the girls from 1980 until he retired, Ulmer won 29 Catholic League championships in the three sports he coached. His greatest success came in the ’70s, when he guided the Raiders to five cross-country crowns, and won Pennsylvania Track and Field Coaches Association indoor championships in 1976, 1977 and 1978.
He started his career as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Cardinal Dougherty.
5. Phil Roche
For nearly 50 years, Roche has been coaching the Crusaders crew team, and during those years, Judge has always been in the thick of the race.
Three times he’s directed a Judge boat to the King’s Cup, a trophy that goes to the top finisher in the varsity heavyweight fours at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta in Philadelphia.
And in 2017, Judge picked up a historic victory by winning the Scholastic Rowing Association of America national championship in Camden.
Crew is a difficult sport to coach. Not only are you teaching most students a new sport, but you have to get them to show up on the river bright and early, and work as hard as you do in any sport. Still, Roche hasn’t had much trouble filling out a lineup and keeping Judge one of the top rowing teams in the city.
6. Theresa Gorman
Field hockey, lacrosse
Last fall was the end of an era, when the longtime coach decided to step away after 29 years of coaching.
During those 29 years, Gorman helped a lot of girls, and she was happy to do it, not only because she loves coaching, but because she loved St. Hubert.
Gorman didn’t rack up the championships during her time at the school, but it really wasn’t about that for her. First, she was coaching sports in the city, where most players don’t pick up these sports until high school, while their suburban counterparts start playing much earlier.
A physical education teacher at St. Matt’s, Gorman loves to help children improve. A true competitor, she loves to win, but she’s always put more stock in improvement than championships. And if any kid needs help, Gorman will lend a helping hand.
While she’s no longer a coach, she’s now St. Hubert’s biggest fan.
7. Karen Barrett
Volleyball, bowling, badminton
Nobody was more passionate about coaching than Barrett, and her players followed her lead. It really didn’t matter what sport she was coaching, and she coached all year long, she was getting the most out of her girls.
Barrett advanced to four straight Public League bowling championships, winning two of them. She was even more successful in badminton, where she guided the Vikings to four Public League championships in the spring sport.
Many of her charges played multiple sports with her because she not only made her players better, but was a great mentor off the playing surfaces.
Barrett always preached family, and that’s how her players looked to her.
8. Alice Faber
Archbishop Ryan, Cardinal Dougherty
Coaching field hockey can be tough, considering it’s a sport that many city girls don’t pick up until they arrive at high school.
But Faber coached for 40 years at Cardinal Dougherty and most recently Archbishop Ryan before stepping down at the end of the school year.
During her time, the Ragdolls weren’t a threat to win a Catholic League championship, but they certainly proved to be a tough out for anyone they came against. Besting the suburban schools wasn’t really a goal, her goal was to turn her players into better players, and she did that each and every year.
During her 40-year career, she certainly left her mark on Philadelphia field hockey.
9. Valerie McPeak
McPeak is an incredible coach in that she had a reputation for taking new tennis players and immediately getting them ready to compete in the Catholic League.
And they do more than compete. Her players often help the Sentinels get to the postseason, and sometimes they make noise once they get there.
She’s also a huge asset to the Catholic League, as well as the Public League, in that she promotes the sport every way she can.
When she’s not coaching, McPeak is a very good and respected swimming official.
10. Tim McCartney
Now the athletic director at the school, but before he was scheduling buses, he was leading the Sentinels golf team, and that’s not an easy job.
Little Flower’s golf team has often been made up of girls who play other sports who join the team just to fill out the roster. But at times, it’s been enough.
McCartney guided the Sentinels to a Catholic League championship in 2019, and that team didn’t have enough golfers when the season started.
Sure they must be quick learners, but McCartney did his part.