Delone Catholic girls' basketball head coach Gerry Eckenrode on cusp of milestone victory
- Gerry Eckenrode has 499 career wins with the Delone Catholic girls' basketball program.
- Eckenrode has led the Squirettes to four PIAA state championships.
- Eckenrode's current Delone team is 7-0 and has not been threatened yet this season.
One phrase that Delone Catholic girls’ basketball coach Gerry Eckenrode loves to use when talking about himself is "old school."
When asked to email or text his box score into the newspaper years ago, Eckenrode countered with "can I fax that instead."
When other coaches had smaller devices to record video of upcoming opponents, Eckenrode would instead use his camcorder from the 1980s that rivaled the size of those used by television stations.
“I’m old school,” Eckenrode would say with a laugh.
That "old-school" approach also prevents the 69-year-old Eckenrode from boasting about his own accomplishments. Eckenrode, one of the winningest coaches in the area, says he couldn't care less about his personal success.
So, when it was brought to Eckenrode’s attention that the longtime Delone boss was approaching a historic milestone — 500 career victories at the parochial school — Eckenrode only grudgingly discussed it.
“Since you brought it up,” was how Eckenrode began.
Eckenrode, who has a 499-140 record with the Squirettes, never envisioned himself becoming a girls’ basketball coach. In fact, he started his coaching career as a boys' coach in the late 1970s until he got out of coaching in 1984, compiling a 78-66 record leading boys' teams in Maryland.
It wasn’t until his daughter, Kelleigh, took up the sport that Eckenrode found himself doing something he never previously envisioned.
“I said I would never coach girls’ basketball,” he said. “As a guys' coach, girls’ basketball, I thought, 'well you shouldn’t be there.' But then you get a daughter and you say ‘well, it’s not so bad.’”
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Eckenrode began coaching Kelleigh at the elementary level in Westminster, Maryland, until she reached high school age.
“I had every design to send my kids to Delone,” said Eckenrode, who is a graduate of Bishop Guilfoyle High School near Altoona. “Because I had every intention of sending them to a Catholic high school. But I didn’t have any intention of ever coaching there.”
Landing the Delone job: Fate, however, played a big role in turning the fortunes around for both Eckenrode and the Delone program.
“A family that I knew pretty well told me that the Delone job was going to be open,” he said. “So I said, ‘what the heck.’ So I applied for it. I had a pretty good resume … had a pretty good record as a boys' coach and won a coach-of-the-year award in boys. And they gave it to me, and I’ve been there ever since.”
That was back in 1999, and ever since Eckenrode took over, the Squirettes have become one of the premier programs in the state. Delone has never won fewer than 18 games in a season during Eckenrode’s 22 years at the helm. His teams have won four PIAA state championships and have won more than 78% of their games..
Milestone will have to wait: It seemed only fitting that win No. 500 could have come as early as Tuesday evening when the Squirettes were scheduled to host York Catholic.
The Irish, who have outshined the Delone girls at times over the past 20 years, are coached by Kevin Bankos, one of Eckenrode’s best friends in the coaching business.
Sadly the showdown between the two programs was postponed until later in the year because of COVID-19 issues.
“It would have been cool if it was against us Tuesday,” Bankos said. “But we are quarantined, so we had to reschedule. It would have been neat, though, since my 300th career win was against them in the District 3 final a few years ago.”
While Bankos won’t likely be on hand to see his friend reach the milestone, he never doubted that the day would come for Eckenrode.
“It’s amazing and is a reflection of how good a coach and program he creates,” Bankos said.
A dominant team: Eckenrode's current team may be one of his best ever.
The junior-dominated Squirettes have not been threatened this season en route to a 7-0 start. That follows a 26-1 campaign a year ago that ended in the PIAA Class 3-A quarterfinals when the pandemic prematurely cut short the season.
Delone won the 3-A state title in 2019.
The Squirettes are in 4-A this season after getting moved up by the PIAA under the organization's competitive balance rule. Delone unsuccessfully appealed that decision.
Still, Delone was ranked No. 2 in the state in 4-A in the latest Trib HSSN 4-A rankings.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Eckenrode will have an opportunity to reach the milestone on Thursday at home vs. Littlestown.
— Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.