SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) - For the last 30 years, one name and one voice have been synonymous with Bishop Ludden boys basketball.
Pat Donnelly still remembers the day 30 years ago when he was offered the opportunity to serve as the varsity head coach at his beloved alma mater.
"It was mixed emotions. It was very, very exciting obviously coming back to your own high school, a place that you used to roam around as a student and a player but then you saw the tremendous challenge ahead of you to try to keep the program alive from what Terry Quigley had built and Jerry Wilcox had made into a power,” he said.
Donnelly met that challenge head on – not only maintaining that high level excellence, but adding to it.
He has guided the Gaelic Knights to 19 league titles and a dozen sectional championships during his time at Ludden.
Donnelly acknowledges that the victories are special, and the losses stick with him, but he considers developing the character of his players among his greatest accomplishments.
"The wins and the losses are always memorable. Those championships are memorable. But what is really special for me right now is where my former players are and what they become and what they're doing. I find myself talking more about that than what we've done on the basketball court,” he said.
NewsChannel 9 Sports Director Steve Infanti attributes his success in part to Donnelly’s mentorship.
"He's had a positive influence on so many young men over the years ... including me... during my senior year here at Bishop Ludden in 1994 ... we were able to give something back to coach Donnelly ... something he very much deserved ... a state championship,” Infanti said.
"The thing happened so fast, you know. You go through it--boom boom--and all of a sudden you're in Glens Falls and you win a state championship and it really doesn't sink in until after. I remember standing in the locker room looking around at the satisfaction and excitement on the players’ faces--on your face-- and I thought, wow we just accomplished something pretty good here,” he said.
And the accomplishments didn’t end with the 1994 championship.
Donnelly added a second state title in 2012 – the same year he was inducted into the greater Syracuse Hall of Fame.
Then, the following March, he got the call from the New York State Hall of Fame.
But now, as he prepares for his 30th season on the Bishop Ludden bench, Donnelly has decided that this year will be his last.
"There was a lot of factors then went into it. A little health scare in the last year, seemed to be right at the ship there. The biggest thing is my wife Laurie has sacrificed for 30 plus years, 37 years of high school coaching. Now it's time to go south and play golf and just relax a little bit and do things. I can't say that coaching is ever out of the question going forward but it's time for us to do some other things,” he said.
Donnelly won’t be leaving Ludden without a successor, however.
With the blessing of the board of trustees, Gallagher Driscoll, another Bishop Ludden grad, will take over next fall.
"I'm humbled, I'm grateful and I'm honored. You know, succeeding a couple hall of fame coaches and to watch them work through the years and to think that I could be filling their shoes, it’s an honor,” Driscoll said.
Donnelly first approached Driscoll with the idea over the summer.
The coach felt it was important for everyone to know the succession plan – everyone including himself.
"I didn't want to get to the end of the season and go, am I coming back, am I not going back, and I also--I wanted to know whenever that last game is and the horn blows--that that's it. That I can look around and say this is my last high school game. I want to know that these are my last scrimmages; these are my last talks in the locker room. Whatever it may be, I want to go through that process and just know that horn sounds--that's it,” he said.
Although Donnelly’s time as head coach at Ludden may be coming to an end, his legacy there will live on, and his former players will make sure of that.
Pat Donnelly will open his final season at Bishop Ludden on Dec. 2 against Henninger.
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