Recently retired Serra Catholic High School athletic director/basketball coach Bill Cleary thought he was going to Edgewood Country Club for a wedding reception. Instead, he found some of his former players and family and friends, who had been waiting to yell, “Surprise!”
A couple of players from Coach Cleary’s former teams organized the party and were thrilled to see the look on his face when he walked in. “I’m overwhelmed with how special this is,” Cleary told the crowd.
Cleary is one of the most successful coaches in WPIAL history. His 34-year girls basketball coaching career includes more than 600 wins, four WPIAL titles, a PIAA crown and 10 WPIAL championship appearances.
Coach Cleary served as Serra Catholic’s athletic director for 38 years and was the diocesan representative to the WPIAL board. He was a social studies, health and physical education teacher for 41 years, and taught his two sons during their time at the high school.
“My years at Serra were tremendous – the most perfect place for me to be,” the coach told guests at his surprise party. “The people I worked with, the kids I coached and taught at school – it was just a fantastic place to work,” he said.
So far, Coach Cleary has been enjoying retirement. “The day is yours. I’ve been doing some things I’ve always wanted to do- playing a little more golf than I used to, so it’s all good,” he said.
Looking out to the room filled with so many of his former players, he reflected on their time together. “We had a lot of fun and we worked hard,” he said. “It was never about me; it was about us. The successes you celebrate today are yours. I’m overwhelmed. I love you all.”
Although he’s beginning a new chapter in his life, Coach Cleary’s name and legacy will remain an important part of his beloved Serra Catholic High School. The school announced that moving forward, its gym will be known as “William J. Cleary Court.” A formal dedication will be held near the end of this year.