West VirginiaUniversity and the Morgantown Area Chamber of Commerce will honor retired basketball coach Gale Catlett with a public tribute and reception immediately following the WVU -Maryland football game Saturday, Oct. 5, at the WVU Coliseumthe place he called home for some 24 years. The reception will begin around 3:30 p.m. and the tribute/program at 5 p.m.
“Coach Catlett stepped aside Feb. 14 for personal and medical reasons with a simple statement thanking the great people of West Virginia for the opportunity to do what he loved bestcoach at his alma mater,”said WVU President David C. Hardesty Jr.”Now its our turn to say thank you to a man who dedicated much of his life to this University and this State while giving us many memorable moments as both a player and a coach.”
The event, open to the public, will include a video tribute of highlights from Catletts career and a one-of-a-kind keepsake for friends and fans.
Mountaineer play-by-play announcer Tony Caridi will be the master of ceremonies and there will be brief tributes from Hardesty; Rod Thorn, former Mountaineer teammate and now president of the New Jersey Nets; Lester Rowe, former Catlett player and WVU assistant coach; Gary McPherson, former assistant coach at both WVU and Cincinnati and currently with the Mountaineer Athletic Club; and Scott Rotruck, president of the Morgantown Chamber of Commerce.
There will also be recognition awards presented to Catlett from both the University and Chamber, and he and his family will be honored on the field during pre-game activities.
Expected to be on hand during the festivities are numerous former players, college coaches, colleagues and friends.
Catlett was appointed WVU s head coach in 1978, after several successful years as head coach at Cincinnati and assistant coaching positions at Richmond, Davidson, Kansas and Kentucky.
He took WVU teams to 16 postseason berths over the years, returning the Coliseum to one of basketballs most feared venues for visiting teams. His 1998 WVU team may perhaps be one of the most memorableearning a spot in the NCAA “Sweet 16s”�€with a last-second upset of Cincinnati.
He is WVU s all-time winningest basketball coach with 439 victories. He finished his
career with 565 career wins �€and is one of only 45 Division 1 college coaches to reach 500 career wins.
More important than his coaching record, many players claim, was how he taught them about life, the importance of family and about being a better person.
“He not only taught us how to become better basketball players, but he also taught us how to become better men,”said former player Chris Leonard, now a budget analyst for Fairfax County, Va.”He constantly sought out different ways to teach us about different things in life.”
Joe Fryz, a guard in the late 1970s, said Catlett talked a lot about pride and representing the state.
“He stressed that there were never individual stars. It was a team game. You were a family, and you would go through the ups and downs together,”Fryz said.
Catlett, a native of Hedgesville, arrived at WVU in 1958 and lettered for the Mountaineers from 1961-63, during one of the finest periods in West Virginia basketball history. During those years, the Mountaineers won 70 of 88 games and made two trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Coached by the legendary George King, Catlett played with the likes of Jerry West, Rod Thorn and Willie Akers. While not the teams primary scorer, he was a team player who teammates said wore the gold and blue with pride and respect and did what was necessary to win games and contribute.
At the end of his 24th and final season last February, Catlett, 61, said it was time to step aside.
“I hope everyone in their lifetime has the chance to experience the joy and success that Ive had at West VirginiaUniversity. As long as I live, Ill always be a Mountaineer.”
Mountaineers everywhere are invited back to campus to pay their respects to a man who gave so much to his alma mater.