ALTHOUGH I WAS BORN and attended school up to third grade in Grove City, I spent the later part of my childhood living in the Slippery Rock Area School District.
During that time, I became highly involved in sports at various levels – from midget football to junior high basketball to varsity football.
Having done so, I was conditioned to dislike everything about Grove City – including its athletes and coaches.
But shortly after graduating from Slippery Rock University, I landed the sports editor’s job here at Allied News and was ‘forced’ to cover Grove City athletics along with those from Slippery Rock, Mercer and Lakeview.
What I discovered during those early days and the ensuing years is Grove City people weren’t so bad. They definitely weren’t these horrible jerks that I remembered them being just a few short years earlier.
No one person or entity more personified my dislike for Grove City than its boys’ basketball program.
Remember, I was in my teenage years and early 20s when Slippery Rock finally started to emerge from a long run of futility at the varsity level in boys’ basketball and were finally starting to challenge Grove City on the hardwood.
Year after year, it seemed to me that the Rockets would have a good shot at beating the Eagles, yet it rarely happened.
The main reason Grove City beat Slippery Rock – and many other teams – the majority of the time over the past 20-plus years?
Yes, the athletes in the arena play a large part in securing victories, but players – even assistant coaches – at the high school level come and go every few years.
The one constant during that time has been head coach Don Fee.
Remember what I said earlier about thinking Grove City people were jerks? Well, one such person was Fee, but I didn’t know him.
I was judging a book by its cover, because I didn’t have a real reason to dislike him.
But as my affiliation with Allied News continued, I got to know Don more and more as each basketball season came and went to the point that I now consider him a friend.
Friend is just one of many positive adjectives I could use to describe to him, but none is better than what one of his former players – Brian Sansom – used to describe him on Facebook earlier this week.
Fee truly is a legend in high school coaching and I’m not talking solely in Mercer County annals but in Western Pennsylvania.
He didn’t need to beat Sharpsville Tuesday evening to secure his 400th career victory to reach such lofty status. Fee was already there.
Fee took a team that finished 10-14 his first season and never looked back, transforming the Eagles into one of District 10’s premier teams, winning 11 league titles and 2 District 10 titles during his time at Grove City.
He’s done it with exceptionally talented teams or teams that shouldn’t have been as good individually as they played, but more than anything he’s molded them into a finely tuned machine.
He’s preached unselfishness and team over individual – and it’s worked beautifully for the program.
While his players may have balked at it initially, they have flocked back to the Eagles’ Nest over the years to visit with Coach Fee.
Tuesday night against Sharpsville, the gym was full of former Grove City players and assistant coaches – and plenty others listening on the radio or streaming online – as Fee chased the 400-win plateau.
There were still a couple of dozen well-wishers in the gymnasium when I got there about 45 minutes after the game concluded.
I don’t want to imagine how many were lined up in the moments following the final buzzer.
I felt bad for not being able to cover the game – I was covering the Mercer-Grove City girls game that night – but I’m not about to miss the chance to congratulate him publicly.
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