“I always looked at basketball as more than a game. If all I ever taught my players was how to dribble and shoot and defend and pass, then I did a poor job. When you are coaching, and it doesn’t really matter how many years you do it, it is never about the wins and losses. It’s about making those young kids better, both on and off the floor. That’s what it is all about.”
The words come from Carl Wolfe, a legend in the high school basketball coaching ranks after amassing 551 career wins, 11 league titles, 14 sectional crowns, three district championships and a pair of state appearances during a 48-year tenure with six different programs in southeastern Ohio.
Wolfe — who coached boys basketball at Middleport, Racine Southern, Waverly, Portsmouth Clay and Bidwell River Valley, as well as a stint as both boys and girls coach at Meigs — has already been inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame (2000) and is also a member of the Marietta College Hall of Fame (1986) as a player after tallying 1,524 career points between 1958 and 1963.
Wolfe, who was recently announced as one of five inaugural members of the Southern Local School District Hall of Fame, will add one more accolade to his incredible 56-year basketball resume this April when he is inducted into the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Wolfe — a 1958 graduate of Racine Southern High School — will be one of four inductees in the OHSBCA Class of 2013, with Mike Gallagher of Wooster, Mark Huffman of Monroe Central and the late Bill Cady of Cincinnati LaSalle joining Wolfe as members of the 27th induction class during ceremonies on 5:30 p.m. Saturday, April 20, at the Columbus Airport Marriott in Franklin County.
Wolfe — who was nominated by OHSBCA District 10 director and Dublin Scioto boys basketball coach Tony Bisutti — will become just the 13th member of the OHSBCA Hall of Fame to hail from southeastern Ohio, and the honor also comes less than two years after Wolfe’s final game on the sideline.
Although Wolfe was never best-known for being humble during his hay-day as a coach, the venerable mentor — who is also completing his 50th year as a teacher — was more than overwhelmed by this latest honor.
“It was my first year eligible, and I never dreamed that this would happen — at least not this year anyways,” Wolfe said. “You have to be nominated by one of the district directors outside of your area, and my recommendation came from Columbus.
“It’s very humbling to receive such an honor from your peers, particularly when you notice that we don’t have a lot of selections from the southeastern Ohio area. It’s something I will always cherish.”
Wolfe is best remembered for his 12 seasons as the head coach at Southern, where he accumulated two regional championships and an overall record of 214-57. His 1980 and 1982 squads are the only Southern hoops teams to reach the state tournament, though neither squad won the state title.
The 1980 squad was eliminated in the semifinals and the 1982 team lost in the state final. Southern still to this day ranks in the top-10 in the state of Ohio for alltime wins at the prep level.
When asked about his favorite moment from all his years on the sidelines, it didn’t take Wolfe long to come up with the answer.
“When the buzzer went off in the regional final games back in 1980 and 1982, those were the best of the best memories for me personally,” Wolfe said. “The excitement that came with those two victories is something that I will never forget. I still remember the look on those kids’ faces when we qualified for state, and I remember how enthusiastic the town was after those wins. It was a great time for both me and Southern.”
Those squads represent two of the three basketball teams in Meigs County to ever qualify for the state tournament, and Wolfe is closely linked to the Eastern squad that made it in 2001. EHS coach Howie Caldwell was an assistant under Wolfe at Southern during those dozen years, one of just 14 players or assistant coaches that have gone on to become head coaches after working with Wolfe.
Caldwell, who himself has accumulated over 400 career wins as a head basketball coach, is quick to point out that most of his successes are directly because of his time with Coach Wolfe.
“Carl Wolfe was probably the best coach I’ve ever been around. He was such a motivator and so attentive to detail, and his record pretty much speaks for itself as far as his preparation and knowledge of the game,” Caldwell said. “He was phenomenal, and I truly believe I am the coach that I am today because of Carl. I also believe that any of his former players or assistants would tell you that he made a significant impact in their lives as well.
“My teams are still doing some things that Carl did when I worked under him at Southern, and it still works after all of these years. He understood the game of basketball that well.”
Wolfe — who lost his father at the age of 11 — has always taken a pride in the fact that so many of his former players and assistants have gone on to be very productive in society, whether it involves basketball or not. He admits that, outside of his mother, it was his high school basketball coach that probably made the biggest impact on his life.
“Larry Morrison was the coach that impacted me the most, and he’s the one that taught me how much of an impact a coach can make on a player,” Wolfe said. “He pushed me hard enough to get into college as a basketball player, and I used that opportunity to make the life that I have today. It’s been a great life because I got to do exactly what I wanted to do, and Coach Morrison was one of the main reasons for my success.”
Wolfe still owns the single-game and single-season scoring records as a player at Southern High School, and his win total as a head coach is among the best of any coaches from the southeast Ohio district. When asked about how he hopes people will remember his legacy, he offers a very simple — yet honorable — response.
“I don’t want to be remembered by wins and losses, I can tell you that much,” Wolfe said. “I was just a small-town kid in southern Ohio who happened to get lucky by being pretty good at the game of basketball. I was also fortunate that I was able to pass that knowledge along to a lot of people like me over the years. That’s pretty much how I see myself being remembered, as someone who gave back as much to basketball as basketball gave to me.”
Wolfe last stood on a coaching sideline during the 2010-11 campaign, but he is far from retired. Wolfe is still employed at Meigs High School as a teacher and he still feels like he has something to offer this generation in regards to education.
“This is my 50th year as a teacher, and I still enjoy going to work and trying to help kids become better people,” Wolfe said. “I never dreamed of working this long when I first started out, but this was something that I always to do. And it’s still important to me.”
Wolfe notes that another of his main enjoyments from coaching came at Meigs, where he coached both his son (Carl) and daughter (Catie). Wolfe is also the last coach at Meigs to have a winning record at the end of the season, both boys and girls.
Wolfe has been married for the last 28 years to his wife Della, and Carl has three daughters — Wendy Creed, Tricia McNickle and Megan Cleland — from a previous marriage.
Wolfe’s family has also played a major role in his adjustment away from coaching, as he has six grandchildren currently playing basketball at various levels. That, and all the kids of his former players, seem to dominate his evenings now — and he is perfectly content with that fact.
“The most satisfying thing for me now a days is either watching my grandchildren play or watching the kids of my former players play around the state,” Wolfe said. “We get to meet up with some old friends and share some memories, and I get to watch the kids do something dear to all of us.
“To know that somewhere along the lines you had a small piece in building that passion for someone else in this game, that’s the neatest thing about basketball for me right now … just being around the people closest to you.”
Wolfe — who also coached in the 1993 Ohio-Kentucky All-Star Game — will always be around a gymnasium in the winter time, because his passion for basketball runs that deep. As he sees it, nothing in life is better than watching a high school basketball game.
“This game has been good to me, and I still love it more than ever. I’ve even gotten to the point where I like seeing officials,” Wolfe said with a chuckle. “I still think the best value in America today is a $5 ticket to watch kids give it their all on a basketball floor.”
Wolfe is the son of the late Daniel and Dolly Wolfe. Tickets for the 2013 OHSBCA Hall of Fame induction ceremony may be obtained by contacting Paul Wayne at (419) 264-2521.