02/17/05 — OPINION: McClary's winning formula

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OPINION: McClary's winning formula

By Neil Fuller
Published in Sports on February 17, 2005 2:01 PM

Gladys McClary knows a thing or two -- or 39 -- about winning. Both as a coach and a player.

McClary has guided the Goldsboro High School women's basketball team to 39 straight wins against Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference competition and three consecutive conference titles.

During her playing days at Goldsboro, she helped the Lady Cougars go 27-0 during the 1979-80 season and bring home the first of the program's two Class 4-A state championships.

But McClary is more interested in being a good person than a good coach -- a trait she hopes her players pick up on.

"Even though I'm a coach, I strive to be a good person," McClary said following her team's 54-32 win over visiting Washington in the first round of the ECC tournament on Tuesday night. "Some coaches get so caught up in wins and losses that they actually forget about integrity. I try to hold fast to integrity."

That philosophy is obviously working.

Although Goldsboro will be leaving the Eastern Carolina 3-A at the end of the academic year to join the Class 2-A Eastern Plains Conference, several local coaches from the ECC have already inquired about keeping the Lady Cougars on their schedules -- despite the likelihood of being issued an automatic non-conference loss.

"I try to form a relationship with all the coaches we play against," McClary said. "So even though we're rivals when that ball goes up -- even after watching our teams go right at each other -- I want to have a decent conversation after the game. We try to play clean and fair. Once the game is over, I still want to have a good enough relationship that we're seeing each other as human beings.

"It's important as coaches that we can say 'I really enjoy playing you. Let's keep this series going.' I appreciate the respect that other coaches have for the Lady Cougars, because we strive for excellence. We're not perfect. We make mistakes, but we strive for excellence.

"I consider myself lucky to have formed relationships with coaches in this conference. There is not a coach in this conference that I despise. Not one."

The Lady Cougars, who carry a 22-3 record into tonight's ECC semifinal against West Carteret, feel lucky to have a coach that understands the pressure they face going into each game.

Goldsboro went 52-2 during McClary's final two seasons as a player.

Seeing two championship banners hanging in your home gym -- and knowing your coach had a part in them being there -- does tend to grab a player's attention.

According to senior center Ashelyn James, it helps knowing her coach has been in the same successful situation before.

"We know that she knows what she's talking about," James said of McClary. "Not taking anything away from any other coaches, but we know she's been there and done that. She has first-hand experience with how to get to a championship and what we need to do.

"We know everything she says to us is the truth."

Now in her fifth season along the Goldsboro sidelines, McClary often credits her former coach, Gerald Whitley, with the success she enjoys today.

Whitley passed away during the past summer. Today, his former team wears black armbands in his honor. But his spirit is still apparent inside the Goldsboro gym.

So are the winning ways -- and the life lessons -- he taught McClary.

"Mr. Whitley shared the importance of carrying on the tradition with me," McClary said. "Working hard as a coach was something he instilled in me, and I've strived to live up to that over the years. He helped give me one of the greatest gifts a player can ask for -- a state championship.

"As a coach, I want my players to know what it's like to win a state championship. I want my players to know what that feeling is like. These ladies that play for me deserve that feeling."

To help achieve that championship status, McClary made a point to schedule high-profile teams such as Class 4-A powerhouse Southeast Raleigh early on Goldsboro's non-conference schedule this season.

Although the Lady Cougars absorbed all three of their loses during that rugged stretch, the intended result still resonates with the team.

"It toughened us up for ECC play," junior guard Chevoya Jackson said. "There's no doubt in our minds that the non-conference schedule helped us out a lot. That kind of competition can't help but make you better."

With all the players fully on board with McClary's proven system for winning, it's hard to bet against Goldsboro as the NCHSAA playoffs draw near.

But these Lady Cougars remain grounded in pursuit of their own state title.

"We're not arrogant, but we know our potential," James said. "Every game is important. We take them all one game at a time. We don't necessarily approach it from the standpoint of championships. We just want to take care of business every time out. That's what we stay focused on."

Regardless of what happens in the postseason, the Lady Cougars have already won something more important than any trophy -- the respect and love of their coach.

"I'm so proud of these ladies," McClary said. "Even when I have to get on them and they don't believe it, I am so proud of them."

(News-Argus sports editor Neil Fuller can be reached at nfuller@newsargus.com.)