A big part of Don Appleman's coaching success is that he always has been willing to learn from his experiences.
It's brought him to one overriding conclusion.
"It's what you take with you when your done that's the real measuring stick of your coaching," Appleman said. "It's the finished product. Not just the coaching, but the effect you've had on people and what effect they've had on you, too."
Mirror file photo
Don Appleman is a member of the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame.
That's a lot of people, considering Appleman has been on the sidelines for five decades. Appleman, though, is ready to step away.
Appleman turned in his resignation as Williamsburg High School girls basketball coach to superintendent Linda Smith and met with the Lady Pirates players on Friday. Appleman will stay on as assistant athletic director - his wife, Debbie, is the AD.
"I just had a birthday a couple of weeks ago. This is a hard job to do," Appleman, 69, said. "High school coaching is almost year-round if you do it the way I do it. You're constantly preparing and getting ready for what you're going to be doing.
"I still enjoy coaching. I enjoy the teaching part of it. But, as you mature, it becomes more difficult. I thought about stepping down a couple of years ago, but we have good kids here, and I wanted to work with these kids. But, at some point, you have to cut the ties. We have kids coming back that I'd like to coach, but, it's like my wife said, there'll always be someone there you want to come back for."
Appleman has been down this path before. Since he stepped down after his initial six-year stint with the Central boys citing burnout, Appleman has returned to his alma mater for two turns each with the Williamsburg boys and the Williamsburg girls, each time leaving on his own terms. His current 10-year run with the Lady Pirates was the longest continuous period he's stayed on board.
He sounded on Friday like a fifth comeback, though, was unlikely, questioning his energy.
"How long do you think I'm going to live?" Appleman asked rhetorically, displaying his dry sense of humor. "This may be the last time, and that's fine. I've had a lot of success, a lot of great people to work with both as assistant coaches and players. I've been blessed beyond any expectations. I'm not stepping down looking to come back. Circumstances may dictate that I don't come back, too."
If Appleman is indeed gone for good, he leaves quite a legacy. He's put together a 474-232 record over 29 years. This year's Lady Pirates were 10-13 despite not possessing a scorer to average more than 6.0 points per game nor an Inter-County Conference North Division all-star.
His resignation will be accepted at the April 18 school board meeting.
"Coach is and always will be part of Blue Pirate pride," Smith said. "He has devoted hours of his time supporting basketball tradition through his years at WHS. The school district has been fortunate to have Coach Appleman as a varsity coach. Many players, past and present, have appreciated his guidance and leadership, on and off the court."
One of those players is Olivia Everhart, a 2011 Mirror first team all-star.
"He is probably the most knowledgeable basketball coach you could have. He played it. He coached it. He knows the ins and outs," Everhart said. "He always had a story for us girls, whether it was a personal story, a story from when he played or a story about other players. And it wasn't all about basketball. We learned a ton of things about life, too."
Everhart said that helped Appleman bridge the considerable generation gap and connect with players 50 years younger than him.
"We could laugh about the stories or learn from the stories," Everhart said.
One might think opposing coaches would be happy to see Appleman go, but that isn't true. John Matchock,who played against Appleman-coach Williamsburg boys teams in the early 1990s before coaching against him the last decade with the Glendale girls, was surprised and disappointed to hear his opponent was stepping aside.
"You knew you were always in for a good game. His teams were always well-prepared. He's just one of the nice guys and the best coaches I've ever gone against," Matchock said. "If I ever had any questions or problems, he said to give him a call. I took him up on that a couple of times. He'll be greatly missed."
One of the highlights of this year was it gave Appleman the chance to go up against his younger brother, Jeff, coaching at Claysburg-Kimmel, for the first time. The siblings split two close meetings.
"I always told him he was a better girls coach than I am," Don Appleman said. "We have close to 1,000 wins together. If he can pull me across the finish line, that would be great."
Don Appleman hadn't coached girls until his brother left Williamsburg after 17 years and a PIAA championship to take over at Hollidaysburg. He said it was an education.
"I basically tried to teach boys how to play. With girls, I basically taught them plays," Appleman said. "With girls, I found coaching in practice sometimes difficult. I thought I did more coaching in games."
He thinks, though, that whoever takes over for him will have plenty of talent coming up through the program and better height than the Lady Pirates have had in years. Appleman isn't supporting anyone in particular to succeed him.
"There a lot of former players here I think might be interested," Appleman said. "I think there are a lot of qualified people, a lot of people who've played here over the last 30 years."
Appleman didn't close the door on a return sometime down the road, either.
"I would never say that I would never come back. If my health would stay good, and the opportunity would come ... you never get this out of your system," Appleman said. "I enjoyed football and tennis. I love baseball. But I have a passion for basketball."
Smith said the position will be advertised the week of April 22. The school hopes to make a hiring May 21.