In 17 years coaching at her alma mater, Carol Cecere has seen Forest Hills girls basketball transformed from one of the lesser lights of the Laurel Highlands Conference into a perennial District 6 title contender.
Cecere's 17-1 Lady Rangers will be looking to add another item to their list of accomplishments on Wednesday when they come to Altoona to take on 17-1 Bishop Guilfoyle. The Mirror's Philip Cmor recently caught up with Cecere.
Q: You have a big game coming up this week, huh?
A: Yes. Big game.
Q: What is the significance of this game to your team and what would it mean to beat Bishop Guilfoyle on the road?
A: We played them very well down at our place, but that was before Halee [Adams] was back. It'd be huge to win there. It's a tough place to play, and they're anticipating a sell-out crowd. It will be a great playoff atmosphere. Just competing well with Bishop Guilfoyle and possibly beating them down there would be unbelievable. They are such a quality team and contending for state championships year-in and year-out.
The Cecere file
Name: Carol Cecere
Position: Girls basketball coach (17th year) and art teacher at Forest Hills High School
High School: Forest Hills (1985)
College: IUP (1989)
Family: Husband-Ralph, married 15 years; children-Courtney, 12; Adam, 11; Madeline, 8
Q: I hear it's BG's "Think Pink'' night.
A: We did hear that. We just had ours - we called it "Pink Out'' - on Wednesday night against Central Cambria. We picked the day a couple of months ago, and it was actually three of my player' senior class project: Briana Kostan, Victoria Ivock and Amanda Meier. They did most of the work. We asked everybody to wear pink, with all the proceeds going to the Joyce Murtha Breast Cancer Center out here in Windber. They did a really great job with it. We just wanted people to be aware of their alternatives if they couldn't get a mammogram or how they could do their part. We've collected donations all year in a pink basketball bank at every home game.
Q: Is this a cause that's means a lot to you?
A: A lot of schools are doing like we did, on our own, and letting kids use it as projects. My own mother died of breast cancer 21 years ago. She never had a chance to see me coach. It's close to me in my heart. I'm sure many of the girls on the team are touched by it in some way.
Q: You've got the program now where you're competing for district championships. That didn't happen overnight. How did you get it where it is?
A: I don't know. It's been a long time. That's a big question. I think we just had to teach young girls how to love basketball. A lot of it was elementary teams. There were times even before I had children that I was coaching elementary teams. We ran a dribble team for a couple of years. I always chuckle, because these seniors were sixth graders on my first dribble team. All we did was bring a ball and teach them all kinds of tricks with the dribble. They worked so hard. They would pick up a ball and learn to love to dribble, and then they started to pay attention to basketball a little bit more and coming to games, because we put them on the floor at halftime. I can't say girls in the past didn't work as hard. Maybe they just didn't have as many opportunities when they were younger to develop.
Q: You've won a district championship. You beat State College last week. At what point can you say that you've arrived?
A: Do you ever arrive? It's not me. It could be anybody being the coach here. I'm passionate about the girls. I don't know the most about basketball. I'm not the best basketball coach. I'll never be. I just keep trying to outwork people. This week were out running to get films on Blairsville, Ligonier, teams we might see in the playoffs. The girls are very important to me. In the blink of an eye, it can be over. I've had my share of losses, but I hate when it's over, not because we lost, but because we enjoyed it so much.