Applemans set for first game against each other

They’ve combined for nearly 1,000 career basketball coaching victories in 54 total seasons, all at Blair County high schools.

It would seem virtually inevitable, then, that brothers Don and Jeff Appleman would have opposed each other as coaches somewhere during that time.

But this Thursday night, when Don’s Williamsburg Lady Blue Pirates host Jeff’s Claysburg-Kimmel Lady Bulldogs at the Williamsburg Area High School gymnasium, will indeed mark the first time that the brothers will pit their coaching strategies against one another in a varsity game.

Both are looking forward to it, but not for any reasons that might be expected.

Don, 68, maintains that there won’t be any sense of sibling rivalry against Jeff, 62.

“At this stage in my career, I’m closer to the end than the beginning,” said Don, who has racked up a total of 469 victories in 28 seasons as a head coach with the Central boys, Williamsburg boys, and Williamsburg girls basketball programs. “He and I are both very competitive, but we’re not playing against each other, so I won’t be taking it personally.

“Williamsburg and Claysburg are schools that have always had a great rivalry against each other in many sports, so I look at this as more of a team rivalry than anything else.”

Jeff Appleman, who logged his 500th career coaching victory earlier this season, has a total of 503 career coaching wins in a 26-season tenure that has included head coaching appointments with the Williamsburg, Hollidaysburg and Claysburg-Kimmel girls basketball programs.

Thursday’s game will be a homecoming of sorts for Jeff, who led the Williamsburg girls program to a PIAA Class A state championship in 1997 and a state runner-up finish in 1995.

“It should be a lot of fun,” Jeff said of Thursday’s matchup that will be repeated when the two teams meet again Feb. 5 in Claysburg. “We’ve never had the opportunity to coach against one another. It will be sort of like a homecoming for me regardless of the outcome. It will be great to come back there and see everybody again, but it will feel a little strange sitting on the other side of the [Williamsburg] gym.”

Though the two brothers are six years apart, both share similarly impressive accomplishments.

Aside from their lofty career win totals, both are retired social studies teachers, both are married with grown children and two grandchildren, and both were outstanding athletes during their own high school days in the 1960s at Williamsburg.

Don was a three-time all-state selection in basketball, including a first-team pick in his senior year (1961-62), when he was named the state’s Player of the Year for classes B&C combined (which now translates roughly into today’s Class AA and Class A divisions).

Don scored what was then a Blair County record total of 2,100 points in four varsity seasons, and went on to play Division I college basketball at St. Francis College.

Don was a junior on Williamsburg’s PIAA Class C state runner-up basketball team in 1961. Jeff was a sophomore on Williamsburg’s 1966 Class C state championship squad, and a senior on the school’s state runner-up team in 1968.

Don was elected into the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame last year. Jeff is a strong candidate for future enshrinement. Both were coached by another Blair County Sports Hall of Famer, Dick Buckley.

“Both were very good players who always gave 100 percent,” Buckley said. “They were both very good leaders. They were both tremendous individuals, not only on the basketball court, but also in the classroom. It was a pleasure to coach them both.”

Both brothers also share a strong personal bond, as well as a desire to impart a sense of discipline and appreciation for the game’s fundamentals to their players.

“I learned a lot from him,” Jeff said of Don. “We have the same coaching philosophy about playing the game the right way.”

Don concurs.

“Coaching is about trying to do things the right way, and being a good role model,” Don said. “[Jeff] and I don’t talk every day, but we’re very close. If he ever needed anything, I’d be there in a minute.”

The Appleman brothers also shared a couple of committed parents in their father, Donovan, and their mother, Annabelle.

Though both have passed on, their positive influence remains with their sons.

“We had wonderful parents, great to grow up with,” Don said. “They always put us first.”

Whether the winner of Thursday’s game will exercise some good-natured bragging rights remains to be seen. But Don, who has coached more years of varsity boys basketball than girls basketball, couldn’t help but get in a humorous, tongue-in-cheek jab at Jeff, who has been exclusively a girls coach.

“I’m extremely proud of him, but I always say that I’m a better boys coach than he is,” Don quipped with a chuckle. “I have more boys wins than he does.”