By Sean P. Ray | Managing Editor
In 1968, Bill Shay would take the position of head basketball coach at Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC). He would go on to become the winningest college basketball coach in Western Pennsylvania history, finishing his coaching career with 803 wins to 358 losses across 39 seasons and mentoring numerous student athletes during their time at the school.
Now a group of those same students are seeking to honor their beloved coach by fundraising for a bust of Shay, as well as a scholarship in his honor. This bust will be installed in the athletic facility on the CCAC Allegheny Campus located in Allegheny West, just down a ramp from where the basketball court is located.
Speaking to those who played under Shay, they all seem to agree on one thing: creating something in his honor is a task long overdue.
“This should have been done the year he retired,” said Mike Andrews, who played basketball at CCAC from 1975 to 1976.
Larry DiCicco is the lead organizer of the effort. From the Northside — DiCicco attended Allegheny High School — he played under Shay from 1973 through 1975.
While Shay’s record of wins is quite the achievement, DiCicco believes the coach’s dedication to his student athletes is just as important.
“He was committed to this school here,” DiCicco said. “He was committed to the program and he was committed to us.”
The fifth of six children, DiCicco was the first among his siblings to finish high school. Being part of the CCAC team and its proven track record of success helped him later go on to attend Carnegie Mellon University.
DiCicco said he organized the fundraiser after he and other former teammates had been talking about it. DiCicco approached CCAC’s athletic director about the idea, and was told if he was able to raise the money for the bust, they could get it installed.
An ex-marine, Shay was known for being tough but fair in training his students. Gerald Breisinger, who played at CCAC from 1973 to 1974, said it was like “playing under a military sergeant.”
Andrews echoed the sentiments.
“It was boot camp,” he said. “Our conditioning was so intense, and that’s how we beat every team we played.”
Mike WIlliams, who played from 1976 to 1978 under Shay and hails from Northview Heights, shared his own memory of first playing under the coach.
“He humbled me quick,” Williams said. “I was a big name in high school. If it wasn’t for him, I possibly would have been just another average player .”
Driving his student athletes to success on the court helped them as much off the court as well. Breisinger said, like DiCicco, many students who played under Shay were able to get accepted to and receive scholarships for other schools. In many cases, the students’ families wouldn’t have otherwise been able to send them to those schools.
“Nobody rejected you when you went into their facility,” Breisinger said.
Andrews estimated a little more than half of the team, at least when he played, was made up of graduates of Pittsburgh public schools who would not have been able to afford to attend other colleges without the scholarships achieved through playing on the team.
John Jenkins, a Brookline native who played from 1977 to 1978 under Shay, said the coach kept him in school, and helped to instill confidence in him during his time at CCAC.
“He brought my strength out, he really did,” Jenkins said.
Anthony Allen, who became CCAC’s head basketball coach this year, said Shay’s “history speaks for itself.”
“Oh it’s definitely an inspiration,” Allen said. “Big shoes to fill, but I’m excited for the opportunity.”
As for Shay himself, he said he feels “grateful” for what his students are doing for him, and for the chance to have positively impacted their lives.
“Grateful,” Shay said. “Grateful that we developed more than a relationship in basketball.”
Shay said he grew to love basketball at a young age, attributing it to his competitive nature.
“As a young guy, I lived in New York and sports were very important to the kids,” he said.
While he may hold the title of winningest college coach in Western Pennsylvania history, Shay thinks his students have as much to do with that as he does.
“How come you won 800 games?” he asked rhetorically. “The answer is because we had better players.”
In addition to his work at CCAC, Shay holds many other honors and distinctions. He was the 1990 USA Today College Basketball Coach of the Year in Pennsylvania, according to the fundraiser page, and was entered into the Western Chapter Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.
He also authored a book on alcohol and drug abuse titled “Do You Own You” and co-authored another book titled “Education for Life” on student athletes.
In 1977, Shay helped to organize Pittsburgh Steelwheelers, a paraplegic wheelchair basketball team, and also formerly served as director of physical education at the Sarah Heinz House.
Donations to Shay’s bust can be made through GoFundMe, at gofundme.com/f/Coach-shay. Any left over money from building the bust will be used to establish a scholarship fund in Shay’s honor, according to DiCicco.
It is hoped that the bust will be completed in time for one of the starting games for CCAC’s next season.