CULLMAN, Ala. – After 37 years of coaching basketball at several local stops, St. Bernard’s Greg Boatright is officially shutting it down. Boatright graduated from Fairview High School in 1977 and has spent nearly four decades coaching at Warrior, Baileyton, St. Bernard and most notably, his alma mater.
Boatright began his career at Warrior after graduating from Wallace State and says he was fortunate to have a young, but very talented team to work with.
“I started at Warrior, that was my first job right out of college, and I was lucky to even get a job, but I did get that one. I’ve been fortunate to have some good basketball talent everywhere I’ve been and that year it was pretty obvious. I was a rookie coach, I’d played basketball in school and went to Wallace to play a couple years there and that was the end of it. I went to Jacksonville State to see what they had, and I just wasn’t good enough,” Boatright smiled. “So, in my first year at Warrior I started four eighth grader and one ninth grader and I remember we finished 13-3 but it wasn’t because of the coaching. I had some players.”
Boatright felt like he was learning the job game by game in his first season at Warrior, but once he found his stride, he made the move to Baileyton before getting the call from his alma mater.
“Every game it seemed like something would come up that I had not prepared them for, but we had enough talent to cover up for my shortcomings as a coach. So, I learned a lot that first year because of that. You think because you’ve played a sport that you know it, and you do know it from a player’s standpoint, but the coaching deal is a whole other world,” Boatright said. “You’re responsible for all of it. Then I went on through to Baileyton and had a lot of great players out there, a lot of great teams and I just kept learning as I went. After that I got the job at Fairview.”
Boatright always had hopes to return to his school and coach the Aggies, but once he got there, he realized how much more room he had to grow as a coach.
“Of course, I graduated from Fairview in 1977 and I always wanted to coach at Fairview and finally that opportunity came around in 1999. Well, I had coached 17 years up to that point, so you’d think you’d be ready for that, you know what I mean. I was ready for it, but I wasn’t totally prepared for it,” Boatright said. “When I got up there, I had to get up to speed on the learning curve because my first year out there we wound up about 12-15. We should’ve had a winning season, but I was a rookie, 39-year-old varsity basketball coach. I will say this, at Christmas we had only won four and we had a winning record after Christmas and that was from me learning the players and developing more as a coach.”
It was after his first season with the Aggies that he felt like he found his groove at Fairview, but Boatright had a lot of people to credit for the success in his tenure. Coach says that he was blessed with great talent throughout his entire career, but he is thankful for the group of coaches he’s been able to work with over the years as well.
“From then on, I felt like I did a little better job because that was the only losing season we had when I was out there and again, I had a lot of really great players to make that happen and some good help too. I have to mention Coach (Windell) Calloway and I’m not going to be able to mention everyone that has impacted me along the way because it’s just too many, but he has helped me for a long time. He’s been my right-hand man for years,” Boatright said. “I’ve lost count of how many years he’s been helping me and my first basketball coach, Bob Palys, had a big impact on me as well. He’s passed away now and it’s funny how things work out sometimes because he actually graduated from St. Bernard. He was from Buffalo, New York so he was a Yankee but we turned him into a southern Yankee and he just always went out of his way to inspire me and others to love basketball.”
Boatright stepped down as the Aggies’ Head Coach in 2013 but knew that he wasn’t quite ready to walk away from basketball. He already had relationships with some of the administration at St. Bernard and decided to make the move, a decision he is even happier about today.
“As far as ending up here at St. Bernard, when I retired from public school, I still wanted to coach, and I just heard this job was open. I don’t live but 15 minutes away and I thought I’d come over here and get a couple of P.E. classes and coach basketball if they’ll have me,” Boatright smiled. “It’s been a really good six years and again, I’ve had some talent, good boys willing to work and sacrifice their time to get better and the whole deal about coaching is you want to give them every opportunity to have the most success they can have.”
Coach Boatright admits that this has been a tough decision for him because coaching has been such a huge part of his life, but at the same time, he’s looking forward to watching some basketball from the stands instead of the sideline.
“What has made it so difficult is that I’ve done this for 37 years in a row. It’s just been a big part of my life whether it was playing or coaching. This is something that I’ve always done but the reason I’ve decided to do it is just the responsibility of it all. I just felt like it was time to go ahead and get out and give somebody the opportunity to come to a good place like this. This is a great place with some great kids coming back and nothing’s wrong I just felt like it was time. I wanted to remove the constant concern about getting it done,” Boatright said. “It’s on your mind quite a lot, or at least it has been on mine. I think most coaches are that way but it’s things like when I go deer hunting and I’m 20 feet up in a tree, I can’t think about anything but basketball. What you need to do to make your team better or motivate them or the right way to critique them. There’s just always something on your mind so I just thought it was time for me to go ahead and fully retire and enjoy sports without feeling responsible for the outcome.”
Now that he’s ready to wrap up his coaching career and officially retire, Boatright reflected on the differences between coaching in public school and his time with the Saints and he believes he picked the perfect spot to finish out his career.
“The biggest difference is that we’re scattered all over the globe, which has been a really good experience. Even I don’t know where every one of them is from but their attitude, their disposition, it’s just a pleasant environment. I will say this, and people may not believe it but it’s true, typically as a coach, you’re going to have some complaints. I’ve been at St. Bernard for six years and have gotten zero complaints. That’s the record for me,” Boatright joked. “Not that I had a bunch of them over the years but to not have one in six years is amazing and the people around here make you feel appreciated. Everybody likes to feel appreciated no matter what you do for a living, if you feel appreciated, it just makes things better. I couldn’t have picked a better place to come and finish out my coaching career than St. Bernard.”