Gene Ammirante (Wheeling Central Catholic High School, Class of 1969). When you think of Ammirante, you think of two things – passion and success. During his 30 year career as head boys’ basketball coach at Bellaire High, “Coach A” displayed plenty of the former and achieved plenty of the latter. Gene is the son of Italian immigrants, Josephine Ammirante (93) and the late Jerry Ammirante. Gene has been married to Pam (Sowers) for 38 years and have two children, Jerry (35)and wife Katie Bliss and Lindsay (28) and one grandson Milano (2).
Ammirante began his coaching career in 1976 as an assistant to Mark Matz at Bellaire before beginning a successful run as head coach of the Big Reds.
He compiled an impressive 471-205 career record at Bellaire, the all-time best coaching record in boys’ basketball at the school. That included a 189-41 mark during the 1900s, an average of 19 wins per season during that 10 year span.
Bellaire High achieved Top 20 rankings in Ohio 15 times under Ammirante; won 14 Ohio Valley Athletic Conference championships; 14 sectional crowns, six district titles and one regional championship as Bellaire earned its first ever trip to the OHSAA Division III State Tournament “Final Four” in 2003-04, tying the school record for wins (22) before losing to Versailles in double-overtime in the semifinals.
His teams posted two undefeated regular seasons, going 20-0 in 1993-94 and 2005-06, 7 – 20 win seasons and two 19-1 records; and the 2005-06 team broke the school record with 23 victories.
Among Ammirante’s numerous awards were “Coach of the Year” for Ohio Division II, the Eastern District and District 12 as well as the OVAC overall “Coach of the Year” in 2003-04; and the Bob Arnzen Award for 20 consecutive years at the same school (1996). He was also selected to coach the south squad in the annual Ohio North-South All-Star Game in Columbus in 1997.
He served as Game Director for the Samuel A. Mumley OVAC All-Star Basketball Classic on two different occasions and is still active on the committee; founded and directed the OVAC Basketball Clinic for six years which brought nationally acclaimed clinicians such as the late Skip Prosser-Wake Forrest; Bob Huggins-WVU; John Beilein-Michigan; Jim O’Brien-Former NBA Coach; Doug Wojcik of College of Charleston; John Chaney-Former Temple Coach. Coach A also founded a $1500 Scholarship annually awarded to the son or daughter of an Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Basketball Coach; is director of the Wheeling Recreation Department’s Youth Basketball Program; and started the annual Saturday Morning Fundamental Feeder Program and Basketball Camp at Bellaire. He received the OVAC’s Earl Haberfield Boys’ Basketball Coaches Award in 2012. He also authored three articles in the Nationally Syndicated Scholastic Coach Magazine.
Ammirante received his bachelor’s degree from West Liberty State College in 1973 and his master’s from West Virginia University in 1976. Coach A says “I have been fortunate to have stayed at one school – Bellaire High School – for my entire 35 year career. The greatest thrill of my career was coaching my son Jerry and nephew J.R. Battista (present Bellaire boys basketball coach) and having them both serve as assistant coaches. There were more wins than losses but you can not measure a basketball coach solely with W’s and L’s. The good Lord blessed me with more laughs than heartaches, more cheers than boos, and many friends and memories that will entertain me as long as my mind can re-run them. I am proud of the fact that I was fortunate to have coached a lot of wonderful players who brought about the memories, the wins and the championships. I am proud of it but I also know that without those players it wouldn’t have happened.