South Xtra: For Rebels coach, this season has been a fun ride

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No matter what path a person travels in life, it is important to never forget his or her roots.

Where one comes from makes that someone the person they are today. If he is lucky enough, he doesn't have to move away from his roots.

For Seton-La Salle boys basketball coach, Mark Walsh, this is the case.

Walsh grew up in Seton-LaSalle's neighborhood, attending Resurrection Grade School in Brookline, which, until it merged with two other Catholic grade schools in Brookline, St. Pius and Our Lady of Loreto, to form Brookline Regional Catholic, was a longtime primary "feeder" school to Seton-LaSalle.

For the past 20 years he has continued to call Western Pennsylvania his home as a boys high school basketball coach.

"When I drive to work everyday, I drive by my grade school," Walsh said. "It is pretty extraordinary to drive through where you grew up, knowing how much history and tradition we have at grade school is pretty neat."

Walsh, 46, is a physical education teacher at Fox Chapel Area High School but is known for his magical run this year as the head coach of his alma mater. After a 25-year wait, the Rebels (29-1) with Walsh at the helm have returned to glory as WPIAL champions in his third year as their coach.

They are in the process of pursuing even more this week. Tuesday they defeated Greensburg Central Catholic, 46-44, in the PIAA Class AA semifinals. The Rebels will advance to the state championship game 2 p.m. Saturday at the Giant Center in Hershey to play Philadelphia Constitution, which defeated Wilkes-Barre Meyers in the Eastern Region final, 55-44.

"I didn't think this would happen in our third year," Walsh said. "When we met the very first day, I told them our goal is to win the section, win the WPIAL and compete for the state title. I told [the players] 'We are probably going to work you harder than anything you ever experienced and I hope that you feel it is worth it.'"

"It is all about who is playing better at the right time. To see it happen in the third year is perfect timing. I think I came to Seton at the perfect time. They took what we said and it worked. Once we started winning a little bit, everything started to flow."

Walsh began his high school coaching career in 1994 as an assistant at Bishop Canevin (he actually started his coaching career before that as a sixth grade coach at Resurrection).

He spent three years there before taking the same job at Blackhawk for a year under the legendary John Miller.

Walsh returned to Canevin, where he was rewarded with his first head coaching job. He spent six seasons at Canevin compiling a 56-90 record before moving back to a position as an assistant coach. Walsh spent five years at Baldwin and two at Bethel Park before landing his "dream job" three years ago at Seton.

Walsh didn't always know he wanted to be a high school coach, however.

"It was a unique story of how I started coaching," Walsh said. "I played at Penn State and CCAC. I came back after 10 days because I was homesick and was playing basketball when I came home. I knew I was going to go to Duquesne and someone asked me about coaching. I didn't really know anything about coaching, but once I got into it I knew this was something that I was going to do for a long time. I was ecstatic to do it."

"I really just loved it and almost pursued an assistant job at a junior college. I decided to just stick with teaching and coaching. So I tried to make it in the high school ranks and plugged away. It has been a great 20-year run."

With this being the first WPIAL title the program has won in 25 years, Walsh knows this group has an extra special meaning in his heart.

"These three years have been such a great experience," Walsh said. "When we have a banquet for these seniors, it is going to be emotional. There is such a strong bond there. It is almost like a family atmosphere. They are the loosest group of kids.

"When I look back, it will be something that I will say we really got it clicking on all cylinders. I give a lot of credit to our staff and our group. These last three years the kids have bought into what we were saying without questioning it."

Walsh doesn't have to count on his on-the-court family to be his only support group. Like himself, the rest of his family has stuck around to be together.

"My whole family is here," Walsh said. "My brother lives right next door and my mom and other brother are five minutes away. It is just a great place to grow up and to be able to come back and coach all that time and coach where I went to school is indescribable to me."

To Walsh, there is no place like home.

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