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Bethel Park hires O'Connor

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Bethel Park, which won a WPIAL championship only two years ago, hired former Fox Chapel coach Ben O'Connor on Thursday night to lead its boys basketball program.

O'Connor, who spent the past four seasons at Fox Chapel, was successful in each of his previous three coaching jobs -- dating to 1999, when he was hired as the head coach at Keystone Oaks, his alma mater, at the age of 21. He spent four seasons at Keystone Oaks and two as an assistant at Westminster (Pa.) College.

O'Connor (123-77) has led his teams to the WPIAL playoffs in seven of eight seasons, including advancing with Fox Chapel to the 2007 Class AAAA semifinals where it lost, 55-44, to eventual champion Bethel Park.

One of his most impressive achievements was taking over a Keystone Oaks team that was 0-24 the season before he arrived and leading it to the playoffs in three of the next four seasons.

O'Connor, who was appointed by a unanimous vote of the school board, said Bethel Park was one of only a handful of schools he would consider after Fox Chapel.

"There are athletes there who want to win," he said. "When you played Bethel Park, there was always a group that played hard and was a scrappy group. The bottom line was there were always good kids who wanted to play.

"When you think of Bethel Park, you think of hard-nosed (players), good families, long stability."

O'Connor said geographics and family also were major considerations in making the career move. He lives in Dormont, 11 minutes from Bethel Park, compared to a drive of up to 90 minutes to Fox Chapel. He and his wife also have two small children.

"I don't want to short-change them," he said. "It was coming down to I was going to short-change either the family or the (Fox Chapel) team, and I didn't want to short-change either one."

O'Connor replaces Mark Gaither, who was 19-27 the past two seasons at Bethel Park.

O'Connor knows much about the school district and its athletes from Quaker Valley coach Mike Mastroianni, his high school coach at Keystone Oaks. Mastroianni was the coach at Bethel Park in 2007, when it won the WPIAL title, beating O'Connor's Fox Chapel team along the way.

O'Connor says he will be at Bethel Park today to meet the basketball team.

"I'm diving right in," he said.

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