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Thomas Jefferson coach Shar continues winning ways

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 10:57 p.m.

The second chapter of Phil Shar's high school coaching career is going about as planned.

His new school, Thomas Jefferson, is winning more than losing.

In 20 years as girls basketball coach at Class AAA West Mifflin, Shar's recipe called mainly for winning.

He won a lot there — 398 games — while coaching a host of college-bound players, including high-profile prospects Tanisha Wright, who went on to star at Penn State and currently is with the WNBA Seattle Storm, and Missy Thompson, who played at Pitt.

“I've had probably 35 to 40 girls play college basketball,” Shar said.

So far in his first season at Class AAA Thomas Jefferson, Shar had coaxed the Jaguars to a winning record at the holiday break, including consecutive victories last week over Class AAAA schools Connellsville and Albert Gallatin, to surpass 400 career wins.

Thomas Jefferson was just 12-32 over the past two seasons before Shar's arrival.

“I feel renewed. My batteries are definitely recharged,” said Shar, who was forced to resign at West Mifflin after losing a near two-year battle to keep the job.

Now, two years later, he's back in the game. Thomas Jefferson, with two freshmen in the lineup, defeated Connellsville, 49-36, and Albert Gallatin, 59-23, at the Laurel Highlands Tournament on Friday and Saturday.

“Things are going absolutely great at TJ,” Shar said. “Things were great at West Mifflin, too. I'm lucky to have been in two great situations.”

Shar, who was elected to the West Mifflin school board in 2010, was ousted three times from June 2009 to March 2011 — he coached the Titans to a 17-7 record in 2010-11 —when the teachers union ultimately won out.

It filed a grievance contending that the state School Code was being violated by having a school director serve the district in another capacity.

Shar was miserable being away from the game, saying, “Every year I didn't coach, it was a tough year. It really was.

“I'd go to games and watch, and I'd wish I was down there with the team,” he said.

He's happy again as coach at Thomas Jefferson (6-3, 1-1) and takes a career record of 404-163 into Thursday's scheduled WPIAL Section 4-AAA home game against Ringgold (6-4, 1-2), which features 6-foot-6 junior Marlena Schmidt.

“Our section is extremely tough,” Shar said. “It seems like everybody has big people, except us. We're not real big, but I'll tell you what: We're starting to play real well. We played two pretty good games at Laurel Highlands. These girls work hard for me, and they do it with a smile on their face.”

Shar said his next college prospect is likely to be 5-8 senior guard Alexis Yanief, TJ's leading scorer with an average of 16.5 points, She is receiving interest from Division II schools.

At Thomas Jefferson, Shar, 67, is joined on the bench by longtime assistant Glenn Cerra, 71, who coached with Shar during his entire 20-year run at West Mifflin. The team's other assistant is Craig D'Alessandro, a holdover from the previous Thomas Jefferson staff.

“We quite possibly have the oldest coaching staff in the WPIAL,” Cerra said, laughing. “Phil has been great. The good thing about him is he has such a positive attitude. The kids are starting to really believe in themselves.”

Shar insisted the run to 400 wins was made possible only with Cerra at his side.

And while the two men realize their new program has plenty of room to improve, they continue to be impressed with their current players.

“For years (at West Mifflin), we always played TJ,” Shar said. “When we played them, they always played hard against us. They've got a great youth program in place, a system that is really outstanding, with a lot of girls involved, a lot of youth.

“This team has intangibles that are off the chart — things like work habits and attitude. You can't just start teaching that to someone. It has to come from the beginning. I knew coming here, there was a good underneath program. From Day 1, these young ladies made a commitment to the program, and now, they're starting to play better with every game.”

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