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West Mifflin seeks change in girls basketball

| Thursday, May 28, 2009

After 19 seasons, 381 victories, five appearances in the WPIAL championship game and one WPIAL title, Phil Shar appears to be out as the girls basketball coach at West Mifflin.

Shar said he was summoned to a meeting Wednesday with West Mifflin athletic director Scott Stephenson and high school principal Dr. Mark Hoover in which he was told the school district was opening his position to other applicants.

Shar, 62, said he was told the decision was coming "straight from (superintendent Patrick A. Risha)."

"I was told Mr. Risha wants you to know your job is being opened up. To me, I heard I was fired."

Shar said he was not given a reason. Stephenson and Hoover did not respond to repeated attempts for comment, and Risha was not available.

"I think what was done is ridiculous," said Shar, who said he already had organized the summer basketball program. "The only section champion at West Mifflin this year was girls basketball and they fired the coach."

He said he had minimal problems with parents of the players.

"I had a lot of great kids, a lot of great parents and a great community," he said. "I guess I can reapply and I am thinking about it, but I think it is kind of useless."

Shar had been concerned about his job security after West Mifflin Federation of Teachers ratified a contract extension that includes a provision that makes it difficult for retired teachers to work as coaches. Shar retired as a math teacher at West Mifflin in 2003.

But the provision was not scheduled to take effect until July 1, 2012, according to WMFT president Thomas Ruffing.

Shar is leaving behind a legacy of success.

West Mifflin, which was 20-8 last season, has played in the past two WPIAL title games, losing to New Castle, 54-47, in 2007, and Hampton, 45-41, in 2008. It also has won the past four section championships. Shar's 381 victories include a 204-40 mark in section games.

With four starters returning next season, the news of Shar's ouster was not well-received during an announcement in the high school. Rising senior Jesse Pitts said she was in tears.

"He pushed us hard," said Pitts, who averaged 11.0 points per game as a junior. "He wasn't a clown coach. He was always there to make us work harder and harder each and every day. He helped us with our schoolwork, too. He was always right behind us, making sure our grades were right.

"I was crying. It's going to be very hard."

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