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McClelland replaces Shar as West Mifflin head girls basketball coach

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By Josh Yohe
Wednesday, July 1, 2009

There have been three WPIAL championship teams in the history of the West Mifflin Area School District. The coach who led all three was replaced Tuesday night.

Phil Shar, who won 381 games in 19 seasons at West Mifflin, received an enormous amount of public support at the school board meeting, but directors voted, 5-4, to elevate assistant coach Mindy McClelland to the position.

"I wasn't even allowed to speak," said Shar, who has had a long-running feud with West Mifflin Superintendant Patrick A. Risha. "This whole thing was ridiculous."

Several West Mifflin residents spoke on Shar's behalf. Directors John J. Donis, Edward J. Schueler, Michael Price and Richard Fialkovich voted against the hiring of McClelland. Ned Mervos, Diana Olasz, Dr. Albert Graham, Kathleen Bracco and Michael Jakubovic voted for her.

"Those five people that voted against me are back stabbers," Shar said.. "Every single one of them." Shar was fired last month following comments he made in the McKeesport Daily News. Shar said he had been "coaching under a reign of terror" with Risha as superintendent.

That comment prompted a lengthy speech by Olasz, explaining why she voted in favor of McClelland. Olasz, whose daughter is a member of the basketball team, said she previously enjoyed a good relationship with Shar.

"I took great offense to that (reign of terror) comment," she said. At the end of Olasz's speech, Shar yelled from the back of the room, "Am I allowed to speak now?" He never was permitted to do so and, moments later, McClelland was voted in as coach. Shar was particularly stunned that Olasz turned against him. "I still don't know what her comments even meant," he said. "She said that I said negative things about Mindy and (former Duquesne boys basketball coach) Montel Staples. Are you kidding me• I've never had anything but nice things to say about Mindy. And Montel is a personal friend of mine."

Staples, who was a candidate to replace Shar, spoke in support of Shar. "Phil Shar should be the coach at West Mifflin," said Staples, whose daughter is a member of the team. "When I interviewed for this job, I told them that if I wasn't hired, that I thought Phil should be the coach. No one is more qualified for this job than Phil Shar. No one. It's not even close.

"Let me put it this way. My daughter said to me, 'Dad, I would love for you to get that job. But I want Phil Shar to be my coach.'"

West Mifflin has been a WPIAL championship game finalist in each of the past two seasons and is considered one of the favorites to win the title next season.

"I can't believe this happened," West Mifflin guard Monica Poupakis said. "Mr. Shar does everything for us. He has gotten us to the WPIAL title game and he helps us out in any way.

"I'm disappointed. I just can't believe what is happening. We'll see what happens, I guess." Shar also led the West Mifflin track and field team to two WPIAL championships, and his basketball teams appeared in five title games.

"I just want to thank the West Mifflin community," he said. "They've always been good to me and I've always been proud to say I'm from West Mifflin."

Josh Yohe can be reached at

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