Stephen Beyer has been a fixture along the sideline as coach of Beth-Center’s girls basketball team for the past 23 seasons.
He’s won 241 games, had an undefeated section champion and has coached six of the Lady Bulldogs 10 1,000-point scorers.
Beyer also has served as B-C girls volleyball coach the past 10 seasons. He’ll only do one of those two jobs from now on.
“I decided to step down as basketball coach,” Beyer said. “I’ll continue with the volleyball team.”
Beyer cited family reasons for resigning his basketball post. He was the longest tenured girls basketball coach, by far, among area schools.
“My wife Erin and I are expecting our first grandchild next month and we’re real excited about that,” Beyer explained. “We want to be able to spend the holidays and just be more available for family gatherings, which is something I’ve missed out on a lot during basketball season. That’s the main reason I’m retiring.”
Beyer, 51, and Erin have three sons, Ross, who is the expecting father, Tyler and Ryan, who was an assistant coach under his father for three years.
“My wife has been so understanding over the years, as our boys have grown up,” Beyer said. “She would be bringing them in a baby carrier into the gymnasium and, it was funny, all the girls would run over to see them.
“She put up with us having to arrange family gatherings around the Christmas tournaments. She would help them with their homework and go see the Christmas concerts and things like that while I was coaching and wouldn’t be able to do those things.
“I couldn’t have coached all these years without the support of my wife for sure.”
Beyer is a 1988 Beth-Center graduate who participated in basketball and track & field for the Bulldogs. His 3,200 relay team still holds the school record.
“I still make sure every incoming freshman sees that banner with my name on it,” Beyer said with a laugh.
Beyer began his basketball coaching career while he was still in college at California University of Pa.
“I was a senior at Cal and Tom Katruska was the head coach of the boys varsity team at Beth-Center and he brought me on board to coach the ninth-grade team, which I did for six years. He brought in Jim Lane, who graduated with me at Beth-Center, at the same time and he was the boys assistant coach.”
Beyer coached the ninth-grade team from 1992 to 1997, then moved over to become assistant coach of the Beth-Center varsity girls basketball team for the 1997-98 season. The next year he took over as the Lady Bulldogs’ head coach.
His first season didn’t quite go as well as he planned.
“We had a really good team the year before and we had Michelle Morgan, who ended up being one of the best athletes to come out of Beth-Center, returning. I knew I could build the team around her. Then she ended up not coming out for basketball that year. It was her least favorite sport.
“That ended up being a rough year for us. I think we only won one game.”
It didn’t take long for Beyer to turn the Lady Bulldogs’ fortunes around. He was a defensive-minded coach and his teams reflected that.
“I love defense. Defense was our forte,” Beyer said. “That’s what I preached ever since I took over. I always put the number 36 up on the board. That was the magic number. We thought if we held teams under that we would likely win. That was always our goal. We worked and concentrated on playing good defense.”
His players took that goal to heart.
“It’d be funny, some games when we had a game under control and the starters were taken out they’d still be yelling at the subs to, ‘Come on, hold them under 36 points!’ So they really bought into that.
“We got to the point where people know when you play Beth-Center you better bring your ‘A’ game. Our reputation since I’ve been here is we’ve always been a competitive team that plays hard, sound defense.”
When asked which was his best team, Beyer didn’t hesitate in answering.
“The 2010 team sticks out,” he said. “That probably was the best team I ever coached.”
The 2009-10 Beth-Center squad went 16-3 in the regular season and a perfect 11-0 in winning the Section 5-AA championship.
“We clinched the title on Wash High’s floor,” Beyer said. “Wash High was always good so that was a big deal for us.
“My starters that year were Megan Sowers, who ended up being a 1,000-point scorer and actually the all-time leading scorer at Beth-Center, Dannika Whitlow, who was an outstanding point guard for us, Breigh Devecka, Samantha Starkey and Felicia Toth. Anna Shashura was a freshman that year who played a lot for us and she wound up being a 1,000-point scorer also.”
Beyer pointed out one game that gave his team a significant confidence boost that season.
“We won at Serra Catholic by one point (54-53) when Megan drained a three with five seconds left,” Beyer recalled. “Serra had a great program and had won a WPIAL title a couple years before that season. For us to go there and beat them, the girls knew then that, hey, we’re a pretty good team.”
The Lady Bulldogs suffered a tough loss to Bishop Canevin in the WPIAL playoffs.
“We got a first-round bye but then we lost to them by two points (46-44),” Beyer said. “We had three chances to score right at the end but couldn’t get the shots to fall in. That was a great team with two girls who would be 1,000-point scorers.”
Sowers and Shashura weren’t the only players to score over 1,000 points under Beyer, though.
“I had six 1,000-point scorers,” Beyer pointed out. “There’s not that many schools that get very many 1,000-point scorers let alone be part of six of them like I had the honor to coach in my career.”
Beyer commented on each of the six.
Eryn Ellsworth (1,151 points, 2001 graduate)
“Erin was the first. The thing I remember about her is we played West Greene on a Monday and Eryn scored 40 points to tie the score record for a game. Seven days later we went to Bentworth and she scored 41 points to break the record.
“i just spoke with her not long ago. It was great to talk with her. I still stay in contact with a lot of the girls.”
Samantha Slagle (1,172 points, 2004 graduate)
“Sam was probably the best all-around. She could play defense, she was a scorer, she could handle the ball. Actually, basketball wasn’t even her best sport, volleyball was. She ended up getting a scholarship at Cal U for volleyball.”
Megan Sowers (1,372 points, 2010 graduate)
“Megan was an outstanding outside shooter. Another key thing about that 2010 team was they were so unselfish. They knew that Megan was a scorer so they always fed the ball to her. They weren’t worried about who had the most points, they were just worried about winning.”
Anna Shashura (1,129 points, 2012 graduate)
“Anna turned into a great starting point guard. She had the best ball-handling skills of anyone I coached. She was a good worker. Anna not only was a 1,000-point scorer but we made the playoffs all four years she was there.”
Anna Bartman (1,266 points, 2015 graduate)
“Anna probably had the best 3-point shot of all the girls I coached. The thing I remember about her was working with her back when she was in fourth grade. She was the ball girl, water girl for the high school team. She just worked and worked and worked. Anna could take the ball coast to coast. If there were three or four people around her she would still get a good shot off.
“Anna was on that team when we won our first playoff game (59-45 over Avonworth at Peters Township in 2015). I remember the game was going back and forth and the teams that were going to play the next game came into the gym and one of them was Laurel Highlands. They were cheering for us and our girls were feeding off of that. They were yelling Anna’s name.
“After we won the game, Anna ran across the court as we were going to the locker room, celebrating our victory, and pointed up to the stands at the Laurel Highlands fans, thanking them for supporting us. We still have a picture of her doing that. That was fun.”
Kinlee Whited (1,274 points, 2018 graduate)
“Kinlee was a fast girl who worked hard on the defensive end. She would get a lot of steals that led to easy baskets for us. That was probably her greatest asset.”
Beth-Center has 10 girls who have hit the 1,000-point mark. The four before Beyer arrived were Susan Clair (1,130 points, 1981 graduate), Diane Hess (1,287 points, 1983 graduate), Annette Stickovich (1,193 points, 1983 graduate) and Kristin Katruska (1,052 points, 1995 graduate).
“For me to have the opportunity to coach six of them, it’s a great feeling and an honor to know you were a part of that,” Beyer said.
Beyer looked back to his early days as B-C head coach when asked what game sticks out most in his memory.
“It was actually a middle school game,” he said. “Being the high school coach I also got a chance to coach the middle school girls. Sam Slagle was on the team then and we were playing Monessen, who had Charel Allen, who went to be a fantastic player at Notre Dame and in the WNBA.
“That middle school basketball game, there were 10 girls on the floor but it was the Sam Slagle and Charel Allen show. Monessen had an undefeated team and I think they beat us by three points. Charel had all but five of their points. She would come down the court and no matter what we threw at her, she would go right through us. But Sam would go down the floor and would go right through their defense. I’ll never forget that.
“Then I had the opportunity to follow Charel and she her make it professionally. She was an unbelievable player.”
Beyer points to Lane as one of the coaches he most liked going against.
“Me and Jim Lane, we grew up together, we graduated together and we played basketball together and I had the assist on his first dunk in high school basketball,” Beyer said. “He coached at Carmichaels all those years and it was always a battle. It was great. I miss him the most of all the coaches I’ve gone against.
“Kevin Lee of Charleroi, I coached against all his daughters, we always had battles with them and we both wanted to beat each other in the worst way, but we respected each other. Afterwards we’d see each other in a bar and buy each other a beer. Those are things you really remember as a coach on a personal level, making those friendships with all those coaches.”
Beyer believes stability has been a key to the program’s success. Beth-Center’s boys basketball team has gone through nine coaches during Beyer’s reign. He said he will continue to teach at Beth-Center in addition to guiding the volleyball team.
“My dad was a math professor at Cal U for 42 years, and I followed in his footsteps,” Beyer noted. “I graduated with a degree in secondary education math, and I’ve been teaching math at Beth-Center the last 26 years.”
Like in basketball, Beyer has had much success with the B-C volleyball program.
“When I began as volleyball coach we only had one win my first year,” Beyer recalled. “Then Joe Kuhns helped me organize a middle school team, and since then we’ve had a successful volleyball team. Joe’s daughter Kennedy came through the system and she got a volleyball scholarship and is playing at West Virginia Wesleyan.”
Beyer said he may try to get into basketball officiating next year to stay involved with that sport. When asked if he would ever consider coaching basketball again, Beyer didn’t completely close the door.
“I’m still fairly young, as far as coaches go,” Beyer said, “so who knows? But right now this is the best decision for me and my family.”