By John Knebels
Sports Columnist

Throughout his 37 years as head coach of La Salle College High School’s track team, Pat Devine has always been about the kids.

Leave a message requesting some information and expect a callback as soon as possible. Ask for a comment about a certain runner and prepare to learn about him more as a person than an athlete.

So it was with mixed emotions that Devine became one of the key components in the Catholic League track and field championship May 15 at Upper Darby High School. Win or lose, Devine was still going to retire and head west to Oregon with his wife to live near his children and grandchildren. But thanks to contributions in 14 different events, Devine’s team ended up taking the league title; thus, like it or not, he became an important part of the story.

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“Across the board, this has been very inspiring,” said Devine, a 1962 graduate of Msgr. Bonner High School. “We did what we had to do to win. More than that, the team and family concept really came out of this. The guys worked hard and believed in themselves and rooted for each other.”

In typical form, Devine was quick to point out several athletes who had established personal bests. One of them had placed second, another third and another sixth. With Devine, it hasn’t really mattered where his kids finished; it has always been about them getting the most out of their abilities.

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” said Devine, whose entire family attended the meet. “I’ve met so many wonderful people and have been able to coach so many great runners. I feel very grateful.”

On Saturday night, Devine was stunned when an estimated 200 former runners greeted him at a surprise dinner party at La Salle. A week earlier, officials from the Broad Street Run came to La Salle and honored him for his contributions to running in the Philadelphia area.

A teacher and counselor at La Salle since 1971, Devine will be succeeded by former standout Explorer Greg Bielecki, a 1999 graduate. For the past few years, Devine has assisted Bielecki in cross country and Bielecki has returned the favor in track. Leaving the program in capable hands was pivotal, Devine said, and he has no doubts that his former protégé is up to the task.

Devine leaves quite a legacy. His career has included nine league championships, 10 Independent School State titles, two District 12 championships in cross country, two league titles in indoor track and three more in outdoor track.

Chris Carabello, La Salle’s director of marketing, communications and public relations, was a former runner under Devine and lauded him for his commitment to excellence. Carabello said that Devine has coached more than 200 runners who have earned All-Catholic honors.

Fans should not expect Devine to pull a Brett Favre and change his mind about retiring.

“No, I’m real happy about this,” said Devine, who is slated to leave the area on June 15. “The decision was well thought out. This has been planned for the last two years. It’s time.”

Devine spent much of the meet watching the Explorers win while sitting in the stands. He witnessed a riveting affair between La Salle and Cardinal O’Hara that wasn’t clinched until the final event, the 4×400 relay.

When senior Jake Ullman, senior Tom O’Kane, junior Phil Watson and senior Mike Scott combined to finish in second place and only 4.65 seconds behind heavily favored O’Hara, La Salle was crowned as champion as the Explorers edged the Lions 122-115. Father Judge placed third with 97 points, West Catholic fourth with 65 and St. Joseph’s Prep fifth with 39.

There were several multiple winners: Cardinal O’Hara’s Corey Brown in the 100 and 200 runs; Msgr. Bonner’s Marcus Collins in the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles; Father Judge’s Tom Kehl in the mile and 800; Cardinal O’Hara’s Chazz Wilks in both the shot put and discus; and Cardinal O’Hara in both the 4×400 relay and 1600 sprint medley.

Since Brown anchored O’Hara’s 4×400 relay, it gave him three gold medals. He also added a silver medal in the 4×100. Taking into account that he set meet records in his two inspanidual wins, it was no wonder that the soon-to-be Ohio State University football player was named the boys’ most valuable player.

Other victories included West Catholic’s Ozzie Bryan in the 400, La Salle’s Tom Trainer in the 3200, Father Judge’s John Landis in the long jump, West Catholic’s Tyrek Edwards in the triple jump, O’Hara’s Nick Beninato in the high jump, St. Joseph’s Prep’s Chris Dougherty in the pole vault, La Salle’s Dylan Gavin in the javelin, Father Judge in the 4×100 and LaSalle in the 4×800 relay.

In the girls’ meet, Cardinal O’Hara won the championship for the sixth time in seven seasons. The Lions’ 95-point performance was well-balanced and included first-place finishes by Meghan Hotz in the 800, Anna McCloskey in both the shot put and discus and two relay victories.

West Catholic was 14 points behind thanks mostly to an incredible performance by Chante Moore. The girls’ meet’s most valuable player, Moore earned gold in the 100, 200 and 400-meter runs and helped her teammates set a meet record in the 4×100 relay. The Burrs also captured the 4×400 relay. St. Hubert’s placed third with 77 points, followed by Archbishop Prendergast (73) and Archbishop Ryan (64).

Other winners included Archbishop Ryan’s Tamisha Thomas in the 100 and 300 hurdles, Archbishop Carroll’s Katie Rodden in the mile and 3200, St. Hubert’s Kelly Hooven in the long jump, Conwell-Egan’s Logan Brenker in the triple jump, Conwell-Egan’s Theresa Horn in the high jump, Archbishop Ryan’s Deirdre O’Leary in the pole vault and Archbishop Prendergast’s Amanda Hughes in the javelin.

But in the end, for one day at least, it was a coach who garnered much of the spotlight.

And unlike the thousands of decisions he has made over the past four decades, he had no say in the matter.

Happy trails, Coach Devine.