The longtime Squirettes coach has won three state championships and three District 3 titles in 17 seasons
Gerry Eckenrode believes there are two keys to racking up career wins as a coach.
Step one: Have really good players.
Step two: Be old.
As Eckenrode puts it, he's done really well in both areas. The 65-year-old coach is entering his 18th year at the helm of the Delone Catholic girls' basketball team just one win away from his 400th with the program. He'll get his first shot at the milestone Friday, when the Squirettes play Camp Hill on the road at 7:30 p.m.
Not that he cares much about the accomplishment.
"The only time I think about it is when you guys (reporters) tell me," Eckenrode said. "I don't dwell on it...but I'm old. When the girls try to pull tricks on me, I tell them I know them all because I remember all the stuff I tried to do."
Eckenrode knows plenty of tricks as a coach too. In addition to his impressive 399-121 career record, he's led the Squirettes to three state championships, three District 3 titles, one league title and 14 state playoff appearances in his first 17 seasons.
He's coached plenty of memorable players, including Meredith Cox (former Georgetown guard), Sierra Moore (current Penn State guard) and Maddie Comly (current Fairleigh Dickinson guard). More importantly, he's earned the respect of coaches throughout the YAIAA.
"His teams play with tremendous passion and no doubt he prepares them at practice every night because they're always prepared," longtime rival and York Catholic coach Kevin Bankos said. "Because of the rivalry, people don't realize that we actually get along. He's a really good guy and we talk all the time. His players love him and that tells you a lot."
The relationships Eckenrode has developed with players are some of his greatest sources of pride. He does his best to stay in touch with former Squirettes, even those who weren't the most talented. And he never hesitates to help a girl get into college, whether she's trying to play basketball or not.
But it still surprises him that he ended up where he is.
Eckenrode is a self-described "tough" guy, and when he started coaching boys' high school basketball at South Hagerstown High School in 1975, the last thing he wanted to do was coach girls. To him, girls' basketball was the "minor leagues."
His stance began to change when his daughter Kelleigh was growing up in the 1990s. While he had left coaching in 1985 to focus on working in insurance, he decided to give it another shot when the Delone job opened up in 1999.
It turned out to be a perfect fit.
"I never really considered (getting back into coaching) until I coached my daughter in youth league," Eckenrode said. "When you have a daughter you start thinking differently about coaching girls. Girls are more personable, they have a good sense of humor. They always worry if my tie is on straight or if there's dog hair on my coat. Silly stuff like that."
While Eckenrode admits he's mellowed a bit over the years, he's still considered one of the most demanding coaches in the league. He's never been afraid to raise his voice, or challenge players he thinks are underachieving.
Still, he's been largely embraced by the Squirettes and the Delone community. Not just because of his record, but because he cares.
"His gentle side definitely doesn't come out as much as his tough side," current senior captain Elise Knobloch said. "We call him the 'angry elf.' But we're lucky to have him because even when he's mad, you can tell how much he cares. I've never had a coach care as much as him. He goes over so much film and puts in so much time."
Added Eckenrode: "As time has gone on, I've learned how to handle them and they've learned to accept me for who I am. I toughen them up so they can handle any situation. A number of college coaches say they're glad I coach them like that."
Although he's getting older and fewer players understand his Bill Walton, John Havlicek and Larry Bird references, Eckenrode isn't planning to step down any time soon. The Squirettes have a strong lineup this season led by Knlobloch and forwards Jill Novak, Catie Apgar and Bradi Zumbrum, and the 18-year veteran coach thinks Delone can make another playoff run.
While the ultimate goal is capturing another state title, Eckenrode is content as long as he still enjoys it.
"Once you get to the top, there's no fun not getting back," he said. "That's why you keep pushing. My thought process was always, when it's 70 percent fun and 30 percent not so fun, I can live with that. When it gets to 50-50 it’s time to step away. I haven’t gotten to that. I enjoy working with the girls and it keeps me young."