A Success Story Three Decades in the Making
In 1987, The Bangles topped the pop charts by asking people to Walk Like an Egyptian, the movie Wall Street explored the ethics of power brokers and President Ronald Reagan stood in then-West Berlin demanding, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
It was also the year a Notre Dame High School graduate named Mary Beth Spirk with a political science degree from Dickinson College accepted the position of women’s basketball head coach at Moravian College in Bethlehem.
Coaching at the college level is often a revolving door as university leaders and athletic directors continually try to hire the next best coach with the hope of finding a way to win more games.
Spirk’s 30-year career at Moravian is a rare achievement, as is her .675 winning percentage with 542 wins and only 248 losses going into the 2016-17 basketball season.
Of the thousands of people who have coached college women’s basketball, the record books rank her in the 22nd spot for victories among all-time Division III coaches. Only 12 active coaches in her division have more wins than Spirk.
With a lack of other job opportunities and plans to pursue a law degree, Spirk began her role as head coach thinking it would be a temporary post.
“Coming to Moravian College was a great opportunity,” Spirk says, “but I still thought I’d be going to go to law school at some point.”
However, with a 1991 NCAA Division III playoff berth and a National Championship appearance in ’92, the Greyhounds winning train sped full-steam out of the station with Spirk as its enthusiastic engineer.
The team’s accomplishments during her tenure include seven Middle-Atlantic Southeast titles, three Middle-Atlantic South championships, two Middle-Atlantic Conference crowns, 10 NCAA bids with three “Sweet 16” appearances, an ECAC Championship in 2007 and the 2010 Landmark Conference championship.
Individually, Spirk has received the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association National Coach of the Year award, Mid-Atlantic region honors and she’s been a nine-time Conference Coach of the Year.
Despite those impressive accolades, when Spirk reminisces about her career, which is still going strong, the words “victory” and “win” rarely come out of her mouth.
To hear Spirk define her greatest accomplishments, she simply says, “relationships.”
“I think, from my standpoint, it’s all about the kids who you bring in,” Spirk says. “I’ve brought in some pretty good players.”
Players, both recently and from her early career, still keep in touch with Spirk on a regular basis. Amy Endler played on the 1992 team for Spirk and has been a Moravian College assistant basketball coach for the last 15 years.
“We have a really good relationship,” Endler says. “We have evolved. I was a player, and now I am a colleague. I learn from her every day what it means to be a mentor. We lead young people through this craziness that is college.”
One of those young people is Nazareth native Morgan Calabrese, a senior guard this season at Moravian College.
“She’s a smart coach. She is a respectable coach,” Calabrese says. “You can go to her. It’s nice knowing you have someone to go to for advice. There’s a mutual respect.”
Through 30 years, it’s hard to pinpoint a standout moment, Spirk says. The national championship appearance was a big moment for her and her players, but the most outstanding moments are often the most recent. The Greyhounds 19-7 season last year earned them a first round NCAA playoff berth against the University of New England.
“Beating New England on their home court was big,” Spirk says. “It was a group of kids who hung in and played gritty all year.”
Spirk says, as long as she feels good and is enjoying her job, she plans to keep the coaching train a-rolling, and she wants to continue to build relationships with her players.
If the past is any indicator of the future, we can expect her to add a few more wins, too.