Leary having a tough, fun time in two states
STEUBENVILLE — John Leary is a rare breed for coaches this season in the sense of experiencing the handling of local sports in two states.
Currently serving as an assistant boys basketball coach for Catholic Central under Don Ogden, he and the Crusaders have been back and playing since November. They were quarantined on two separate occasions, but they were able to return both times.
In just a month or two from now, Leary will enter his first season as the Weir High girls softball head coach. Winter sports in West Virginia will not begin until the beginning of March and will run into the time when spring sports will start.
With seeing both sides of the situations, Leary agrees with Ohio’s protocols and regulations over the neighboring state.
“In Ohio, we’ve been going back since November. Yeah, we had to shut down a couple of times, but we just worked with the situation at it arose,” he said. “It’s just ludicrous that we shut everything down in West Virginia just because. They want us to go back in the classroom but want to wait another four weeks before we can practice. It makes no sense.”
Leary is taking over for Frank Sisinni, who stepped down to take over Weir High’s football program. Leary was a softball assistant under Sisinni and now is with him on the football squad, too.
Although he has not led a softball team in 18 years, it made all too much sense for Leary to return.
“I was comfortable with the situation because I coached softball before at Brooke. I’ve been with coach Sisinni since he took over. Softball is a sport that I’m real comfortable with,” he said. “I did baseball for years, then got into softball at Brooke. I have been out of it since 2003 until I came back with Sisinni in 2016. It was like riding a bike.”
In 2003, the Bruins made the state tournament for the first time since the late 1980s. After that, Leary has spent time all around the area, including leading the Toronto boys and Oak Glen girls basketball campaigns.
Along with every other school in West Virginia, the Red Riders’ 2020 season was shut down before it ever began. Right around that time was when Sisinni was hired for football. Not long after that was when Leary took over softball.
The COVID-19 pandemic was at large, but Leary hoped it would be over by now. Had he known the situation that every coach is facing now, maybe somebody else would have been named.
“I don’t know of any coach that would’ve taken the job if they knew what was coming,” Leary said. “What they’re trying to do, especially with the AA and A schools where they’re limited in players, it’s just ridiculous. The day we’re allowed to play softball games is the same day the girls sectional tournament starts. That first week, I just wiped it out because if the basketball team wins, the regionals are the following Thursday.
“You can’t expect kids to be doing their everyday school work and then try to play two sports after school. I’m not going to expect my kids to do that. Five of my 13 girls I know are going to play basketball, and that’s if the others don’t go out.”
Despite all of this, not much was going to stop Leary from going back to his roots.
“I really have a great group of girls. They’re hard workers, and I’m sure they’ll do whatever you ask them to do,” he said. “But, it’s on the border of ridiculousness with what they’ve done. If we’re back in the classroom, there’s no reason why we can’t start practicing now.
“I think every parent would make the sacrifice (of playing without fans) if it meant their kid can play. I don’t think anybody would have a problem with that.”
Leary lives in Wellsburg with his wife, Linda, of 33 years. They have one daughter, Johnna, 28. Leary teaches drivers’ education, splitting his time in Hancock County at Weir High and Oak Glen.