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Long drives pay off as WCA coach wins 500th career game

The Wildwood Catholic High School girls basketball team after head coach Steve DiPatri won his 500th career game with a win at Lower Cape May Monday.


After his Wildwood Catholic Academy girls basketball team beat Ocean City Friday, Steve DiPatri wanted to show a couple of people the vehicle he is now leasing.

He proudly walked athletic director Mike Saioni and a reporter out to the parking lot to show off his shiny new BMW.

That car’s engine is sure going to get a workout.

DiPatri, in his seventh season as the head coach of the Crusaders, won his 500th career game Monday when his team posted a 60-23 victory over Lower Cape May.

DiPatri is now 500-137 for his career. He began at Sacred Heart in Vineland in 1997 and almost immediately built the Lions into one of the top small-school programs in the state. They won state titles in 2003 and 2005 and a Cape-Atlantic League championship in 2012, while producing a number of college players.

But Sacred Heart, like many Catholic schools across the country over the past two decades, closed for good following the 2012-13 season.


Shortly thereafter, DiPatri was announced as the new coach at Wildwood Catholic, where he’s enjoyed much of the same kind of success. Now in his eighth season, he has led Wildwood Catholic to six 20-win seasons and has gone 148-48 through Monday’s win over Lower.

Coaching at Wildwood Catholic has required an adjustment. A school administrator in Bridgeton and a resident of Vineland, DiPatri embarks on 45- to 50-minute daily drives to and from Wildwood Catholic in North Wildwood during basketball season. There are dozens of other drives to this area during other times of the year as well.

“I relax, listen to music and don’t take unnecessary phone calls,” DiPatri said. “It’s my time to decompress from any emotions either going into practice or going home from practice.

“There are pluses and minuses to it. When I was at Sacred Heart, I was five minutes from school and it was fantastic to be able to run over to the gym if a kid needed the (shooting) gun out for a workout. I don’t have that luxury now. But I do have the luxury of compartmentalizing the emotions of coaching. Anybody who’s coached for any significant amount of time knows coaching is a very emotional position.”

Even though he lives quite a distance away, DiPatri has found a home at Wildwood Catholic.

“When Sacred Heart closed, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to coach,” he recalled. “My job at Bridgeton is a demanding job and it has to come first. So If I was going to coach again I was going to need to find a job that fit with my professional position as well. Wildwood Catholic fits the bill.

“One of the things that I really enjoy is that I feel like our program is an integral part of the culture and the fabric at the school. I think our program has helped Cape May County basketball as a whole. I think the overall level of play in the county has improved. Is that a direct result or is a byproduct of our program? I’d like to think it’s a little bit of both. Whatever it is, it’s all in the best interest of the kids.”

The 500-win milestone is a significant achievement. DiPatri is just the second girls basketball coach in South Jersey history to reach that number. The other is Wildwood’s Dave Troiano, who retired four years ago with 682 wins.

“I am a reflective person. I was a history major and I taught history, so the historical significance means a lot to me personally,” DiPatri said. “When I came in, there were multiple coaches around the Cape(-Atlantic League) with 300 wins and I looked up to and learned from them. Just to still be a head coach 24 years later I think is an accomplishment. But it’s more about the memories and the relationships that have been built along the way more than anything else.”

One of those 300-game winners is his assistant coach Fran St. John, the former Wildwood Catholic head coach who is just one of two coaches in CAL history to win more than 100 games as both a boys and girls basketball coach. Absegami’s Greg Goodwin is the other. DiPatri also has a pair of 1,000-point scorers and alumnae of Wildwood Catholic on his staff in Kate Caruso and Caitlin McMullan.

“Coaching with ‘Saint’ has been fantastic,” DiPatri said. “We had a mutual respect for each other as opposing coaches. He was one of the gentlemen I really looked up to when I first started. Kate has always been a friend and has been a part of this staff for a long time during one of its most successful periods. Caitlin, having played for me, was the first Wildwood Catholic girl I met when I took the job here.

“It just brings that family feeling to our program. You coach a long time and you establish relationships with people. You have to be able to get along with your players and their parents and others in your community and my assistants have helped build that culture and those connections. I couldn’t do it without them. It’s a ‘we’ here, certainly not an ‘I.’”

DiPatri was asked how long he plans to continue coaching.

“I really don’t put years on how long I want to do something,” he said. “I try to live in the moment and concentrate on the present. I knew when I came here that when I took the job I was going to put my all into it, realizing that sometimes you need about five years before you truly get your program implemented. My plan was to create a five-year plan. But now I’m way past five years. I try to go day to day and live in the moment but at the same time I’m not thinking about stopping.”

Sounds like that new BMW of his will be racking up the miles rather quickly.