Mount St. Mary's men's basketball coach Jim Phelan will add another achievement to his illustrious portfolio tonight, when he coaches in a collegiate-record 1,276th basketball game.
The big stage - New York - will serve as the backdrop when the Mountaineers visit Columbia University's Levien Gymnasium for their fourth game of the season.
"I didn't even know about it until somebody told me, but it's a great milestone," said the normally low-key Phelan. "And you don't even have to win. All of a sudden, you realize you're venturing into an uncharted area. It's a matter of longevity."
Phelan is coaching his 47th season at the Emmitsburg school and has 809 victories, a record for active coaches. His current team is 0-3.
The 71-year-old coach came to Mount St. Mary's in 1954 intending to stay only a short time but became a permanent part of the landscape. His teams were national Division II powers for years, winning the national title in 1962. Since entering Division I, the Mountaineers have made two NCAA tournament appearances after winning the Northeast Conference tournament.
Phelan remembers coaching his first game at old Memorial Gymnasium in Emmitsburg "as if it was yesterday. We were up 28 points on St. Francis [N.Y.] with 10 minutes to go, and they came roaring back on us. But we won."
The final was 99-84 on Dec. 4, 1954.
When Phelan's team played in the Black Coaches Association Classic at Winston-Salem, N.C., last week, he met with the man whose record he will surpass, Clarence "Big House" Gaines of Winston-Salem State.
"He's still kind of annoyed that he's not coaching," Phelan said of Gaines. "We didn't talk about the record. He's like me. He didn't even realize it was coming up."
Phelan, who announced recently that he is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, will not have treatment this weekend.
"Not hardly," he said when asked if a celebration was planned. "Dot [his wife] is not going, but Lynn [his daughter] will be there and some of the grandchildren. A few other people, too, but it won't be anything big."