Mark Gaither gathered the Washington High School boys basketball team for a meeting at 2:15 p.m. Monday with some unexpected news. Gaither, who went 76-42 in five seasons as the head coach of the Prexies, decided to resign from his position, effective immediately, after four playoff appearances in five seasons with the program.
Gaither felt confident in his decision heading into the meeting with Wash High’s players, but when facing the group he formed close bonds with, maintaining his composure was more difficult than expected. Tears were shed, hugs were exchanged and encouragement was delivered.
Gaither, who has three children, ages four, seven and nine, was torn since the Prexies’ season ended Feb. 19 with a WPIAL playoff loss to Summit Academy whether to return or spend more time with his growing children. After countless hours of debate, he chose the latter.
“It was one of toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make,” Gaither said. “I have a good bond with the guys on the team; it’s a great group and we felt like next year is going to be a very, very good season for the program. That makes it tough, too. You put in the hard work and you want to be around to see them achieve their goals.”
Gaither made the decision just days ago and wanted to personally inform his players. Wash High athletic director Joe Nicolella spoke to a Prexies player following Gaither’s announcement and was not surprised by what he was told.
“He is somebody that was 100 percent dedicated to the kids and his outlook was always positive with them,” Nicolella said. “He was a terrific role model, and one of the players remarked about how much of a father figure he was for the team. We’ll need to find someone with that type of compassion. It’s just all about our kids. From that standpoint, it’s a tough loss.”
Nicolella informed the district’s activities committee of Gaither’s decision and expects the search to begin with internal candidates before external options are considered. For Gaither, who spent 10 years as a varsity head coach at Ringgold and Wash High, coaching high school athletics is on hold. His sole focus is being with and coaching his three children.
“I have to be a father and put in time with my children,” Gaither said. “It’s the greatest job in the world. It’s tough, but I made the right decision. I am always going to be a Prexie; I will be rooting for those guys. The administration has been great and I’m confident they will get a great coach in place who will have them competitive immediately.”
When asked of the possibility of returning to high school basketball in the future, Gaither said the thought has not and will not cross his mind for some time. Any sight of Gaither coaching basketball will be in a different setting.
“I just know that for the next couple of years, you won’t be seeing me coach unless you are in an elementary gymnasium,” Gaither said. “Who knows when they get older? Right now, I’m going to be with them. I love it. I wouldn’t change a thing and it’s been a great ride. I planned on Washington being my last stop. I planned on being there a long time. They are well on their way to doing great things and the future is bright at Wash High.”