WEST GREENWICH—It all started with a phone call 24 years ago.
“I’ll never forget that phone call I got in 1989,” Steve McGrane says. “It changed my life.”
McGrane was just 26-years old when he took that call – a job proposition to coach the Exeter-West Greenwich junior high girls basketball team – from superintendent Jim Erinakes and the fledgling Exeter-West Greenwich Regional School District.
“EWG didn’t even have a high school yet,” McGrane says. “I said, ‘junior high girls basketball? I’ll give it a shot,’ and I fell in love with it.”
After the year with the junior high McGrane took the job coaching the girls team at the high school – once it opened – and has been there ever since.
The only girls basketball coach EWG high school has ever known is stepping down this season having guided the Knights from the state’s lowest division to competing with the best in Rhode Island.
“I think it’s time,” McGrane says. “It’s been 24 just fantastic years. The last time we didn’t make the playoffs was 1995.
“…I will miss it. It’s something I’ve thought about since last year. I still have a lot of energy but I need a break.”
The first job coaching girls basketball led to many new opportunities for McGrane, including an 18-year stint as the school’s athletic director and a brief one coaching tennis.
The early years will always hold a special place in McGrane’s heart though, as they were the foundation on what the girls hoops program has become at EWG.
“It was all new. We were breaking ground,” McGrane says. “I remember when the school opened [in 1990] there were just ninth and 10th graders. We were thrown right into RIIL basketball and some of the kids had never picked up a ball.
“We got killed those first two years. We were young, we didn’t know what we were doing and by the third year we made it to the Class C championship and lost by one in double overtime.”
From there the program only flourished under McGrane’s tutelage, moving up a division the next season en route to the Division II title in 2004.
The following winter McGrane’s Knights became the first EWG program to play at the Division I level and have been competitive ever since, only twice having a losing record.
The last few seasons were tough for McGrane’s teams though, going a combined 33-2 during the regular season only to see their run end in the semifinals by a mere couple of points.
Even as much as the final losses stung, the team’s overall record competing in Division I is a testament to where the program has come in the past 23 years.
And it would not have been possible without those first few seasons getting destroyed in Class C and players who were there in the beginning like Sherri Young.
Last season at a Feb. 5th home game against North Kingstown McGrane held a moment of silence for Young, a member of the first high school team he had coached at EWG who had passed away at the age of 37 the Friday before.
“I had a young lady when the school opened in 1990,” McGrane said after the game on that cold February night. “This young lady, Sherri Young, was on our team the first year. She was a sophomore so she was a part of the first graduating class. She was a three-year starter and I remember those first two years I think we won one game.
“By her senior year we made it all the way to the [Class C] finals at the Civic Center – back then it was the Civic Center (now the Dunkin Donuts Center) – and she was just a special kid. We were very close and she passed away on Friday of cancer.
“Just a great kid, always a smile on her face and I knew that I was probably the only one in the gym that even knew who she was because that was 20 year ago now but I think I owed her that.”
After 20-plus years of coaching and teaching, there are plenty of people who can say they owe McGrane.