He fought for what he believed in whether he was a coach, a teacher, a member of the Ohio County Board of Education, a radio commentator, or a friend.
And Sam Andy battled for people, too, because, in many cases, no one else would stand against what was creating their adversity. If one of his Wheeling Park basketball players needed transportation to or from practice or a game, Sam was there no matter if the players lived in Elm Grove or East Wheeling. If they were hungry, he gave them money, too, no matter what the rules said.
“If someone wants to report me for feeding a kid, then let them report me,” he would say.
Often criticized and seldom understood, Sam and his wife, Sandy, were a team. When Sandy suffered a stroke that rendered her comatose for nearly two months, Sam was at her bedside every single day talking to her and giving her, and himself, hope. Once she awoke and stood again, Sam seldom left her side. He was loyal like that.
In our society these days we tend to measure coaches by their numbers of wins and championships, and that was OK with Sam Andy because he won a lot; he was willing to play any team, and he proved victorious in many, many big games. Not only did he chalk up 611 wins during his 39 years coaching at Frazeysburg, Ohio, Wheeling High and then Wheeling Park High School, but he led his teams to three state titles (Wheeling High in 1976, and WPHS in 1980 and again in 1995) and 21 state tournament appearances.
During those four decades Sam recorded only three losing seasons. He liked to move the basketball up and down the court quickly while playing a tenacious defense and a quick-paced offense.
“If we shoot it 20 more times than the other team, we’re probably going to win, right,” Sam would answer when asked about his coaching strategy.
“As a coach, a lot of people would criticize the way Coach Andy coached from the bench and that he wasn’t a great X & O’s coach,” said former player and Class AAA All-Stater Myron Ray. “But that wasn’t true. He was a great coach, and he played no favorites. And if you were a top-five player, you were going to be on the court. He didn’t care if you were black, white, yellow, or brown. He loved all of his players like they were family and treated us like family. We won a lot of games and had great rivalries with some great teams.
“My junior year there were four Division I players (Malloyd Brown, Dave Wojick, Bobby Reasbeck, & me) in the city of Wheeling and five in the Upper Ohio Valley with Mark Linkish from Weir,” he continued. “The competition was awesome, and looking back at the Civic Center when it would be almost full against Central, we loved that and Coach Andy gave us the confidence that we could play against anybody.”
His former players loved him because he was more than a coach to them and that is why many of them who now live away from their hometown have traveled to Wheeling since mid-July. Sam was proud of them, too, taking advantage of every opportunity to recall his players and include their success stories since their high school days.
“Coach Andy was more than a coach in so many ways,” Ray recalled. “He was the father figure that we all looked up to and some of us actually needed when there wasn’t a father at home. He was the one who would stand behind us no matter the circumstances.
“There were many times through the years that I would sit back and laugh at some of the stuff that Coach Andy could pull off,” he said. “I’m glad I got to see him last week, and I got to shake his hand and look him in the eyes and tell him thank you for everything and that I loved him. He meant a lot to me.”
During each of the last few seasons Sam joined a former player, Doug Boyd, on the Watchdog Network, AM 1600 WKKX and AM 1370 WVLY, to broadcast Wheeling Park basketball games. Doug took care of the play-by-play action, and Sam covered the color commentary. And it was colorful without a doubt. If a referee made a bad call against the Patriots, he would explain why to the listeners, and when Wheeling Park proved victorious his pride in the program and in another former player, head coach Michael Jebbia, was more than obvious.
“The people who are listening probably aren’t at the game, so I tried to tell them what they were missing,” he would say. “And if the ref got one wrong, what else am I supposed to say?”
Following his retirement from teaching and coaching, Sam was one of five members of the Ohio County Board of Education for four years and during his tenure he fought for a portion of the student population he felt was indeed being left behind by the federal and state governments. That’s because he disagreed with the “Every-kid-has-to-go-to-college” approach to public education.
“Why would anyone think that,” Sam would say. “It’s never happened, ever, so to go about education with that as your goal is ridiculous, and we have to enhance what we can for those students in our school system.”
Most people agreed with him, including me.
The man named Sam Andy I came to know after moving home to Wheeling in 2004 possessed passion and compassion for people, and even though he referred to me often as the “Linsly boy,” he included me as someone who was of one of his students. I learned from Sam, about the game of basketball and the operation of a school district, and that’s because, most of the time, “Coach” made sense.
Sam was surrounded by family, friends, and former players when he took his final step. Visitation and services for Sam will be at the Wheeling Chapel in Altmeyer’s Funeral Home on the corner of 14th and Eoff streets this Saturday from noon until 8 p.m. His wish was for all donations, in lieu of flowers, to go to his bride of more than 50 years.
As some of us expected, at the age of 76 he was more worried about Sandy than about himself. That was Sam, a selfless man who loved to love.
(Photos by Pete Chacalos)