One of Chattanooga's coaching icons has decided to hang up her whistle.
Catherine Neely, who has coached at East Ridge High School for 50 years, announced she is stepping down as the school's volleyball coach. Neely will continue working as the school's athletic director, a position she has held for 24 years.
"It's the hardest decision I've ever had to make," Neely said. "I'm fine health-wise, but after mulling it over I decided it's just time.
"I've had a great career and I still enjoy being around athletics. Not many people get to do something they love, and at the same place, for 50 years, so I feel blessed."
Neely ends her career with 1,395 volleyball victories, third most nationally, and she is a member of eight halls of fame. She is the only woman from Tennessee in the National High School Hall of Fame.
The East Ridge gym is named in her honor, and she compiled a 625-364 overall record in 43 years as the school's girls' basketball coach. She stopped coaching basketball six years ago.
Neely guided Lady Pioneers volleyball teams to 16 stat- tournament appearances, winning state titles in 1997 and 2005 and finishing second twice. She was the national volleyball coach of the year in 2006 and received the USA Volleyball Lifetime Achievement and Service Award in 2008.
Neely was 21 years old and fresh out of the University of Chattanooga when she began coaching at East Ridge. She's been known to sew dresses for some of her former players and makes it a point to attend their weddings or family funerals in support.
She was instrumental in helping TSSAA officials implement Title IX when it was passed more than 40 years ago. After receiving no pay for the first 10 years of her volleyball coaching career, she helped grow that sport throughout the state and also helped in the transition for girls' basketball from the six-on-six version, with players staying on one end of the court, to the fast-paced style that mirrors the boys' game today.
Twice she was named Hamilton County teacher of the year before retiring from the classroom in 1997.
"Catherine Neely is East Ridge High School," said former TSSAA executive director Ronnie Carter, who worked with Neely for 30 years. "She epitomizes that school and that community. She is a role model not just for the girls that play for her but for every coach in every sport at every school in the state on how to lead a program.
"Catherine is right up there with the best that's ever been in the business, not just in Chattanooga, but in our state."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.