The impact of Tony Chapman’s coaching career resonates far beyond the arena that bears his name on the campus of Holy Ghost Prep. A 1971 graduate who returned his alma mater seven years later, Chapman has coached generations of players and adapted principles that can be utilized both on the court and in the classroom over four decades.
The Firebirds’ head coach has built a relationship with the school and the community that is as vibrant in his 43rd season as it was when he first took the job.
“I don’t think I have the success that I’ve had nor do I think I would still be coaching if I were somewhere else,” Chapman said. “I love to coach, but more importantly I’ve had great kids. It’s been a stable environment and I look forward to coming into the building every morning.”
Last Thursday, Chapman posted his 900th career victory at Holy Ghost Prep as the Firebirds defeated Dock Mennonite, 71-41. He became just the sixth high school basketball coach in Pennsylvania to accomplish that feat and the second to reach that mark this season, joining Elk County Catholic’s Aaron Straub.
As his players doused him with Gatorade in the locker room afterward, he finally allowed it to sink in. He was relieved to know he will no longer hear about it around campus.
“Whether it was a teacher saying, ‘Three more wins,’ or a student saying, ‘Two more, Mr. Chapman,’ it was over and over and over,” said Chapman, 67. “I heard about it all the time.”
Chapman’s teams have won 22 Bicentennial Athletic League titles, eight District 1 titles, and two Eastern State titles. In his senior season, he was a part of the Holy Ghost Prep team that won the Lower Bucks County League Section 2 title, the school’s first district championship. Since taking over as head coach, Chapman has had success outside of the local area, as evidenced by the program’s PIAA finals appearances in 1999 and 2004. A former baseball player at La Salle, he has helped develop a multitude of basketball players who have gone on to play at the collegiate level.
Jason Fisher, the head coach and athletic director at Devon Prep, played under Chapman in 1994 and 1995. Fisher played at the University of Scranton and scored 1,557 career points. Just like Chapman, he returned to Holy Ghost Prep and coached the junior varsity team for 15 seasons. He was a member of Chapman’s staff when he posted his 500th career victory.
As the Devon Prep coach, Fisher always considered it an honor when his teams faced off against Chapman’s before Devon Prep moved from the BAL to the Philadelphia Catholic League in 2018.
“There were a lot of mixed emotions because I respect him so much,” Fisher said. “We’re trying to build and do similar things here, such as focusing on the principles and not wins and losses. It’s tough to explain because I’m a competitor and you’re trying to learn so many things from him, like when he changes defenses and stuff like that.”
During Fisher’s playing career at Holy Ghost Prep, he played alongside Kevin Carroll, who played at Gettysburg College; Ryan Larkin, who played with him at Scranton; and Jimmy Dillon, who played at Notre Dame. The 1996 Firebirds team finished the season 28-3 and advanced to the PIAA Class 3A semifinals.
Other notable players Chapman has coached include Jamie Cousart, who scored 1,354 points at King’s College; Brett Manney, who played lacrosse at Delaware; Gary Nolan, who played at Catholic University; and George White, who played at Harvard.
Manney was a key piece on the 2004 Firebirds team that went 31-1 record, the lone loss coming in the state final to Moon.
What has been truly amazing about Chapman’s success is that it has remained consistent with each passing decade. With the game of basketball constantly changing, even at the high school level with players transferring to improve their college recruitment, he has continued to rack up wins by being adaptable to a changing landscape.
“A lot of coaches who eventually get out say, ‘The game is changing. The kids are changing,’” Chapman said. “They want things to stay the same, but that’s life. Things change and can’t always be the same. You can still have a philosophy, but you have to adapt that philosophy to changing times.”
Jack Coolahan was an integral part of Holy Ghost Prep’s district title teams in 2014 and 2016. During his senior season, he was a starter when Chapman secured win No. 800. He played four years at Babson College and was a member of the 2017 Division III national championship team.
Coolahan, who was in attendance for the Firebirds’ game against Pennsbury on March 2 in what would have been win No. 900, feels Chapman’s principles have sustainability that have remained true over the years.
“Honestly, the reason why he has been so successful is, while he has made little changes and adaptations, he has stayed true to who he is over these 43 years,” Coolahan said.
“They’re not running the offense like the Golden State Warriors. He was running that offense when I got there in 2012 and I’m sure he has been running it before then. While he has made some changes, he just knows how to get the best out of people.”
While his principles have been unwavering, his coaching style has allowed him to embrace new philosophies to remain successful as a head coach.
“I’m not a proponent of the three-point shot, but this year we’ve shot more threes than any other season,” Chapman said. “If that’s a strength of the players and you’re not willing to adapt, you’re only hurting yourself. Most of my years we’re generally a man-to-man team, but we’re playing more of a matchup zone due to the players we have.”
The Firebirds (13-7) are preparing to take on Phoenixville in the PIAA District 1 Class 5A quarterfinals on Wednesday. The game will be held at Chapman Arena at a program he has helped build in front of a community that he has served for 43 years. The 901st win will be just as meaningful to Chapman as the 900th. But the onus of having to get to 900 is finally out of the way.