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The Yankee Express

Two Coaches Eclipse 400 Wins

Boys' basketball Coach Jim Donnelly also hit the noted marker after 28 years coaching the sport. Submitted photo

By Christopher Tremblay, Staff Sports Writer

Being able to reach the 400 win mark as a coach on the high school level is a rather incredible feat, but to have two coaches in the same sport in the same high school do it within two weeks of one another is something extraordinary. That is exactly what happened at Millbury High School this winter season as both basketball coaches Steve Reno for the girls and Jim Donnelly coaching the boys got their 400th win on the courts. While they both got the same result, they did it in different ways.
“It’s pretty rare for an AD to have a coach reach a milestone like this, and to have two do it in the same season (weeks from one another) is even rarer,” Millbury Athletic Director Josh MacCreery said. “And while it is cool that they both achieved this around the same time, I really wanted to make sure they got their individual attention as well. It has certainly made for an exciting winter season!”


While Donnelly has accumulated his 400 wins over 28 years and three different schools Reno has been able to do it all at Millbury throughout his 25 seasons. Although the two coaches got the same result with different approaches, they both got to the finish line with their families in tow.
Donnelly began his coaching career fresh out of college for Oxford and while his first season with the Pirates was not anything to boast about (Oxford went 0-17), it was not going to be a year that would establish the new coach.  Through his nine years with Oxford, he was able to build a successful boys basketball program where he accumulated 105 wins.
“I was learning how to coach on the high school level,” Donnelly said. “The kids were playing an unselfish game and by our third year we made it to the Division 2 Final 4 and the following year won the Clark Tournament.”
After nine years the Donnelly family was in a good place and decided to move to Sutton, where he would coach for another 13 years while capturing another 220 wins. 
“My wife is from Sutton and we felt that it was a good situation and figured that our kids would eventually play basketball there,” he said. “Sutton is a good community and although the move included a combination of things, it had nothing to do with not liking Oxford. In fact, it was very hard to leave there.”
While at Sutton, Donnelly guided his teams to four Clark Tournament Championships and an appearance in the State Championship, where the Sammies came up short. 
The final leg of getting to 400 has taken place at Millbury over the past six years. Making the move to coach the Woolies had a bunch of factors. The Donnelly was already living in Millbury at the time and when the job vacancy opened, they decided to take the risk. 
“It was a rebuilding year, but I had coached my son’s youth basketball teams so I knew a lot for the kids coming up through the system,” he said.
While Donnelly has had bounced around, Reno found his place in Millbury right from the beginning and has been there all 25 years of his coaching career.  Within a few weeks of securing the job with the Woolies, he and his wife had their first daughter (Keryn), who would grow up around the game of basketball with her father. As fate would have it, being the girls’ basketball coach, Reno would eventually raise three daughters, all of whom played for him at high school.
“You don’t do this job for the money or the long hours, but instead do it for the kids,” Reno said. “It was a family thing and Keryn would eventually joined my staff a few years ago. I love being around kids and it is really special to be able to coach with my daughter.”
Much like Donnelly at Oxford, Reno found his first season at the helm to be a tough one, as the girls would go 2-17. Ath the time the Millbury girls’ basketball program had been in a rut for some years, but Reno got the team to believe in themselves and turn things around quickly. After three seasons, the program was on the positive side of the wins and losses, and have now put together 22 consecutive winning campaigns. The result?  Playing basketball at Millbury is much more fun than in the past.
Reno and his teams have won seven Sectional Championships, six Central Mass Titles, gone to five State Finals, only to be the runner-up each year. His first Sectional Championship came in 2007, taking nine years to get the team to this point. Following that first championship Millbury would win five straight Sectional Titles. The next championship came in 2020 with daughter Keryn being part of his staff for the first year and daughters Shannon and Kelsey both playing on the team. Reno’s team would add another Sectional Championship in 2022, but it was the one previous that will stick in his mind as the most memorable one, as his family was a big part of it.
According to Donnelly, his wife made sure that family and friends were at the game when her husband got that 400th win; including both sons who were playing on the team. 
 “Getting to a number like this requires a lot of good, committed players,” Donnelly said. “Having those types of athletes is the key to having long tern success and without them, I wouldn’t be the coach I am.”
Reno echoed his counterpart with the same type of sentiment.
 “It’s the players. They’re the reason we got to 400, I’m just along for the ride,” he emphasized. “We’ve got a good feeder program here and being consistent helps a lot. There is a lot of instability with other schools, who go through multiple coaches. I’ve been lucky to have people along side of me like Junior Varsity coach Michelle Polissack who has been with me for 15-20 years and deserves a lot of credit.”
Having picked up his 400th win just eight days before Donnelly on January 12, Reno is ecstatic that he has not only been able to become a part of the club but to do it with a fellow coach from Millbury.
 “I have nothing but respect for all those coaches who have previously reached the milestone,” he said. “There are only 20 other male and female coaches in CMASS who have accomplished the feat, but there is probably no other coaching staff with both the boys’ and girls’ coaches at 400 wins.”
While Reno has a distinct memory with all of his daughters, Donnelly tends to remember the hard losses more than anything else, but he does recall a few games that stick out.
 “I remember a game at Bourne, where the AD had the place full and it was like a friendly hostile environment, we had our work cut out for us,” Donnelly said. “My son had a particularly good game and helped us to steal a victory at their place. I also remember the first year we won the Clark Tournament; we were not the favorite but we played the right way and had a buzzer beater that got us to the Finals.”
Donnelly went on to note that his teams do not go down without a fight and although he works them hard, he leaves them with lifetime memories. 
 “You need to continue to battle – it’s not all about wins and losses; it’s how you fell as a group after the game,” he said. “I enjoy the kids coming back and talking about games, remembering everything from that game although it was 15 years ago.”
The Millbury school system is lucky to have not one, but two coaches that have put a lot of work into having their respective teams help them get 400 wins.
“I always joke with Steve and Jimmy that they are each worth at least 5-7 points a night based on their gameplans and in-game adjustments,” MacCreery said. “It’s an absolute pleasure being able to work with them both because they do things the right way and for the right reasons. They push when they need to and encourage when it’s necessary; I admire them both greatly and couldn’t be happier for them.”