By Missy Dougherty (@Missyingyou)
Distance made the heart grow fonder when it came time for new Shipley girls’ basketball coach Ellen Bair to follow a career path.
The daughter of an accomplished high school coach, and a standout scholastic player herself, Bair did not consider entering the high school coaching ranks until she was away from the game. Far away that is.
“I was not initially into the idea of coaching when I first got out of college” Bair said. “I was living abroad and focused on the once in a lifetime experience that comes with being a Peace Corps Volunteer. Basketball wasn’t really on my radar.”
Ellen Bair is the next Shipley School girls basketball coach. (Photo: Submitted)
It was when she took a long-distance look at high school basketball that Bair thought coaching might be for her.
While sitting alone in her apartment one day, Bair realized the magic of high school basketball was pulling on her heart strings.
“I was living in China and my dad sent film of my sister’s freshman year so I could follow her games,” Bair said. “It was a reminder of how amazing high school basketball is.”
“High school basketball is just so special,” Bair said. “You see people growing up in the same town and playing together. The camaraderie that comes from playing with childhood friends. The entire community rallies behind you. There’s really nothing like it.”
“It’s a different environment than AAU and I thought to myself that I might really like this.”
“I started applying to coaching positions and getting excited thinking about the players I might have the opportunity to coach."
After a successful three-year stint at Linden Hall School for Girls in Lititz, Pa., Bair will find her next group of players to coach at Shipley where she will look to restore the winning tradition of excellence in girls’ basketball that saw the Lady Gators earn Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) state championships in 2012, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018.
“The minute I stepped onto Shipley’s campus I knew it was the place I wanted to be. It has a long tradition of athletic and academic excellence, and its commitment to student well-being aligns closely with my values.” Bair said.
Bair, a 2017 graduate of Dickinson College, leaves behind a program at Linden Hall that has claimed four straight PIAA 2A district titles —three under her tenure.
“I walked into a team that had a previous winning season but there was a newness to the idea of winning,” Bair said. “It took some time, but there was enough buy-in from players who wanted to play at the next level, that we soon had a complete shift in culture.”
Bair, who amassed a 47-12 record at Linden Hall, has had nine former players go on to play college basketball at varying levels. “I am excited for and proud of all of them – I felt like they all went to different situations where they have the opportunity to be successful,” Bair said. “They were definitely prepared, and I look forward to following their college careers.”
So why Shipley and why now?
“Linden Hall was amazing,” Bair said, referring to the unique experience of coaching at the oldest independent boarding and day school for girls in continuous operation in the country. “I could have stayed there forever so in some ways it felt like a now or never moment.”
“I am always trying to challenge myself in new ways,” Bair said. “Coaching can take different forms in different places, and so I’m excited to coach in an environment that is very different from my previous program. I feel very humbled to be entrusted with the future of the Shipley program, and the players, parents, colleagues, and community will always get 100 percent from me. I am super passionate about building a winning tradition and culture.”
New Shipley coach Ellen Bair is the daughter of high school basketball coach Jeff Bair. (Photo: Submitted)
When it comes to looking for guidance to help Bair undertake the challenge of restoring Shipley’s proud tradition, she will not have to look far.
“In my eyes, my dad is one of the greatest high school basketball coaches of all time,” Bair said. “He is incredibly strategic, and I’ve always admired his preparation and in-game decision making. In addition, he always goes above and beyond for his players and even other players in surrounding communities. I’ve always tried to emulate his approach."
Jeff Bair coached the Gettysburg High School boys’ team for 12 years (coaching Ellen’s older brother Sean) before making the switch to the girls’ side when the job opened in 2017, when Ellen’s sister Anne was entering eighth grade.
It didn’t take Jeff Bair long to leave his imprint on the girls’ program as the Gettysburg Warriors, aided by star point guard Anne Bair’s presence in the lineup, have reached four straight District 3 5A title games—claiming two crowns.
“My dad and I talk hoops all the time,” Bair said. “We talk about each other’s teams. My dad watches film of my team and when I am struggling with a decision about the team, he is always my first call. He has been an incredible mentor.”
There is no shortage of options when it comes to wanting to talk basketball in the Bair family. Ellen’s brother Sean coached the New Oxford boys’ program from 2013-19 before moving onto the college ranks, where he is currently an assistant coach for the Monmouth University women’s squad. And youngest sister Anne heads to Manhattan College this summer to continue her career with the Jaspers after a storied high school career that saw her earn first-team all-state recognition in her final two seasons.
Buoyed by a wealth of basketball knowledge in her corner and the self-confidence that she is ready for a new chapter in her coaching career, Ellen Bair will aim to lead the Lady Gators to new heights.
Coming off a trip to the Friends School League semifinals and a 9-10 overall record in 2021-22, the Lady Gators return a great deal of experience with their youthful roster as three eighth graders and three freshmen earned a spot in the rotation.
“Having a core group of ninth and tenth graders that have already played major varsity minutes is an amazing situation for a new coach,” Bair said. “I’m excited to get in the gym and get started.”
“The K-12 community aspect of Shipley is also exciting because it provides a special opportunity to build a family/community within the program. I want the lower school kids coming to our games envisioning themselves playing in a Shipley jersey.”
“I want to bring in players who are excited to come to Shipley and be a part of our program,” Bair said. “I had an incredible high school basketball experience. I loved my teammates and my coach (Casey Thurston) and I want the players at Shipley to be able to say the same thing.”
Bair touched a bit on how a challenging collegiate career made her even more passionate about being attune to the challenges student-athletes face.
“For some, high school basketball might be where all of the best memories and experiences come from,” Bair said. “It’s important to me and the entire Shipley girls basketball staff to make sure players leave our program feeling as though they’ve been supported, encouraged, and valued as people first, and athletes second.”
Bair can’t wait to get started as she touted the benefits of having an all-female staff, which includes Shipley graduates Martine Fortune ’15 and Liz Denbigh ’14, along with former Cheyney guard Shania Stamper.
“I am thrilled to work alongside Martine, Liz, and Shania. They each bring unique strengths to Shipley girls basketball, and Liz and Martine have the additional asset of institutional knowledge as Shipley alums,” Bair said. “Having played college basketball at varying levels, I think we all feel the importance of helping support young female players in achieving their dreams.”