Athol to dedicate court at Mallet Gymnasium to Chris Sullivan on Dec. 17

  • Chris Sullivan coaching for Athol. The basketball court at Athol High School will be dedicated to him on Dec. 17. CONTRIBUTED IMAGE

Staff Writer
Published: 11/30/2022 6:21:30 PM
Modified: 11/30/2022 8:30:02 PM

Chris Sullivan’s legacy will continue living on at Athol High School. 

Sullivan coached the boys basketball team at Athol from 1978-2003 and had great success with the Bears, leading them to Western Mass. titles in 1992, 1997 and 2002. The 1992 Athol squad made it to the state championship game. In his 25 years coaching, he amassed a record of 319-215, winning the Hampshire League nine times and taking home Massachusetts Coach of the Year honors in 1992, 1997 and 2002. 

After a brief break from coaching, Sullivan returned to coach the Athol girls basketball team, where he also found success. He coached the Bear girls from 2006-09, going 48-14 in those three years and winning the Franklin North title in 2007. He wasn’t just active on the court, as Sullivan taught health and physical education at Athol High School from 1974 until his retirement in 2009. 

For all those accomplishments, Athol is dedicating the court at Mallet Gymnasium to him, with the dedication taking place on Dec. 17. 

“It’ll be a cool experience when this happens,” Bear athletic director Dan Bevis said. “He’s by far the most successful basketball coach this school has had and one of the more successful coaches in both Western Mass. and in the state. It’s a great honor to recognize him in this fashion for all he did for not just the basketball players, but the students at Athol High School and the people in the community. He was the go-to when it came to basketball. Everyone knew who he was — he made himself visible to the community. That’s something a lot of coaches strive to do and he did it with success and had successful teams in the process.” 

Bevis played for Sullivan during his four years at Athol High School and took over the girls program from him after his retirement in 2009. 

Bevis took the lessons he learned from playing for Sullivan and applied them to his own coaching. 

“I got to see him as a student and also see him as a colleague,” Bevis said. “From a coaching standpoint we were always prepared no matter who we were playing. Coach was very direct with what his expectations were. He wasn’t afraid to motivate and challenge you if you weren’t meeting those expectations. Speaking for myself, he pushed me and made me a better man. He strived to make sure we were putting our best on the court each and every game. Working with him a few years later after graduating college, nothing had changed.

“It didn’t matter if he was coaching boys or girls, he coached them the same,” Bevis continued. “He coached how he knew how to coach and players appreciated that. We had that conversation after I took over the girls program, to coach everyone the same and to coach the players, not the gender. That’s something I tried to instill in my coaching. He had so much success with the boys and instantly had success with the girls and that shows just how good of a coach he was. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation to take over from. I just tried to take what he started and build off it.” 

Brian Patria, the current Athol boys basketball coach, also played for Sullivan during his four years playing for the Bears and was part of the 1992 state finals squad. 

While he views him as a fantastic coach, Patria saw him as an even better person. 

“Coach is a better man than he is a coach,” Patria said. “He was a mentor to me and one of the reasons I got into coaching. He was a teacher of the game. He knew the x’s and o’s. As a point guard, he taught me how to play that position but he also taught the forwards and centers. He knew all the positions and understood the fundamentals of the game.” 

Patria helped lead the charge to get the court dedicated to Sullivan, feeling his legacy and accomplishments should be something that lives on at the school. 

“It was something I brought to [Athol principal] Dave King and Dan Bevis, asking them what they thought about it,” Patria said. “I think it’s the right thing to honor him. His credentials and accomplishments are worthy but beyond the court, he affected and changed so many lives for the better. He was a physical educator and part of the school. He spent so many hours in that gym and put so much passion into what he did. It’s well deserved and couldn’t go to a better person.” 

If you walked into Mallet Gymnasium this week and saw the drills that the Bear players are doing, some would look similar to the ones that Sullivan had his players doing 20 years ago. 

Patria steals some of those ideas, feeling the lessons and drills Sullivan used are timeless and are necessary to teaching the game of basketball.

“All his drills and plays go back to fundamentals,” Patria said. “He was such a great teacher of the game. There are times I sit back and go ‘what would Sully do?’ How did he deal with situations like this? We still run the Sully line drill for conditioning and we use other drills now that he had us doing in the ’90s. I use a lot of that I learned from coach.” 

The dedication event will take place on Dec. 17 when the Athol boys take on Turners. The dedication will take place between the JV and varsity game, with the JV game tipping off at 4 p.m. and the varsity game scheduled for 6 p.m. 

Presale tickets are available now, with the cost being $5. To get those, email tickets@arrsd.org. The ceremony will also be live streamed on the NFHS network for free. 

Bevis is looking forward to getting to honor Sullivan with the court dedication. 

“One of the biggest accolades for him is listening to how former players speak about him,” Bevis said. “When we get together we all have great stories from our time playing for him. I’m proud to have been able to play for him. Recognizing him in this manner allows his legacy to live on for years to come. I’m looking forward to it.” 


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