We have lost a legend

No player in the history of West Virginia high school girls basketball ever has or ever will be able to match the impact Mary Ostrowski had on the sport.

A standout at Parkersburg Catholic, Ostrowski-who lost her long battle with cancer on Friday at age 51-was the pioneer, the trailblazer, the player who set the standards for all others.

She was West Virginia girls basketball’s first superstar, winning the state player of the year award the first three seasons, while leading Catholic to 88 straight wins and two state championships.

Obviously, she was an extremely gifted player. But what set her apart from others who also fell into that category was her work ethic, which was legendary.

Crusader coach Doug Hoselton says Ostrowski would call him every morning to make sure he would have the gym open at 5:30 so she could work on her game.

While it was her talent that earned her a basketball scholarship to the University of Tennessee, it was the way she conducted herself that earned her a place in the hearts of Mountain State sports fans.

Ostrowski exuded class. Rather than the cocky attitude far too prevalent in many great athletes, Ostrowski was humble. She was a great teammate. She made all those who played with her better than they ever thought they could be.

Catholic has named its annual basketball tournament the Mary O Crusaderette Classic. State sports writers have named the W.Va. Girls Basketball Player of the Year the Mary Ostrowski Award. That’s how much respect she commanded from those who got to know her.

As the rookie on the sports staff in those days, I would draw the long road trips, often joining the Crusaderettes on the team bus.

You learn a lot about people when you are stuck on a school bus for two hours riding West Virginia’s back roads to some “garden spot.”

What I learned is that Mary O never once showed she had an ego. She was a gracious young lady, one of those rare people you grew to both like and respect.

Even though we knew she had waged a long war against the ultimate opponent-cancer-the late Friday night phone call from her brother Eric that she had passed away still shocked the system.

But it also brought back a flood of memories that will last forever. Of the Big O dominating game after game. Of Catholic’s incredible winning streak. Of the humble beginnings of girls basketball, which like any sport needed a superstar to draw attention to what was taking place.

Girls basketball needed Mary Ostrowski perhaps even more than she needed it. They were made for each other and the timing couldn’t have been any better.

It’s great that Mary O came back to witness Catholic basketball this past winter.

I’m sure she had to be impressed with the skill level of today’s players.

And while she never would say it, she had to take pride she is the one who is most responsible for the game progressing to such a high level.

Contact Dave Poe at dpoe@newsandsentinel.com