There came a point in recent years when Kelly Griffith would feel chills before Mifflinburg girls’ basketball games, long before the horn sounded on another win or before medals were awarded.
She would walk from the locker room — whether at home or away — and immediately be stirred by the number of people who came to watch her Wildcats.
“I would stand there, like, ‘Wow! Our whole town’s here!’” Griffith recalled. “I think our community, throughout the last ... quite a few years, has supported our team so much. Whether (the program’s success) brought them together or they like the way we played, they filled the gym all the time, and that always made the girls feel special.”
Griffith stepped down after 10 seasons as Mifflinburg’s girls varsity coach, the most recent of which was the finest in school history.
The Wildcats set a school record for victories (26-5) with a division co-championship, a league tournament crown and the program’s third district title. They also enjoyed their deepest postseason run, playing in the Class 4A state semifinals and halting Lancaster Catholic’s state-record 62-game winning streak along the way.
“It was just really awesome,” said point guard and recent graduate Reagan Griffith, Kelly’s daughter. “Even looking back on it now, a few months after, it’s like, ‘We’re the team that did that!’
“That’s going to be remembered — in Mifflinburg, at least — for awhile.”
Kelly Griffith’s tenure won’t soon be forgotten. She led the Wildcats to their first girls basketball district championship (2014) and their first state playoff victory (2017, over Allentown Central Catholic), which few likely know provided a measure of revenge for Griffith.
The former Kelly Lynne Mann was a 1991 Wellsboro graduate who starred in both volleyball and basketball. The daughter of a state high jump champion, Tom Mann, she also jumped for the Hornets track and field team, but she made an indelible impact on the hardwood. After becoming a 1,000-point scorer and leading Wellsboro to the Class 2A district final (a loss to Danville) and the state playoffs as a junior, she and the Hornets won their first 25 games of the 1990-91 season. Wellsboro, which had elected to move up in classification, ultimately lost the 3A district crown to Selinsgrove, 57-49, despite Mann’s 18 points. Though they rebounded to beat Gwynedd-Mercy in their state opener, the Hornets were eliminated by Allentown Central Catholic and All-American Michelle Marciniak in the state quarterfinals.
USA Today gave Mann honorable mention recognition on its 1991 national high school girls basketball all-star team after she finished as Wellsboro’s career scoring leader with more than 1,500 points. She played college ball at both Susquehanna and Geneseo State before marrying former Mifflinburg standout and 1,000-point scorer Scott Griffith in 1999 and settling in the area.
It wasn’t until 2007, however, when Wildcats varsity girls coach Bob Musser convinced her to join his staff, that Griffith got into coaching. Musser’s daughter, Taylor, graduated two 15-win seasons later and he stepped away. Griffith took over the program and went 154-100 in 10 seasons — 106-30 (.779) over the last five — by turning tenacious defense into transition offense and working hard on the boards.
“I just love coaching,” she said. “One of the things I love most about it is seeing people grow, whether players or teams. You start in one place and to see the improvement and success of kids throughout the year or a number of years was the fun part for me.”
Remarkably, Griffith didn’t dwell much on her past as an all-star player while coaching, not even when the Wildcats marched through the postseason earlier this year.
“I remember going through it and how it felt, and doing it with the kids here felt like that all over again,” she said. “But I wanted more to celebrate them and get them those experiences, like winning that first state game or winning the district — all those firsts we got to do. I always felt while coaching that I wanted the best for the kids. I wanted them to achieve their goals.”
Griffith’s twin daughters, Reagan and Riley, were an integral part of the Wildcats’ recent success, including three consecutive 20-win seasons. They were in eighth grade when Mifflinburg won its first district title, but they played in a district final in all four high school seasons and won twice.
“It was a total transition from coach in the gym to mom at home,” said Reagan Griffith. “We don’t really talk about basketball in our home. She’s definitely a coach in the gym, though. I feel like she held everybody to a real high standard to begin with and she held (her daughters) to that standard, too. We weren’t babied.”
The Griffith sisters became fixtures on Heartland Athletic Conference all-star teams, and Riley finished her career as the leading scorer in Mifflinburg basketball history with 1,754 points. Both girls will attend Bloomsburg University in the fall, with Reagan majoring in Biochemistry and Riley taking a dual major of Special Education/Early Childhood.
“I made the final decision (to resign) at the end of the season, but I had been thinking about it even before the season,” Kelly Griffith said. “I had been missing my sons’ (Cannon and Jack) games and winter events — and I had missed all the girls’ chorus concerts when they were growing up — and I thought, ‘You know, it’s hard to walk away but I think it’s time to be a parent in the stands for my two boys.’”
Griffith hasn’t closed the door on a return to coaching (”The girls are like, ‘Mom, you’re going to miss it!’” she said with a laugh), but she said she would have “to sit back and think about it hard” if that time comes.
“It’s in her blood to coach, so I think eventually she’ll get back into it,” said Reagan Griffith. “She loves helping kids learn and teaching them to be passionate about the game like she was.
“With all the talent that we had and high goals, she made us even better. She taught us to believe in ourselves, that even though we were mostly all 5-foot-6 we could overcome big, giant monsters.”