By Nelson Coffin
After stepping away from the sideline five years ago, legendary coach Mary Ella Marion has agreed to return to head the basketball programs at Mercy
And she has brought two stalwart coaches — George Panageotou and Rich Naldrett — to assist her in a bid to return the program to a position of prominence in the B Conference.
Marion had previously coached for 28 years at the all-girls Catholic high school in Northeast Baltimore, compiling a 389-322 mark from 1985-2013.
She is also currently the dean of students and had been the athletic director at her alma mater.
Panageotou and Naldrett boast extensive experience in the coaching ranks.
Panageotou led Perry Hall High School to consecutive boys Class 4A state titles in 2017 and 2018 while fashioning an overall 105-47 mark as head coach before mulling over his next step.
However, when he learned that Mercy was about to make a change in its coaching staff headed by Steve Anderson, he believed it was time to make a move.
Because his daughters, eighth-grader Lauren and Emma, who is in the fifth grade, are likely to attend Mercy, Panageotou jumped at the chance.
“It happened pretty quickly,” said Panageotou, who coaches his older daughter’s AAU team. “I contacted (Mercy AD) Nick Gill to see what direction they we’re going to go. When I found out Mary Ella was going to coach, I thought this was the right time to make the move.”
Besides, his wife, Tricia Henry, played for Marion at Mercy. She graduated from the school in 1995.
Naldrett was also high on Marion’s wish list to round out the staff.
“When I decided to come back, Rich was the first call I made,” she said about the former Mercy JV coach. “And I couldn’t be happier about it.”
As for Marion’s return, she said that she had a running joke with Gill about some day returning to head the hoops program.
“He would always ask me, ‘Are you thinking about coming back,?’ “ she said. “After Nick and the administration decided to make a change at the top, I thought that the program needed to go in a different direction.”
One thing she hopes to improve is to lure more multi-sport athletes to a program that went 13-34 under Anderson and has not had a winning season in nearly a decade.
“That’s how we were successful in the past,” Marion said. “Sure, we want to win, but we also want to have fun and lean how to support each other and play for school pride.”
Lest anyone believe that Marion is just a figurehead holding the job for her successor, think again.
“Needless to say, I’m not going to coach for 25 more years,” Marion said. “But I am going to coach a few years. I’m just not sure yet what ‘few’ means. But when I do leave, I know the program will be in capable hands. But we’re thinking about this year first, and, in the short term, trying to be competitive in ‘The Game’ (against archrival IND).”
The Magic has lost the last five games in the series it still leads, 30-22.
“It helps The Game overall when both teams are more competitive,” Marion added.
Having Naldrett and Panageotou on hand should help.
“What George accomplished at Perry Hall, to repeat, is awesome,” Marion said. “I watched his AAU team play, and he’s not a yeller or a screamer. I see how well he works with the girls and how he teaches fundamentals.”
Gill said that he is very pleased with the way things fell into place.
“It’s not very often that you get a chance to put together a star-studded coaching staff, and that’s exactly what we have here.” he said. “Mary Ella is a girls basketball legend in this area and bringing her back to take over the reins of the program is just what this historic basketball program needs. George is absolutely fantastic basketball coach and one of the biggest coaching names in the area right now. I had the pleasure of working with Rich last year as he coached our JV. He brings a detail-oriented approach to the game, has a great basketball mind and knows how to motivate his players. I could not be more excited about the direction our basketball program is heading.”