A key sideline presence

Published 9:37 am Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Kenston Forest School says goodbye this summer to Bart Bellairs, its athletic director of the past two years, who is moving back to Kentucky, but the Kavaliers are left with the benefit provided by a man who gained extensive experience while coaching college basketball at the highest levels.

He has spent more than 30 years as coach on the hardwood, with two of them coming at the high school level.

Bellairs has been the bearer of some impressive titles in the course of his career. During his time as head coach at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), he was named SoCon Coach of the Year and sports writers declared him the Virginia State Coach of the Year.

In a feature highlighting overlooked standouts, Sports Illustrated once declared Bellairs the Unknown Coach of the Year.

A member of the hall of fame at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, where he played for four years, Bellairs deflects the praise that has come his way.

“I was just OK, but I had great people around me,” he said.

He climbed up through the coaching ranks largely during the 1980s.

After wrapping up his playing career at Warren Wilson, Bellairs served as the junior varsity coach at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the 1979-80 season.

He was a graduate assistant at Western Illinois University during the 1980-81 season while getting his master’s degree.

This was followed by a two-year stint as an assistant coach at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Then from 1983-85, he served as the Wilkes head coach.

For the 1985-86 season, he became a third assistant at the University of Maryland. From 1986-88, he was the second assistant at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass). He left there around the time of the arrival of John Calipari, the standout head coach currently leading the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

But Bellairs left UMass to rejoin another standout college head coach, Charles “Lefty” Driesell, who was coaching at James Madison University. Bellairs was first assistant for the Dukes from 1988-93, leading up to his head coaching tenure at VMI, which ran 1994-2005.

During that tenure, he became the winningest coach in VMI history up until then. For several years, the Keydets led the nation in scoring at the NCAA Division I level.

He also gained collegiate-level administrative experience, serving as a senior associate athletic director at VMI, and an athletic director at Savannah State University and Southeastern Louisiana University.

Additionally, Bellairs spent some time as a member of the sports media.

“I worked for ESPN as a commentator for five years,” he said.

He got his first taste of coaching high school basketball in Lexington during the 2014-15 season when he led the Rockbridge County High School girls basketball team, which featured his daughter, Alli Bellairs.

This past year, he was the head coach of the Kenston Forest varsity boys basketball team.

In a letter addressed to the Kenston Forest family and friends, Kenston Forest Headmaster Paul Zanowski announced the news that Bellairs was getting married and moving back to where he grew up — Kentucky.

“Bart’s energy, enthusiasm, commitment and expertise have been an integral part of the growth and success of our school over the last nineteen months,” Zanowski said.

Highlighting some of the different ways Bellairs impacted the school’s athletic program, Zanowski said, “Bart has been a superb mentor for our coaching staff. … Our athletes have benefited from their chance to be coached directly by Bart — a highly accomplished NCAA athlete and coach.”