When Anthony Hall took over as Solanco’s athletic director nine years ago, his very first hire was Chad McDowell as the Golden Mules’ varsity girls basketball coach.
“He was an athletic director’s dream,” Hall said. “Not only was he a parent in the district, but he was a teacher, a coach and a mentor for younger kids. He’s one of those guys that when you think about the Solanco community, it’s Chad McDowell. He was involved with everything.”
The Solanco community and the Lancaster-Lebanon League as a whole has lost McDowell, who died late last week after a lengthy illness. He was 50.
McDowell’s wife, Jen, is a teacher in the Solanco district and is a track and field coach there as well. Their kids were standout athletes for the Golden Mules: Daughter Ally was a softball all-star for Solanco and she went on to play for Widener University; son Trent, who was a multi-sport athlete for the Golden Mules, is now a kicker for Millersville University’s football team.
“Family first,” Hall said. “He took care of Jen and he took care of his kids. And everyone here was his family.”
McDowell spent the last nine seasons as Solanco’s varsity girls basketball coach, guiding the Golden Mules to a pair of section championships and some postseason glory along the way. He helped resurrect the program, as his teams put banners on the gym wall, trophies in the case, and won 94 games during his time on the bench.
McDowell was also skipper Brett Miller’s top lieutenant in Solanco’s softball program, as a varsity assistant and the JV coach — on top of his duties as a language arts teacher at Smith Middle School in Quarryville.
“What a great person,” said Paul Gladfelter, McDowell’s principal at Smith. “Chad put so much into our community, inside the school and outside of the school. He was a fixture in our community because he was involved with so much — as an educator, as a coach and as a parent.”
McDowell, an Altoona native, simply oozed Solanco.
“He’d cover every darn fall sport I’d need covered,” Hall said. “Junior high sports. High school sports. He was the announcer at the football games. He helped me hire game managers. He ran clocks. There’s nothing the man didn’t do. He never said no.
“And on top of it,” Hall said, “he’s probably my best friend in the whole district.”
McDowell was also a longtime member of the Southern End Community Association, whose mission is to provide recreational activities to the greater Quarryville area, including swimming and tennis lessons, summer camps and youth leagues.
Before Scott Long became Solanco’s principal, he served as the Golden Mules’ varsity boys basketball coach. That’s where he met McDowell, who was coaching the girls team.
“Chad always organized the youth basketball camps,” Long said. “And I got to see how embedded he was in the community. He was constantly here. He was a gym rat. In the summer, he’d run open gyms, and the summer league stuff, and team camps and shootouts.
“He was constantly going. He was passionate about the kids, and he believed that athletics could teach you a lot of life lessons, and that’s how he approached it. I learned a lot about that from him.”
McDowell rubbed off on everyone around him. Always lending a helping hand. Always pitching in behind the scenes. Always teaching and coaching and trying to make everyone around him better.
“He was always ready to help out anywhere and at any time in the community,” Gladfelter said. “If there was a need, he was there. Chad was always ready to jump in and help out. Unselfish. Genuine. He just wanted to make our programs better for everyone involved. I never saw him sitting still.”
Long fondly recalled spotting some special father-son time.
“With all he had going on, I would still see him up on the field with his son, kicking field goals,” Long said. “Just the two of them. Chad would be retrieving footballs and recording videos. That was important to him. What a great dad.”
A dad. A husband. A teacher. A coach. And a community leader.
“Inspirational,” Long said. “Everything he did was driven by his desire to make an impact. And he made a tremendous impact here."