WILLIAMSTOWN - A little under 20 years ago in Wood County, a small Christian school was conceived.
And at that school, there was a basketball team.
When that team, which would come to be called the Wood County Christian Wildcats, went out searching for a head coach it found Dan Ellis.
Now, 17 years later, Ellis has turned that little basketball team at that little school into a powerhouse in West Virginia Christian athletics.
Eight times in the 16 years of basketball at Wood County Christian the Wildcats have won the West Virginia state title, and once they even claimed the national title.
This past Saturday, Ellis further cemented the reputation of the Wildcats for playing outstanding basketball while enhancing his own legacy when he recorded his 300th career coaching victory in a 73-52 win over Valley Wetzel.
A look at Dan Ellis' record at WCCS
(Now in his 17th season)
Year Record (W-L)
* - Indicates won the West Virginia state championship
* - Indicates won the West Virginia state championship as well as the National Association of Christian Athletes national championship
"It (300 wins) is not anything I ever thought about at all. It's just one of those things that happened," Ellis said. "It's been a blessing coaching here at Wood County Christian."
Ellis has been the only coach the Wildcats have had, and the Wildcats have been the only varsity basketball team Ellis has ever coached, so there's a certain bond between him and the players and the school that he's called home.
"It's a great feeling just to know that I was a part of that (300 wins). He made history here at WCCS," said Wood County Christian senior Josh Ungar. "There's not too many coaches who can say they reached 300 wins."
There are, in fact, a select few coaches who can claim that status.
Among active coaches in the Mid-Ohio Valley, Fort Frye basketball coach Dan Liedtke surpassed the 400 win mark for his career last year as a boys coach while Williamstown girls' basketball coach Fred Sauro is also over 300 wins. Shenandoah boys' basketball coach Dan Schwieterman was also over 300 wins, but retired after last season and is now a volunteer assistant with the Lady Zeps.
So it's definitely an elite list.
But even then, Ellis isn't taking credit for the success the Wildcats have enjoyed.
Instead, it's about God and the passion for him that the school exhumes that leads to good basketball players wanting to be a Wildcat.
"I really feel like our basketball success is a byproduct of our school," Ellis said. "It's the school that attracts parents and students, not basketball, or any other sport," he continued.
Success has certainly been plentiful for the Wildcats under Ellis' reign.
Just twice in 16 seasons have the Wildcats been under .500 while they also had one .500 season.
Overall, the Wildcats were 300-121 on the basketball court at the time that Ellis recorded his 300th win on Saturday. They're currently 301-121 after defeating Wirt County on Tuesday night.
But it isn't all about wins and losses on the basketball court.
"Coach Ellis has been a great model for the young men of WCCS. Not only coaching, but as a Christian mentor. The young people look up to him as a great coach and Christian example to the team, school, community and church," wrote Wood County Christian Athletic Director Mike Conaway.
Serving as an example for the players underneath him is important to Ellis, who understands that's part of life at a small school like WCCS.
"We want them to mature as a whole being, physically, mentally and spiritually. That's all part of being a coach here at Wood County," Ellis said.
That aspect of coaching is something else Ellis excels at.
"Every practice he brings different words of encouragement, different things to the table that help us to grow," Ungar said.
And while he's helping his players to grow and mature as young men, Ellis is also helping them to win basketball games.
Despite being a Christian school and playing in the West Virginia Christian Athletic Tournament, the Wildcats aren't one to back down from challenges.
Wood County Christian regularly includes public schools on its schedule with teams like Williamstown, Foxfire High School, Paden City, Valley Wetzel, Wirt County, Trimble and Caldwell all on the schedule this year. Of the first six games on the 2011-12 schedule, five are against public schools while the sixth is in the Hoops Classic Tournament in Charleston, with the opponent not listed.
The Wildcats even played against Waterford when standout center D.J. Cunningham, who is now at NCAA Div. I UNC-Asheville, was a member of the team.
"We feel like if you want to be good and get better you have to play good competition," Ellis said.
No matter who they're going up against on the court, the Wildcats believe they're ready for the challenge, and that's a testament to their mentor.
"Coach Ellis believes in us. He tells us every game that we're the better team. We just have to execute," Ungar said.
"Coach Ellis is always up for the challenge. We're always ready. He has us prepared physically and mentally."
Ellis is quick to point to his assistants, including Dan Morris who has been with him for 16 years, and the administration like Conaway, who has been at the school all 17 years, as a big part of why his teams are prepared every night out.
And when it comes down to winning, it's all about the kids who step out there on the court.
"It's an honor to be able have that kind of success, but it goes back to your players and the work they've put in to help us get there," Ellis said.
In his 17th season with the Wildcats, Ellis is living day-to-day, but plans to keep on coaching as long as he has the health and physical strength to be out there and can make it fun for the players.
"I'm just thankful I've had the opportunity to coach this long at one school. I really appreciate the ministry here at Wood County Christian and the quality education these kids are receiving," Ellis said.
While Ellis appreciates the education and spiritual growth his school is giving to his players, the players are quick to acknowledge the importance of their coach to them, and what his getting 300 wins means.
"All of us guys really appreciate Coach, and we're just thrilled to be a part of the history he's made," Ungar said.