No matter the endeavor, Wheeling Park's Michael Jebbia is the kind of guy you root for. Always with a kind word and a smile, Jebbia is the first one to step up and accept responsibility when something goes awry, or the first one to deflect the praise when things go according to plan.
Jebbia found out last Wednesday that he has been selected as the West Virginia Boys' Cross Country Coach of the Year by the WVSSAC, and probably before he laid the congratulatory letter down he had already started a list of all those he needed to thank.
'It's a really nice honor, but it's a team thing,' Jebbia said Monday night. 'I've got to credit the kids, the administration and the school - (Athletics Director) Dwaine (Rodgers) and (Principal) Bernie (Dolan) have given me their full support.
'I don't want to forget the parents. The cross country parents at our school are amazing. They are the ones setting up the tents and the tarps for the kids to use at the meets, and they are always at the races showing support.'
You can't argue with a single part of that assessment, but in the end it's Jebbia's name going on the National Federation of State High School Association's application. He had to fill that out online immediately after being notified. From there his credentials will be put up against those around the country who have earned the same honor in their respective states, with the sectional and national winners set to be announced in January.
Speaking of credentials, Jebbia's are pretty impressive for someone who has been doing this all of six years. Coming out of college, where he a three-time, first-team All-West Virginia Conference player and the school's second all-time leading scorer, the furthest thing from his mind was a sport that required running on hilly terrain, often in the rain, snow and slush.
'I helped out one year and then the position opened - I can't remember exactly, but it was my first or second year of teaching,' Jebbia recalled. 'I remember thinking 'maybe we can win the AAA state title.'
'I had Ryan Beabout and Brandon Janeczko and they laid the foundation and the class below them pushed it along.
'In '06 we won every meet, then lost the state title by three (points).'
The Patriots, though, weren't just happy to be there.
'From the first day of practice in 2007, the kids said 'we want to win this,' ' Jebbia said.
So they did.
Then came 2008 after the Patriots had lost their top two runners in Beabout and Janeczko.
'People were saying Wheeling Park couldn't win it,' Jebbia said.
A fresher Patriots team that had paced itself through eight races was able to scoot past top-ranked Jefferson, who was competing in its 13th.
And thus, a dynasty was born.
'Our goal pretty much every year is work hard, improve and have fun,' Jebbia said. 'In cross country, the best thing is everyone gets to run. I don't have to go to kids and tell them whether or not they're running each week.
'And this is something they can do the rest of their lives. Basketball ends one day for everyone. Football ends one day for everyone.'
Perhaps part of the reason his teams have been able to have such success is Jebbia practices what he preaches. On any given day while driving through the Wheeling and Elm Grove areas you can see Jebbia getting in his own workout, and he's an near-annual competitor in the Ogden Newspapers 20K Classic.
'I think that helps,' Jebbia said. 'I'll send them out and two days a week I'll just go out to check on them.
'So they see me putting in time also.'
With guys like Logan Wojcik, one of 23 boys on this season's team and the No. 8-ranked runner in the state, nobody will count out the Patriots again. Even if they don't win a third consecutive title, Jebbia will be the first to shake the winning coach's hand, and you can bet he'll have a smile on his face while doing so.
That's why we root for Michael Jebbia.