Jim Welling had been a visitor to City League gymnasiums for years.
Last December, he had to get used to being the enemy.
In his 20 years as the men's basketball coach at Owens Community College, Welling routinely visited CL schools to recruit some of the best talent in Northwest Ohio. He finished with 550 victories and two junior college national titles at Owens.
This season, Welling stepped onto CL basketball courts as the head coach at Central Catholic High School.
"I recruited a lot of the kids in the City," Welling said. "Walking into Scott and Libbey and Rogers and Start, which both (Rogers, Start) have new facilities, it was a neat feeling to walk in there instead of waiting in the stands to talk to the coaches afterwards. I got to talk to the coaches before the games. From a coaching perspective, it was a neat feeling."
Welling, 50, a 1977 Eastwood graduate, went to Central Catholic after coaching just one year at Lake, where his boys’ team finished 4-17 and 3-11 in the Suburban Lakes League.
"It was a very difficult decision to leave," Welling said.
Some questioned if Welling would be able to adjust to coaching at the high school level after so many years in college.
"There are some big adjustments from college to high school, where now you're coaching 15- to 18-year-olds after coaching 18- to 22-year-olds," Welling said. "You have to surround yourself with good people. I was fortunate to have Ed Mouch and Leroy King as varsity assistants. We had a great jayvee and assistant coaching staff. We surrounded these kids with good guys."
Prognosticators gave Central Catholic little chance this season to thrive during the weekly rigors of CL play. The Irish were picked eighth in the 11-team league, yet came on strong at the end of the season and finished 14-8 and 8-3 in the City.
Central Catholic upset top-seeded Waite in the semifinals of the league's final four tournament, then fell short in the title game against a streaking St. John's Jesuit squad.
"It was a great experience, coaching against guys in the City," Welling said. "Every night out is a big challenge. There are some very good basketball coaches in this league, not to mention very good talent. Every night out you had to have your kids prepared. If you didn't, there was a chance you were going to go down. I really enjoyed my first year."
The Irish didn't have much in the way of returning experience heading into the 2008-09 season. Central Catholic had one returning lettermen after graduating eight seniors the year before.
Welling knew he would have to take his time bringing the team along.
"I saw it as a challenge," he said, "but I also saw it as an opportunity. I don't think anybody, even at Central, thought we could get to 14 wins. When we started beating some upper echelon teams late in the season, maybe some people started saying this guy does know what he's doing.
“Once they saw some of our big games we ended up winning, all of a sudden it became a lot of fun toward the end of the year.
"We had good kids who bought in. It took a couple months, but from mid-January I really thought they were really starting to get it."
The Irish's season ended March 6 with a 50-41 loss to Libbey in a Division I sectional final at Swanton. Welling plans to return to Central Catholic next season, but he said he has "no idea" how long he will roam the sidelines.
"I'm just going to take it one year at a time," he said. "We have a lot of work to do in the spring, summer and fall for next year's team because we are losing quality players. How long I'm going to be in it, I can't tell you. As long as people enjoy what they do, they should stay in it as long as they're happy. And, I'm happy."