East Ridge's Catherine Neely, TN's all-time winningest volleyball coach, dies of COVID-19

Coach Neely (Image: WTVC){ }

Members of the East Ridge community and beyond are remembering a former coach whose legacy extends far beyond the court of play.

Legendary volleyball and basketball coach Catherine Neely has passed away after a battle with COVID-19. She was 78.

Her longtime friend, former WTVC Sports Director and fellow Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame board member Darrell Patterson, confirms her death, and paid tribute to her in a Facebook post:

"We’ve lost a true legend, an awesome coach and leader and a great friend. Catherine Neely died overnight, unable to overcome the Corona virus that had invaded her body. Catherine coached volleyball and basketball at East Ridge where she became Tennessee’s all-time winningest volleyball coach. The gym there is named in her honor. Catherine was the president of the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame, where I was priviledged to serve and work with her. What a great lady! She’ll be greatly missed. Please keep her husband, son, daughter-in-law and family in your thoughts and prayers."

Neely dedicated more than half a century of her life to sports at East Ridge High School.

"She is a legend among legends," said Crystal Soorells, principal at East Ridge High School.

She coached women's basketball for 43 years and volleyball for 47years at the high school. She was also the East Ridge athletic director for 20 years, dedicating a total of 56 years to the school.

"She pretty much did it all," said Patterson.

The school's gymnasium is named after her.

"When Catherine said something, you paid attention," said Patterson.

According to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, Neely was recognized as the winningest volleyball coach in Tennessee since the sanctioning of the sport in 1976.

She also served as the president of the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame.

"At one point she was the nation's leading coach in high school volleyball wins," said Patterson.

More importantly, she never sidelined her players, even decades after graduation.

"When my mom passed five years ago, she was one of the first people that I saw," said Kari Vaughn who played basketball and volleyball for Coach Neely.

"It's always stuck with me how hard and how badly I wanted to please her just because I wanted to make her proud," said Vaughn.

Patterson says Neely was recently hospitalized due to complications from the virus.

"She was showing a few signs of improvement and then had a setback and just never recovered," said Patterson.

Patterson says she died around 1:00 a.m. on Wednesday at the hospital surrounded by family.

"She's one of the toughest people that I know. She fought till the end i'm sure," said Vaughn.

Neely was president of the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame.

NewsChannel 9 is working to find out plans for Coach Neely's end of life celebration.

This is a developing story and will be updated as we learn more.