Kate Bulger Excited To Join Her Brother In The WVU Sports Hall Of Fame
Kate Bulger doesn’t have much time to pick up a basketball any more.
As the principal of Champion Charter School in Chandler, Ariz., whose days, and even her nights, are pretty filled with making sure things run smoothly for her 550 K-8 students, such leisurely activities comes second.
“I’ll shoot on occasion at school, but not that often when people are around,” she chuckled. “The kids like to challenge me. But I always come up with an excuse: wrong shoes, I’m not dressed for it. I can’t play against one of them, just in case things don’t go my way.”
The competitive spirit that drove Bulger to score 1,733 points in her four years as a starter at West Virginia (2001-04) won’t allow her to fathom losing to a 13-year-old hot shot.
“It’s crazy how fast time has gone,” she reflected. “It doesn’t feel like it’s been 14 years since I played at WVU. Where has the time gone? It reminds me of listening to my dad talk about playing at Notre Dame, and we’d just roll our eyes. It’s just gone so fast.”
Even after more than a decade, the Bulgers remain the first family of West Virginia athletics. Marc came first (1996-99) and developed into a star quarterback who threw for more yards (8,153) than any Mountaineer who played before him. He parlayed that into a 10-year NFL career, and was inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. Meg was the baby, arriving 2004 as the most ballyhooed recruit in history of West Virginia’s women’s basketball program. Though slowed by two severe knee injuries, Meg still scored 1,665 points, which was the program’s fifth most when her career concluded in 2008.
And in between Marc and Meg was Kate. She carved out her own outstanding career. She is still No. 1 in school history in three-pointers made (302) and attempted (724).
And now she’ll be joining Marc in the WVU Sports Hall of Fame, as she’ll be inducted this fall.
“I never thought this would happen for me,” said Kate when asked her thoughts on going into the Hall. “It never even crossed my mind. It was so much fun when Marc went into the Hall of Fame. Everyone was so excited then, and I know my family is going to have a lot of fun this time as well.”
Marc and Kate are the first siblings to go into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame. Meg, the youngest of Jim and Patty Bulger’s five children, will probably join them one day in the not too distant future.
The DNA for the Bulger kid’s athleticism certainly came from their parents, as Jim was a quarterback at Notre Dame and Patty a very good high school basketball player in her own right. But the competitiveness was born in the family driveway in Pittsburgh, where pickup games grew to legendary status and fostered an early love of sports.
“I don’t remember a time growing up when I wasn’t playing, wasn’t being competitive,” recalled Kate. “I was always on a team or going to a camp or a clinic. We were all that way. The funny thing is our parents never forced us to play sports. It’s something we wanted to do. If we were forced into it, I don’t think we would have enjoyed it nearly as much.”
Despite Marc’s success at WVU, Kate wasn’t sure she wanted to follow her brother to Morgantown.
“When I was being recruited, initially I thought I wanted to go far away and do my own thing,” she explained. “But I also wanted to play my freshman year. I was too impatient to sit. In the back of their heads, my parents always knew I’d go to West Virginia. But they didn’t pressure me. They wanted it to be my decision. And eventually I knew that it was the right place for me.”
Kate may have found a home at WVU, but she found a women’s basketball program that had hit rock bottom. West Virginia was just 6-22 the season prior to her arrival, which included a humiliating 100-28 loss to UConn. And her freshman season, things got even worse. Despite Bulger’s team-leading 14.5 points per game average, the Mountaineers went just 5-22. But WVU director of athletics Ed Pastilong went searching for a new coach after that season, and found Mike Carey, who at the time was the men’s coach at Salem College.
Immediately things began to turn around. With Kate starting every game and serving as the leading score each season, the Mountaineer women improved to 14-14 in 2001-02 and then 15-13 the next year. And as a senior, with Meg joining her at West Virginia as a freshman, Kate helped WVU break through, posting a 21-11 record. It was just the fifth 20-win season in the history of the women’s program, and the Mountaineers earned their third-ever NCAA Tournament invitation.
“The first year was rough,” admitted Kate. “But it never crossed my mind to leave. That’s not how we were raised. It was always my goal to work hard, get better and help the team get better. Fortunately that’s what happened.”
Certainly the addition of Meg was important for West Virginia and for Kate.
“Meg was much more highly recruited than I was. She had some really big schools coming after her, but Coach Carey put me in charge of that. I told her from the beginning she was coming. I’ve always been her boss; still am,” Kate laughed.
“But that was the best experience of our lives, playing together. I was worried about her, because it was a freshman/senior kind of thing. But it was the best experience I’ve ever had. It was so cool.”
Kate started ever one of WVU’s 115 games during her four years with the program. And when her Mountaineer career was over, she became the first West Virginia player drafted by the WNBA, being selected in the third round by the Minnesota Lynx.
Basketball eventually had to end, and when it did, Kate had to find a new direction.
“I always wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “With basketball, all the travel and the practices, it was hard to initially get all the classes I needed. So, when my career was done, I went back and got my master’s. I did elementary ed and began teaching, moving to Phoenix. Then the opportunity presented itself, and I got a second master’s in administration. I was already teaching at (Champion Charter) when the principal’s job became open, and I was lucky enough to get it.
“I don’t even think the people in my family believe I’m a principal,” she chuckled. “My parents have come out to visit me, and I make sure to take them to my office just to show them it’s true. I taught for five years, and now I’ve been the principal for four years.”
In her nearly decade in the Valley of the Sun, she has embraced the state of Arizona, though it’s a long ways from her Steel City and Mountain State roots.
“I don’t miss the weather back home,” she said. “I do miss the people, but I don’t miss the snow.”
All the Bulgers remain tied to WVU. Meg remains the most directly associated, as she is involved in some of the broadcasts for the Mountaineer Sports Network, doing color commentary for the women’s games and serving as a sideline reporter for some of the football and men’s basketball telecasts as well.
And after making hundred of trip up and down I-79 for the better part of a dozen years, Jim and Patty Bulger haven’t forgotten their way to Morgantown either.
“My parents still get down there at times,” explained Kate. “My dad will go to some golf outings, and we’ll all get together occasionally and go to games. They’re friends with Huggs and Coach Carey, so they’re still in touch.
“They have 10 grandkids now, so there is a new generation coming up,” she added. “Looking back on it, I don’t know how they did it. There was a time when Marc was in the pros, I was in college, and Meg was in high school, and they were both working all day. But I don’t remember them never being at a game. It was unreal.”
The entire Bulger clan will certainly assemble in Morgantown again on the weekend of Sept. 22 when the 2018 class of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame is enshrined.
“I’m so honored,” said Kate, who will be one of 11 inductees in this year’s class. “It’s crazy. Meg knew about it before I did. I can’t believe she kept it a secret.
“To go in with Pat White and Steve Slaton, wow, it’s so special. I can’t tell you how honored I am.”