By Mike White | Saturday, Feb. 20, 2010, 8:50 a.m.
We will have a live blog on the WPIAL basketball playoffs later today, starting around 4. We'll include notes on playoff games around the area. Check it out later today.
FROM BOB KOVALOVSKY: I was there when Midland's Roosevelt Kirby killed Ford City's title hopes [in 1979]. But one thing that is never mentioned is the fact that Midland's coach Ed "O" somehow convinced the officials to put more time on the clock. He argued his point out onto the floor, which in those days was an immediate technical. I think it was referred to as the Mike Rice rule back then. No technical was called and Kirby proceeded to make history. We eventually went on lose to a superior York Catholic team in the state finals, also played at the Arena. Unfortunately for the residence of Ford City, that was the last of our great teams. We've had some good teams, but none that could come close to matching the talent of 1979.
FROM DAN SKANTAR: Mike, However justified their rationale, the WPIAL’s decision to move the basketball championships out of the Civic Arena was a crying shame. With all respect to the Palumbo Center -- which is a great gym – it ain’t the big time. Most local fans who attended their share of events at the Igloo will remember it primarily as the home of the Penguins, and with good reason. For me, the venerable old hubcap is a treasure chest of basketball memories – Pitt games mainly, but also three unforgettable nights from my high school days as a basketball manager at Turtle Creek (1975-76). I’ll never forget walking out onto the floor of the arena for the Class B semifinal game between my Eagles and the powerful Midland Leopards in 1975, my junior year.
The lights against the roof seemed as distant as stars in the night sky. Countless rows of orange seats, filling with fans. The cheers, back and forth, between the student sections. The thud of basketballs hitting dead spots on the creaky, pitted hardwood floor. The place was… so…immense. Sitting on the bench, feeling the cold from the ice seeping through cracks in the protective covering. Looking up at the huge black gondola scoreboard suspended overhead. The board hummed softly when it was turned on. There was a small card with our school name, hand-lettered under the VISITOR slot of the facing. Hearing the hiccup of the seconds ticking off the game clock; the blinking green, red and white scoreboard lights. And the horn? Loud enough to make me jump when they tested it pregame. And there was Bill Cardille – Chilly Billy himself, courtside at the broadcasting table. Midland had one of its dynastic teams, with Chuck Gomez, Don Slappy and Kenny Wright. Gomez was a bull – all muscles, a brick wall of a player who wore black eyeglasses. Slappy was a sharpshooter with a sweet, nonchalant air as if he were just shooting at a playground hoop by himself. Our guys were good, but Midland had an aura.
We gave them a game, losing 72-61. Midland was just too quick. Turtle Creek played at the Igloo twice more the next season – defeating South Park in the semis before being crushed by Midland in the finals. My memories remain sharp despite the passing of decades. But that first game stands out the most.
The coolest part was having your neighbors tell you they saw you on TV when they watched the game on Channel 13. I hope the WPIAL can bring its championships to the Consol Energy Center.
FROM ANTHONY BALSANO: I am a 1965 graduate of Charleroi High School. I went to the arena for semifinals in 1965 and it was sold out. The game I remember the most was the Roundball Classic with Kenny Durrett, Pete Gibson, Dick DeVenzio, and one of the Nelson twins from Fox Chapel. They made a mistake and should have had both twins. The USA Team had Howard Porter and Jim McDaniel. Durrett was outstanding but they gave the MVP award to DeVenzio. The crowd was not happy and voiced their disapproval.