This was coaching royalty, breaking bread together on a warm July afternoon. It was an informal lunch get together at Grand View Golf Course, put on by Bill Priatko, a Steeler from long ago, former high school athletic director and friend to everyone in the WPIAL.
In coaching circles, this was indeed elite company. There were nine legends on hand, past and present. Between them, there were 47 WPIAL championships and 2,044 victories. Current coaches in attendance were Jim Render of Upper St. Clair, George Novak of Woodland Hills, Mike Zmijanac of Aliquippa and Bob Palko of West Allegheny. Former coaches were Pete Antimarino (Pitcairn and Gateway), Pat Tarquinio (Beaver and Ellwood City), Tom Nola (Clairton, Gateway and Serra), Chuck Klausing (Pitcairn and Braddock) and Joe Mucci (Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette).
(Pictured are, bottom from from left, Klausing, Antimarino, Mucci, Tarquinio. Top row from left are Palko, Novak, Nola, Zmijanac and Render).
There were a variety of subjects discussed. With some prodding from Priatko, coaches were asked what were the most memorable games they ever coached. With high school football season set to kick off tomorrow night, we thought it was a good time to share what these coaches said as they traveled down memory lane.
In 1988, we were unscored upon in our last four games and won the WPIAL. We went into the 1989 season and were unscored upon in the first four games, going into our game at North Hills. The game was on national television (SportsChannel America). We were losing, 26-7, and came back to win, 27-26. My 10-year-old son came up to me an hugged me and I had tears in my eyes.
(NOTE: North Hills had the pass-catch combination of the Bender twins - Geoff and Jason. But Upper St. Clair had two exceptional running backs in Pete Habib and Doug Whaley (now the GM of the Buffalo Bills). Whaley finished with 167 yards rushing and Habib 109).
Probably my most satisfying game was beating North Hills in the WPIAL championship game [in 1986] because my son was on the bench with me.
(NOTE: The '86 title game was one of the most memorable in WPIAL history. North Hills came into the game ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today. A crowd estimated at more than 20,000 jammed the lower levels at Three Rivers Stadium.
North Hills scored with 2 seconds left to slice the lead to 7-6 on a TD pass from Joe Smithco to Greg Morris. But Smithco's pass for the two-point conversion was intercepted by Todd Washington. Some most famous Post-Gazette pictures came out of that game with Antimarino on the sideline with his son, Pete Jr., praying together before the two-point conversion. And then celebration. See below. The coincidental thing was young Pete's wife brought Pete Sr. to this lunch.).
When I was at Clairton, our state championship game in 2010 against Riverside. We were losing, 24-0, in the first half and came back to win, 36-30.
(NOTE: Tyler Boyd was a sophomore on that team and caught two touchdown passes in the victory. Pictured is Boyd running for a touchdown in the game).
After leaving Greensburg Central Catholic, I took over as head coach at Jeannette. In my first game, we beat Hempfield, 16-0. The town was so excited. They danced in the streets for weeks. The next game we beat Connellsville, 7-6. During that season, we were rated the No. 1 team in the state. My second most satisfying game was in 1972 against Monessen in a WPIAL playoff game [at Three Rivers Stadium]. The game ended in a tie. There was no overtime back then. The game was decided by total yards, and we won the game.
My most enjoyable game was winning our first WPIAL title in 1997 at Three Rivers Stadium against Brownsville. West Allegheny hadn't won anything up to that point, and seeing the excitement with the firetrucks, police cars and fans celebrating in the community was so gratifying and enjoyable.
(Pictured is West Allegheny celebrating at Three Rivers Stadium after beating Brownsville).
When I was an assistant coach at Aliquippa under Don Yannessa, I was the defensive coordinator. We played New Castle at New Castle in 1979. We had not beaten them in years. We won, 35-8. The win made us feel like we could really have a winning program. It was so gratifying that I remember putting a cigar in my mouth.
My Braddock-North Braddock Scott game of 1959. We were undefeated and playing the last game of the year. If we win, we go on to play for our sixth consecutive WPIAL title. We were losing, 12-9, with a little over a minute to go and we were on our own 9-yard line. With 37 seconds to go, we scored on a 26-yard touchdown pass on a great catch. We went on to win the WPIAL again.
(NOTE: Klausing had a program that was nationally recognized in the 1950s. They were featured in Sports Illustrated. Pictured is a photo from the 1957 season of Klausing with Braddock's two captains - Joe Reaves and John Mirenzi - during the no facemask days. Interestingly, Klausing suggested concussions in football might decrease these days if they went back to no facemasks. Then players wouldn't use their helmets and heads as much).
There were probably three games that were my most enjoyable. In 1982 , beating Aliquippa for my first WPIAL championships when I was Steel Valley's coach. Then in 1987, it was the first year of Woodland Hills. We had 12,000 fans at the Wolvarena for a Saturday afternoon game against Gateway. We came from behind and won, 27-21, and Gateway came into that game with a 20-game winning streak.
My last one would be in 1996, at Three Rivers Stadium, beating North Allegheny, 27-14, for our first championship at Woodland Hills.
(NOTE: Novak has been the only coach in Woodland Hills history. Pictured is Novak during his first year at Woodland Hills in 1987. Love those coaching shorts. Remember them? And how about the bull horn?)
When I was at Beaver, our WPIAL championship game in 1982 against an excellent Jeannette team. Our best player broke his arm on the opening kickoff. We somehow went on to win the game. We were basically a running team and we threw two TD passes to win a close game.
(NOTE: The player Tarquinio was talking about was star halfback Shiloh Icenhour. He actually sustained a broken arm on a kickoff in the SECOND quarter after Jeannette scored its first touchdown. Jeannette had a stud junior quarterback in Dante Wiley and a standout running back in Maurice Chamberlain. Beaver quarterback Jim Hummel threw two touchdown passes of 27 and 37 yards to John Lehman, and Doug Dragan scored the other on a 2-yard run).