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Notes, quotes and anecdotes from WPIAL Hall of Fame class

Written by Mike White on .

The WPIAL announced its 2014 Hall of Fame class this morning at a news conference at the Heinz History Center. The inductees will be honored at a banquet June 6 at the Doubletree Hotel in Greentree, and the event is open to the public. Go to the WPIAL web site for tickets.

A Post-Gazette story from earlier today has bios on all of the inductees.

But some notes and memories about the class:

Where are they now?

It's always interesting to find out what some of the athletes from the Hall of Fame class are doing today. Hey, I wouldn't mess with Shannon Davis. She has been a Pittsburgh city policeman for 22 years. She could be an imposing figure when she played at 6 feet 2 - and she can be imposing now.

Shannon DavisThe photo is of Davis standing next to a Franco Harris statue at the History Center. I think people forget how good Davis was. She was a three-time Parade All-American. Three times!!!! She was first-team USA Today All-American in 1989. She scored more than 2,000 career points and she led Sacred Heart High School to a state championship as a senior - and played the entire season with a torn ACL.

Former WTAE sportscaster John Meyer introduced all of the inductees.

"This was awesome," said Davis. "When [Meyer] was reading the stats, I didn't even remember them, as far as my numbers. It was very humbling for people to still remember them."

Davis signed with the University of Virginia, but never played college basketball. The knee injury forced her to miss her first year and she came home and attended Pitt, but did not play.

More from the Where Are They Now department: Remember Beth Friday, former Upper St. Clair two-sport star who had a great basketball career at Duquesne University. She works for PNC, is married and has a 1-year-old. And she still looks like she could post up and score from the block without any problem.

She was the Post-Gazette athlete of the year in 1999. People forget that she was a tremendous soccer goalkeeper in high school. She had more than 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in her Duquesne career. She is one of only two Duquesne womens players to have her number retired.

Dante's love for baseball

Former Blackhawk basketball star and University of North Carolina player Dante Calabria is one of the headliners of the class. He was not able to attend the news conference, but I spoke with him over the phone. He is now living in North Carolina and spent the past year as a men's and women's assistant at Northwood University, an NAIA school in West Palm Beach, Fla. He's looking to be an assistant at a Division I college. Anyone hiring?

Calabria was a great shooter, but people forget how good of an all around player he was. I have to admit he was one of my all-time favorites to cover and will always remember he eventually got the nickname of "Cheap" because he never liked to pay for anything. We always talked about going golfing "but only if you pay," he would say.

As great of a basketball player that he was, people don't realize Calabria's talents in other sports. I never saw him play football or baseball, but he supposedly was a heckuva quarterback before giving up the sport in junior high. He also played baseball until his senior year at Blackhawk.

"I couldn't ever get to practice my senior year because I was doing so much with basketball," said Calabria. "I always could throw the ball pretty hard. In the high 80s probably, but unfortunately all I could throw was a fastball and changeup.

"But honestly my love is baseball. To this day, it is. I've been a Pirates fan forever. I love it. I even go to minor-league games. With football, I played until after my freshman year. Guys might tell you I was this or that in football. I don't know good I was, but I could always throw the ball. I could throw it 60 or 65 yards. I was tall, too. People say I could've done this or done that in football, but the bottom line is I didn't love football.

"I migrated toward basketball because that's what I thought I was the best in. But I still love baseball."

Calabria played 16 years professionally overseas. Many don't realize he made it to the final cut once with the Chicago Bulls when they had Michael Jordan.

The below photo is from the Post-Gazette Fabulous 5 Calabria's senior year at Blackhawk. It's Terry O'Shea from Carlynton, Calabria, Valley's Tom Pipkins, Duquesne's Derrick Scott and Penn-Trafford's Peca Arsic.

Boys Fab 5 1992

WPIAL is "big" to Yannessa

Don Yannessa coached 37 years at Aliquippa, Baldwin and Ambridge and is still seventh on the WPIAL all-time list for wins. He was one of four coaches selected this year to the WPIAL Hall of Fame. Yannessa took Aliquippa to great heights in the 1980s, winning four WPIAL titles.

"Any Hall of Fames I've been inducted into and any awards I've received have all been significant honors, but this is a great honor because this is the league where I grew up," said Yannessa, who is 73. "I played in junior high and high school at Aliquippa. I grew up as a coach here, too, as a junior-high coach and then a varsity assistant and finally a head coach. I didn't know a heck of a lot about the league when I played but I sure do now.

"I remember when I was a freshman player at New Mexico State my line coach introduced me to someone and said 'this is Donnie Yannessa and he played in one of the greatest leagues in the country, the WPIAL.' I was 18 so I said, 'really, one of the greats in the country?' I didn't know how great it was then but I know now."

Yannessa was one of the most colorful coaches I ever covered and have many great memories of him. I will never forget the first time we met. I was in college and a part-time worker at the Post-Gazette. I was assigned to do a story on Aliquippa for our football preseason tab. It was preseason practice and the Quips weren't at school. I called Aliquippa basketball coach Red McNie and asked him where the team was. He said they were having a week-long camp at a place in Zelienople called Camp Brashear.

McNie didn't know how to get there, but I took off for Zelienople, figuring I'd find it sooner or later. I finally found Camp Brashear. It was lunch time on a Friday. The team was on a break. I met Yannessa, introduced myself and he then took me to a house where the coaches stayed. We went to a room upstairs.

He pulled out a cooler of Miller High Life beer and said "You wanna beer? Now what do ya want to talk about?"

I remember saying "Man, this guy is alllllright."

A few years later, I was watching him win WPIAL championships and then watching him take my money on a golf course, before we would always head to an Aliquippa watering hole for hot sausage sandwiches from a guy named "Coolie." Then once after the hot sausage we went to the Lebanese club and met "Joey." I wasn't told exactly what Joey did for a living, but Yannessa said, "Whatever you do. don't mess with Joey." I didn't.

Yannessa gave reporters many memorable lines over the years. One of my favorites came away from football, on Beaver Lakes Golf Course, one day when I was playing "Animal" from the Post-Gazette, Yannessa and former Steelers kicker Roy Gerela. Yannessa was at Baldwin then and Gerela was an assistant there. I hit Gerela in the leg with a shank shot that day, but we won't go into that. We were on a par 3 and Gerela hit a high shot.

"Oh that's terrible. ... That's not even close. ... That's nowhere near the green," Gerela said.

Then as the ball bounced on the green, Yannessa said loudly, "Holy hell Roy, no wonder you missed that extra point against Dallas in the Super Bowl. You can't see! That's 10 feet from the pin."

Unforgettable.

When asked today if he misses coaching, Yannessa said, "If someone said to me, 'We have eight Division I players next year, do you want to coach?' I'd be there in a heartbeat. But I don't miss the days when 'well, we have a tough schedule this year and we don't have many kids out for the team."

The picture below is of the four coaches selected to the Hall of Fame this year: From left, it's Yannessa, Connellsville baseball coach Tom Sankovich, Springdale soccer coach Dave Meloni and Canevin football-soccer coach Bob Jacoby.

Yannessa WPIAL Hall Fame

 

Kasper's memorable play

Former North Hills quarterback Eric Kasperowicz also was one of the inductees. In 1994, the Parade All-American football had eight quarterbacks. One was Peyton Manning. Another was Kasperowicz.

John Meyer had a good line when introducing Kasperowicz today at the news conference, saying "we never heard of Peyton Manning again and Kasperowicz became a star."

Seriously, Kasperowicz was one of the best all-around players I've seen in the last 25 years. He had more than 6,000 yards offense and was a terrific defensive back. He intercepted 14 passes as a senior.

But the thing I will remember Kasperowicz for the most is "That Play." I say maybe the most memorable play in state championship history. North Hills is losing to Central Bucks West, 14-7, on a bitter cold night in the 1993 Class AAAA state championship game in Altoona. It's late in the fourth quarter. LaVar Arrington catches a long pass from Arrington, but North Hills goes backward and North Hills is facing fourth-and-goal from the 28. I said FOURTH-AND-GOAL AT THE 28. This one appears over, especially with North Hills going into a stiff wind.

But Kasperowicz pulls off a miracle. He hits Chris Feola over the middle on a slant pattern at about the 10 and Central Bucks overruns the play and Feola scores. It was like Feola had Velcro on his hip because the ball just stuck there.

Then Kasperowicz ran for the two-point conversion to give North Hills the win - and intercepted a pass to preserve the win.

 

 

 

 

 

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