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Adams remembered for contributions, love of Gateway athletics

Michael Love
| Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Gateway boys basketball Mitch Adams watches from the bench during a game against McKeesport on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, at McKeesport High School.
Ronald Vezzani | Daily News
Gateway boys basketball Mitch Adams watches from the bench during a game against McKeesport on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, at McKeesport High School.

As coach of the Gateway boys basketball team, Mitch Adams wasn't afraid to let his thoughts be known.

If his players didn't play or practice up to his expectations, he let them hear it.

But if they did well, as they did when the Gators captured the 2011 and 2012 WPIAL Quad-A championships, he was sure to let them and people outside the program know how proud he was.

Adams, a Trafford resident who served as the Gateway head coach for nine years and compiled a 134-88 record, died Sept. 20 at UPMC East Hospital in Monroeville because of complications after an operation.

“When hearing of his passing, the first reaction was, of course, sadness,” said Luke Kochka, a 2012 Gateway graduate who played four years for Adams.

“But my mind quickly went to all the great memories we made, especially during the run to the WPIAL championships. When I was in seventh and eighth grade, you would always hear about Mitch Adams. He had no kids of his own, but he treated every one of his players like his own son. He was very hard on us at times, but sometimes that's what you need.”

Kochka said Adams was instrumental in helping him get to Thiel College where he enjoyed a standout collegiate career with the Tomcats.

“He connected me to (Thiel's) coach and pointed me in the right direction, I guess you could say,” said Kochka, who himself is now in his second season as a basketball assistant coach at Gateway.

“He always stayed connected with his former players. I talked with guys like Tyler Scott, Barnett Harris and others and said they would hear from him asking how they were doing. We could come back to games after we graduated, and it was fun to be around him again.”

Adams and his Gators team became familiar with Duquesne's Palumbo Center, the former sight of the WPIAL basketball championship games.

Gateway, in addition to the back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012, made the WPIAL finals in 2010 but fell to Mt. Lebanon in a close contest.

“Mitch had been a great Gateway athletic person coaching football and basketball,” Gateway athletic director Randy Rovesti said. “He was well known by the community and by the WPIAL. Any time a person of his stature passes away, there's a lot of sadness that goes with that.”

Rovesti said Adams was the type of person who no one really needed to guess how he felt.

“If you asked him a question, he gave you an honest answer, and that might have rubbed some people the wrong way. Others didn't mind,” Rovesti said. “But that's how Mitch was. At the end of the day, he was as honest as they came.”

Adams was known for getting quite animated on the Gateway bench. Many of his coaching colleagues saw his passion for the game. No one perhaps saw that passion more often than Plum's longtime coach, Ron Richards.

Equally as fiery on the sidelines, Richards, who resigned after the most recent basketball season, struck up a friendship with Adams that never waned.

Richards said coaching basketball to a shared love of Pitt football were often topics of conversation.

“I sat back and reflected on all the good times we shared,” Richards said.

The Plum and Gateways boys teams, when they were in the same section, often were together in the same mix batting for playoff spots and section championships. The Mustangs and Gators shared the Section 2-AAAA title in 2010.

“People probably both looked at us as being a little bit crazy,” Richards said. “But Mitch and I would see each other afterwards, probably at the Gateway Grill, and both of us would start laughing at each other. The person you see coaching a game is usually not the person you see away from the game. No matter what the game result was or what the situation was, Mitch could always bring a smile to my face. I certainly had a lot of respect for Mitch's teams during that stretch of games against each other.”

Adams' love for Gateway and Gators athletics was nurtured growing up in the school district and up to and beyond his graduation from Gateway in 1976.

He formed many close relationships in and out of athletics, and he served the district as a Gateway football assistant for a number of years.

Adams often could be overheard talking about the many past players he helped and their exploits on the field of competition.

When former Gateway standout and Gateway Hall-of-Fame inductee Curtis Bray died in 2014, Adams gave his thoughts and memories of the relationship between the two. He couldn't, however, get through the interview without tears rolling down his cheeks or his voice cracking.

Also, for a number of years, Adams was a fixture in the Gateway press box for football games.

Adams owned a trophy shop and sporting goods store in Trafford.

He also served as a baseball umpire assignor from leagues at the youth level all the way to high school and helped the WPIAL scheduled umpires for playoff games.

Rovesti and Kochka both agreed Adams, when eligible, is a shoe-in for induction in the Gateway Sports Hall of Fame.

“He was the coach for the only two WPIAL championships in Gateway boys basketball history,” Kochka said. “He won a lot of basketball games (in his nine years at Gateway). His resume, with all that he contributed to Gateway, makes him worthy for the hall of fame.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review sports writer. Reach him at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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