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Sports-minded O'Brien connects with Bridgeville audience

| Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
File photo
Rene Clements, 1959 graduate of McKees Rocks High School (left) looks at an old photograph with Pittsburgh sports author Jim O'Brien during the third Athletes of Action scholarship luncheon in Kennedy Township last year. O'Brien was the featured speaker.

The Bridgeville Area Historical Society program meeting for April featured an entertaining presentation of local area sports history by sportswriter Jim O'Brien, who is an author and publisher of 23 books, most of which deal with sports in Western Pennsylvania.

He talked about his strong connection with the Bridgeville area. Bill “Woody” Wolf was his neighbor in Upper St. Clair and his close friend. Bill walked down Cook School Road from his home into Bridgeville and back each day; O'Brien reported that he frequently accompanied Bill on part of his walk.

He was familiar with Bill's pride in the 1949 Class B WPIAL championship football team and his efforts to locate and salvage the high school's sports trophies. Incidentally, these trophies are one of the main features of the society's exhibit that is focused on Bridgeville schools.

O'Brien was also a friend of Father Sam David and familiar with his athletic exploits and those of his son Joey. He reported that Sam's widow, Janet Deep David, credited her success as a wife and mother to her growing up with 13 brothers, on Baldwin Street.

The speaker mentioned other Bridgeville area sports figures — Lou Cimarolli, Suzy Semanick and Aldo “Buff” Donelli. I was pleased that he knew that “Donelli” is the answer to the sports trivia question, “Who is the only man to coach a Division I college football team and an NFL team concurrently?” In 1941 he coached Duquesne to an undefeated season, while leading the Steelers to five consecutive losses before being replaced by Walt Keisling.

O'Brien contributed several other trivia items. Armen Gilliam, of Bethel Park, who played 13 years for six different NBA teams between 1987 and 2000, earned more money as a professional athlete than any other Western Pennsylvania product. Incidentally, Upper St. Clair's Sean Casey, who played 12 years of major league baseball from 1997 to 2008, is a runner-up for top breadwinner.

He also mentioned the Hayes brothers from South Fayette, Jay and Jonathan, who currently are assistant coaches for the NFL Cincinnati Bengals. Their head coach is Marvin Lewis, himself a product of nearby McDonald. McDonald also was the birthplace of Marty Schottenheimer, whose NFL coaching record totaled 200.

O'Brien grew up in Hazelwood and is a graduate of Taylor Allderdice High School (1960) and the University of Pittsburgh (1964), with a degree in English. He has been a sportswriter with The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, The Miami News, The New York Post and The Pittsburgh Press, and a contributing columnist to The Sporting News, The Football News, Basketball Times and Basketball News. His career began as a 14-year-old sports writer for a Hazelwood paper. While covering a Golden Gloves tournament he asked Myron Cope for advice. Cope replied, “Sit down and start writing!”

Another Bridgeville-related story was O'Brien's visit to a fish fry at St. Agatha's Church, honoring a midget football league. He was accompanied by rookie Steeler running back Merril Hoge, who had just come to Pittsburgh from Boise, Idaho. Hoge remarked that “he knew football was important in Pittsburgh, but he was surprised to learn they had a special league for midgets.”

O'Brien was particularly complimentary about Troy Polamalu and Art Rooney. He said Polamalu spends much of his time visiting Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. As for Mr. Rooney, the speaker reported that he had an obsession for visiting funeral homes for anyone he had ever known. One of his associates had the assignment of going through the “Irish sports pages” (the obituary section) each morning and ringing up the names of everyone he knew.

Following the presentation, someone in the audience asked him who his all-time favorite sports personality was. He immediately replied, “Arnold Palmer,” then added “Bill Mazeroski, Mario Lemieux, Roberto Clemente and Sidney Crosby.” And the common denominator for all of them is that they didn't think they were any better than anyone else.

Coming right up

The next society program meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., May 28, in the Chartiers Room at the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department. Historian Todd DePastino will discuss “The Great Depression and the 1932 March.” The public is invited.

Also, the next presentation in the “Bridgeville Remembered” series will be made at 7 p.m., May 16, in the Community Room at the Bridgeville Public Library. We will discuss the growth of Bridgeville between 1875 and 1890.

John Oyler, a columnist for Trib Total Media, can be reached at 412-343-1652 or

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