WCCC coach deals with a hole on his bench
Mike Draghi will never forget George Steele passing out Juicy Fruit gum before every Westmoreland County Community College baseball game.
And Draghi, coach of the college baseball team, will always recall Steele the meticulous statistician.
But most of all, Draghi will remember Steele the man, the mentor, the friend.
“I always referred to him as Mr. Steele. I always had so much respect for him,” Draghi said. “He was a big influence on me. He was like a grandfather.”
Steele, 78, a retired Greensburg Salem English teacher and statistician for the high school baseball and basketball teams as well as the college baseball team, died Feb. 10.
During a memorial service, Draghi described Steele as “consistent, loyal, a great teacher and a great friend.”
They met in 1976 when Steele was Draghi's sophomore English teacher.
“He was great. He was intense,” Draghi remembered. “He was big on punctuation, spelling, writing legibly, things of that nature.”
Students could be docked a whole letter grade on a paper for using “its” when “it's” was really needed.
When Steele retired after 38 years of teaching, Draghi contacted him.
At that point — 20 years ago — Draghi was preparing for his first season coaching baseball at the community college near Youngwood.
“I knew I needed a scorekeeper, a statistician ... and somebody mentioned Mr. Steele had retired as a teacher,” Draghi said. “I called him and said, ‘Mr. Steele, I have a job for you.'”
Steele would accept the job, Draghi knew.
“I never heard him tell anyone no if they asked something of him,” he said. “He was a guy who wanted to help everyone.”
Lynn Jobe, Greensburg Salem athletic director, said she knew she could turn to Steele for advice when she first started teaching in the district.
“He would help you any way he could,” she said. “He was a kind soul and a gentleman.”
Steele would give athletes rides home from practice.
“He did the kids a big favor,” said Ken Elkin, a friend and fellow English teacher at Greensburg Salem. “He'd run them to Slickville, Delmont, wherever. The coaches really appreciated it.”
Steele was a good athlete for Barnesboro High School, where he was a left-handed quarterback, Elkin recalled.
“He probably is one of the kindest persons I've ever met,” Elkin said. “I'm going to miss him, and a lot of people are going to miss him, because he was a good fellow.”
Steele passed out the gum to everyone, including umpires, before high school or college games, Draghi said.
Draghi didn't know why, but Juicy Fruit always was the brand.
In the meticulous scorebooks he kept, Steele often added quotations that he knew Draghi would see later.
“The scorebook was done to perfection every game. There are people who keep score, and then there was Mr. Steele,” he said.
Besides Juicy Fruit, Steele liked to pass out pens with his name on them. Draghi became aware of how many pens Steele passed out when he went to a car dealership about 15 years ago.
“I didn't have a pen,” Draghi recalled. “The clerk handed me a pen. There it was: George D. Steele, WCCC scorekeeper. ‘Let's play two.'”
He has seen the pens other places, such as the restaurants Steele frequented.
“Everywhere you'd go there'd be pens with his name,” Draghi said.
“He was so well-liked in the community, in a lot of different avenues. Everyone knew Mr. Steele. He was an icon for us,” he added.
Draghi choked up as he thought of a college baseball season without Steele keeping stats on the bench.
“It'll be tough,” he said.
Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or firstname.lastname@example.org.