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Business leader has 'write' stuff for reminiscing

| Thursday, April 18, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

There will be no shortage of memories to share when the Bellmar High School Class of 1963 celebrates its 50-year reunion Sept. 14 at Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Champion.

And that traditional aspect of class reunions will be enhanced by John I. Orrison.

“I've always enjoyed writing,” said Orrison, managing principal and senior vice president of Draper & Associates' Construction Services Division in Atlanta, Ga.

“As an engineering major, I was associate editor and humor columnist for the VMI (Virginia Military Institute) Cadet newspaper. I love reading the work of such authors as Lewis Grizzard and I have so much respect for people who are creative with the written word.”

To emphasize that passion for creativity, Orrison, who has 45 years of experience in his successful career of construction, contracts and consulting, has compiled “about 70 or 75” journeys to Yesteryear that he calls “Reminiscences.”

They are designed to rekindle old memories among his Bellmar ‘63 classmates.

The brief essays focus on a number of subjects, one of which is most poignant because if recounts how he became a standout football player (tight end) for the Bellmar Hurricanes with some unique “encouragement” from a longtime friend.

“My dad (John Irvin Orrison) was a football fan,” Orrison said. “So was my friend, Tommy Agnolucci. But I liked baseball and was in a take-it-or-leave-it place regarding football during my early teenage years.

“Then, when I was in the eighth grade at Marion Junior High School, I went out for football. I was so naive about the game that I ran onto the field wearing my hip pads outside my football pants, and on backwards, to boot. So after not making the team, I concentrated on band.”

Orrison recalled that he wanted to play trombone but added that “with a brother and two sisters at home, the trombone was not in the budget.”

“However, the school would give you a sousaphone to use if you agreed to play it in the band,” he said. “So, that became my instrument. All through my last year of junior high school, I would lug that thing to school once every two weeks for my lessons. Fortunately, our school stop on the bus line was the last one before school, so my horn was able to stay in the stairwell at the front of the bus for the ride.”

Orrison continued as a band member when he moved up to Bellmar High 1960.

“There were two of us sousaphone players anchoring a whole lot of clarinets, trumpets and trombones,” he said. “I spent my sophomore football season in the bleachers with the band. Unfortunately, during that same year, Mel ‘Butch' Renkey moved onto our street. Butch played football.

“Once football season was over and Butch rode the bus home after school instead of going to football practice, he would harass me all the way down the street about how I was the biggest kid in the band, how I should be playing football instead of the sousaphone. His ‘encouragement' became punctuated with fisticuffs occasionally, and it soon occurred to me that I needed to go out for football again, if for no other reason than to save my life.”

Orrison said his decision hit a sour note with the Bellmar band director, Edmond Rizzuto.

“When I told (Rizzuto) about my choice, I explained the reason was that I thought I might be able to get a college scholarship playing football,” he said. “He was upset because the other sousaphone player had graduated and he tried to convince me to stay with the band by telling me that sousaphone players also received scholarships. He made a good pitch, but I didn't tell him about Mel Renkey and his even more persuasive arguments.

“I did make the team my junior year and came pretty close to earning a (varsity) letter. At that point, good fortune smiled on me. Bellmar's football coach, Bap Manzini, had just moved into the neighborhood where we lived in Lynwood. He had a son, Denny, who was the rising quarterback on the team.

“That summer, Denny and I played pitch and catch football in the fields behind our houses every day. I estimate that I must have caught 5,000 passes from Denny that summer. By the time football camp rolled around, I was in great shape, could catch anything he threw, and he knew my moves perfectly. Denny was an excellent quarterback - great arm and very intelligent, a student of the game.”

Orrison, 68, also had high praise for the quarterback's father.

“Bap was simply the best coach I ever played for in any sport at any level,” he said. “He could bring the best out of you through a mixture of fear and love. He was the consummate motivator. He taught us that we had unlimited potential if we were willing to work for it. Many of the lessons I received from him as a football player and in school have remained me throughout my life and helped me in my work.”

Orrison's off-season work with Denny Manzini paid off as he became the starting tight end on Bellmar's 1962 team.

Bap Manzini said before the ‘62 campaign began that the group of 42 gridders, led by seven senior and four junior lettermen, comprised the “best team I've had the pleasure of coaching as far as being coachable goes.”

“They're intelligent, mannerly, cooperative and enthusiastic – just a bunch of nice kids,” said Manzini as he prepared to his 12the season as Bellmar's head coach.

Denny Manzini was set to control the T-formation backfield at quarterback. Top prospects to round out the backfield, according to the coach, were Art Feryok, Chuck Humphries, Russ Theakston, Aland Senko, Jeff Pendo and Frank Mascara.

Leading the nods for line positions were ends Orrison, Ed Lorinchak, Bill Shook and Curt McCarthy; center Al Mossburg; guards Ray Mullen and Patsy DeRienzo; tackles Ray Moody and Jeff Thompson, and Stan Kolischak, Tom Young and Jim Manown.

Manzini's assistants with the varsity were Jim Hoffman and Tom Banjor. Harry Muckle and Jack Flora were the junior high coaches at Marion and Vernon, respectively, and they also helped with the high school team.

Manzini also noted that the Bellmar varsity managers were led by Bob Batwinis and also included Leonard Lucas, Chuck Sypula and Denny Wilson, while Tom Pollack was the team statistician.

Orrison and the other seniors played their final game for the Hurricanes on Nov. 10,1963, and went out on a winning note by defeating Perryopolis, 27-12, at the latter's field. The win gave Bellmar a 7-3-0 record - its best mark since the 1959 Hurricanes posted a 10-0-0 ledger. But the team missed the WPIAL Class A playoffs because of insufficient points in the Gardner Rating System.

Orrison's talents and achievements that year drew the attention of college coaches and he received several scholarship offers. He chose Virginia Military Institute, where he continued his football career and education and was graduated in 1967 with a bachelor of science degree in engineering. He earned a master of business degree from Georgia State University in 1977.

Often reminded that Mel Renkey, who graduated from Bellmar in 1962 and went to Columbia University in New York City, is the person who “convinced” him to play football in high school, Orrison firmly plants his tongue in his cheek and responds: “I guess you think I should thank Mel, and I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but whenever I watch the Ohio State University band spell the ‘OHIO' on the field, I still wonder if I could have been the sousaphone player to dot the I.”

Orrison also is quick to note that his football jersey number at Bellmar was 30 and that he played end.

There are myriad explanations for its origin, but 30 was the symbolic mark for completion of a story by newspaper reporters many years ago.

There is no “30” in sight for Orrison's recollections, however.

And that's a benefit for his Bellmar Class of 1963 classmates and others who appreciate his multiple talents.

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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