Chaleroi's Chacko was the ultimate team player
By Wayne Stewart
Published: Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Jim “Mouse” Chacko, a former basketball star at Charleroi, prefers to give credit to his teammates for his success than focus on his exploits.
Chacko had plenty of marvelous exploits he could boast about. He was the first Parade basketball All-American from the WPIAL; he was a high school All-American in both football and basketball, and he played in the East versus West Wigwam All-American game in Kansas.
“That was a big thrill,” he said. “I had a good friend, my roommate there, was Kenny Hubbs, a wonderful kid who got killed when his plane crashed due to fog.”
Hubbs' death occurred about 16 months after he was named the National League's Rookie of the Year in 1962.
A third baseman and outfielder, Chacko was good enough in baseball to draw the attention of the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago Cubs, but he turned down contract offers from both.
A 1959 grad of Charleroi High, Chacko joked that he goes back so far “we had Roman numerals on our uniforms.”
As a junior he was a star on the Cougars' WPIAL championship basketball team back when teams had to win theor section to make the playoffs.
“There wasn't any watered down stuff,” he said. “You had to play the best and beat the best.”
Chacko played with some great local athletes.
“Ollie Payne was a year ahead of me in high school when we won the WPIAL basketball championship,” he recalled. “And we had three guys that were Division I college players: myself, Payne, who went to Arizona State, and Al Thiry who went to the University of South Carolina. That's pretty unusual.
“In my sophomore year we got beat in the semifinals by Sharon. We had Myron Pottios on the team and Payne.”
The next year, with Payne, Thiry and Chacko leading the way, the WPIAL title game was a thriller.
“We beat Washington and I made the foul shots that won the game. In my senior year we got beat in the finals by Farrell,” Chacko recalled.
Earlier, Charleroi had beaten the Farrell team that featured Willie Sommerset, an All-American at Duquesne, and Brian Generalovich who played at Pitt, in their holiday tournament.
“And you didn't beat them back in those days (on their court).”
Chacko, who was named All-State as a senior, played on teams that compiled a 72-9 record during his three years at Charleroi.
“We had a pretty good run there,” said the man who set two cherished school records — most points in a season (700) and most points in a game (50). He recalls hitting on 26 of 32 free throws in the record-setting game.
“I led the WPIAL in scoring with something like 26 or 27 points per game,” he said.
Chacko's teams, not only basketball but baseball and football as well, enjoyed a great stretch of success during his career.
“I led American Legion ball in the state in hitting one year at close to .600,” he said.
He and his teammates from his sophomore class through his senior year won eight out of nine championships.
“We got beat in the last game of the season against Donora in baseball or we would've won all nine of the (major sports) championships.”
Such winning ways weren't easy.
“Every team had two or three good players and every baseball team had at least one great pitcher and a good supporting cast,” Chacko added.
He also ran track, which means he “didn't have time to rest.” But back then young people didn't rest much.
“Almost every street corner had a basket,” Chacko said. “And our booster club gave a basket, a net and a ball to (any group) if you had 10 names. I think the game today is lacking so many fundamentals.”
After his college days were through, Chacko stayed in touch with football and baseball as an official. When he lived in Florida and Arizona, he umpired in the Gulf Coast League, and in 1978 and 1979 he worked some spring training games—once calling balls and strikes when legendary fireballer Nolan Ryan was on the mound. He even officiated for ABC-TV's show “Superstars,” which featured some of the nation's best athletes taking part in various sporting events.
When Chacko returned to the Valley, he returned to coaching basketball (earlier he had coached in Florida) and led Charleroi to several section titles.
Chacko, like his father George, who owned more than 350 wins as a basketball coach, is a member of the Mid-Mon Valley All Sports Hall of Fame.
“I got all my (sports) upbringing from my father, who coached basketball and baseball,” Chacko said. “He was my mentor — I was in the gym from five years of age. He taught me everything.”
Wayne Stewart is a freelance writer.
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