Charleroi's Rich Saccani honored by Upper St. Clair
Charleroi's Richard Saccani, an unheralded but remarkably successful tennis coach and standout player, was one of 11 individuals inducted into the 14th annual Upper St. Clair High School's “Halls of Fame” on Sept. 13.
The purpose of the Halls of Fame is to identify and to honor those who have distinguished themselves in academics, the arts or athletics at the high school, collegiate or professional level.
Saccani, a 1962 graduate of Charleroi High School, was one of three athletic inductees along with basketball standout Alexandra Gensler and golf star turned pro football coach Todd Haley.
The Arts Hall of Fame inductees included Paul Fox, Alexandra Mayr-Gracik and Megan Zediker Mullen.
Tara “Tia” Babu, Eric “Rocky” Feuer, Noah Gray, Joseph Pickel and Jessie Ramey comprised the Academics Hall of Fame.
Saccani started Upper St. Clair's boys' tennis program in 1968 and guided the Panthers for 24 years before retiring in 1991.
Over that span, Upper St. Clair compiled an amazing 404-43 (.904) cumulative record and only six different schools defeated the Panthers.
Saccani's squads won six WPIAL team championships and had five undefeated seasons with five individual state champions. There were no different classifications for WPIAL tennis those days nor were there team state tournaments. Upper St. Clair won its first section title in the program's second year of existence and first WPIAL title in 1971.
A lifelong resident of Charleroi, Saccani was also a mathematics and engineering teacher at Upper St. Clair from 1966 through 2001.
At the induction ceremony and banquet held at the school's theater and nutrition center, many of Saccani's former players returned. The inductees were further recognized prior to the football team's home victory over Peters Township. Saccani was noticeably touched by the entire event.
“Oh heaven yes this mean so much,” he said. “To be away from the tennis program for 22 years and to receive this is a great honor. Seeing my old players and reading some of their letters was the most touching thing. We had a special team and it really wasn't about tennis or championships. It was about making people feel special.”
His impact on the students and players he taught and coached is enduring according to Dr. Jeffrey T. Cooper, who was a starter on Saccani's 1982 WPIAL championship team. Cooper is now a transplant surgeon at the Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Mass.
“Mr. Saccani wanted us to realize that each of us was much more capable of succeeding than any of us could have imagined,” said Cooper. “I will always be grateful he was able to instill a sense of confidence in myself and pride that I played for him and the team.”
Cooper said that remembering the exhausting training under Saccani, which consisted of endless hours running the high school pool steps, helped him during his often sleep-deprived surgical residency days.
“I can't tell you the number of times I though about those times and knowing that having survived the stress of playing competitive tennis, that I could survive anything.
“I try to instill the same lessons with the surgical residents that I mentor.”
Saccani was the USTA Middle States Tennis Association's and Allegheny Mountain Tennis Association's Coach of the Year in 1980 and was honored by the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame's Western Chapter in 1975.
After his scholastic days he attended nearby California State College and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics. He was the tennis team's top singles player and helped the 1963 team win the conference title and finish fourth nationally in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
He returned to his collegiate alma mater a few weeks before the start of the 1990 women's tennis season and coached the Vulcans for four seasons.
John Pierce Watkins, who was Cal U's president from 1977-92, hired him. Watkins was Saccani's assistant collegiate coach in the 1960s under the late Allen G. Welsh while also serving as a longtime English professor.
Saccani's initial Cal U team went 8-4. He then became the first tennis coach in the PSAC to actively recruit International as well as American players. The women's tennis team went a perfect 50-0 in dual matches over the next three years with conference championships in 1991 and 1993.
“He was absolutely the most focused, dedicated committed young athlete I ever encountered,” said Watkins, who grew up in Denbo and resides in Fallowfield Township. “He was ferociously motivated and was the same way as a head coach. You don't see that kind of drive in most people.
“Rich is a good man; and you were going to learn to play tennis if he was your coach, I'll tell you that.”
Bruce Wald is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.