Opening of Bellmar gym stirs memories
By Ron Paglia
Published: Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
You know how it goes. One thing leads to another.
That was the case with recent references to the opening of the new gymnasium at Rostraver Junior High School on Friday, Dec. 7, 1956.
“What about Bellmar High's new gym?” a reader in North Belle Vernon asked in response to that backward glance. “Didn't it open around the same time?”
Bellmar played a major role in the debut of the gym at Rostraver, bowing to the host Leopards, 45-42, in the first varsity scholastic basketball game played there. But Bellmar didn't move into its own modern facility until two years later – on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 1958.
The Hurricanes, with Kenny Clark making his debut as head coach, had previously played its home games at Marion Junior High School in Fairhope.
They inaugurated the new gym in North Belle Vernon by defeating Perry-Tyrone, 53-52.
But the honor of posting the first official victory at the Bellmar layout went to Vernon Junior High School, which throttled Bethlehem-Joint, 45-35, in an afternoon game on Dec. 7.
“I remember it vividly,” said Vance Bunardzya of Rostraver Township, who was in the Vernon lineup that day. “It was such a thrill for a bunch of junior high kids. We had only one practice in the new gym prior to that game and we were all so excited because it was the first time most of us had ever played in a gym that had glass backboards. We ended up winning our section that season. Jack Flora was our coach; what a great guy he was.”
Bob Zeli led Flora's charges with 18 points and Jay Mohney added 10. Others in the Vernon lineup on that cloudy and chilly afternoon were Bunardzya, Gene Randall, Fred Lotti, Dan Hammerash, Tom Manning, Joe Walko, Jim Brizzi and Fran Touche.
The first varsity game at the Bellmar gym came a few hours later and proved to be a “spine tingling affair,” according to The Daily Independent of Monessen.
Carl Osborne, Bellmar's veteran 6-4 senior guard, led all scorers with 16 points, including the two that made the difference in the game. Osborne connected on a field goal with only seconds left on the clock to give the Hurricanes a 53-52 win over the visitors from Perryopolis.
Highly-touted sophomore Daryle Ruby, up from Vernon Junior High, and Dennis Swiantek also hit double digits for Bellmar, scoring 10 apiece. Others contributing to the victory, according to the newspaper lineups, were Bill Beggs, Ron Feher, Tom O'Toole, Ron Coates and Walt Lautsch. Dan Boyle (15), Charles Cuppett (11) and Len Swiantek (10) looked best for Perry-Tyrone.
The Bellmar Junior Varsity made it a clean sweep for the day with a 42-21 romp over the P-T crew. Ruby set the pace in the preliminary game with 15 points and John Kasuda added 10.
Although several games followed those openers on Dec. 2, the new gymnasium and other additions at Bellmar High School weren't formally dedicated until Wednesday, Dec. 10, in ceremonies that began at 8 p.m.
The building, which included home economics, band, conference, science and classrooms as well as a complete physical education complex, had already been in use since Nov. 12.
Invitations were extended to Bellmarette Joint School District officials, civic and municipal organizations to attend the dedication festivities, which also were open to the general public.
Earl Shea, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Building Authority, officially presented the building to the school district. J.E. (Ted) Kuhn, chairman of the special building committee and chairman of the Bellmarette Joint Board, accepted the building and dedicated it.
Robert VanBremen, supervising principal of joint schools, presided over the program, and invocation was offered by the Rev. William Schotz, pastor of the First Methodist Church of Belle Vernon.
The Bellmar High School Band, under the direction of Edmund Rizzutto, played the National Anthem and other musical selections, including the BHS Alma Mater.
The high school choir, directed by Joseph D. Petaccia, with Donna Matthews as piano accompanist, also performed, as did featured soloist Kathy Urban.
High school principal Raymond Barker extended the welcome and introduced the architects for the expansion project, C.C. Compton and E.E. Compton, and representatives of the various firms that were engaged in construction of the building.
Harry Riffle, Fayette County Schools superintendent, and other school officials were introduced, along with members of the joint board, faculty governing agencies and other guests.
Benediction was pronounced by the Very Rev. Henry Hanse of St. Sebastian Roman Catholic Church in Belle Vernon.
Tours of the new building followed the dedication program.
South Union High put a damper on the evening by defeating Bellmar, 56-48, in an exhibition basketball game played as part of the historic date. It was the first loss of the season for the Hurricanes, who had three players in double figures – Feher, 13, Coates, 11, and Beggs, 10. The game also marked the debut of Milt Dupree as a member of the Bellmar varsity.
Monongahela Valley Catholic High School's first football team made its debut in 1958, not 1959, as we recently noted.
The Spartans, coached by former Duquesne University and Pittsburgh Steelers standout Val Jansante, were slated for a five-game schedule against strictly junior varsity competition in 1958. The slated included Thomas Jefferson, North Catholic, Central Catholic, South Catholic and Ellsworth, with all games on the road because MVC did not have a home field.
Jansante told The Charleroi Mail in a pre-season preview that his initial squad comprised the following area players: Art Galiffa, John Kubasik, John Amatangelo, Lou Davis, Ron Rozick, Nick Ninos, all of Donors; Jack LaCarte, Angelo Delulo, Tony Cosgrove, Jack McLuckie and Phil Francesch, all of Charleroi, and Jack Petrick, of Bentleyville.
The Spartan mentor also noted that a number of Monongahela and Carroll Township residents also were squad members but did not offer individual names.
All of the players were sophomores or freshmen.
MVC did field its first true varsity team in 1959, but the 1958 squad was the first to represent the new school in scholastic competition.
(If you have memories to share or story ideas, contact Ron Paglia, a freelance writer forTrib Total Media, at email@example.com or c/o The Valley Independent, Eastgate 19, Monessen, PA 15062.)
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