Hoops begin without longtime Deer Lakes coach

| Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008

The high school basketball season got underway last weekend, and one familiar face missing was Dave Thompson's.

The veteran Deer Lakes coach stepped down several weeks before the preseason started.

Thompson, 61, retired as an educator after 38 years in June, but was hoping to continue as varsity coach for the Lancers.

After several summer tournaments, Thompson decided to bring down the curtain on his coaching career was well.

"We played in a couple of summer leagues, but when August rolled around, I kicked back and saw I wasn't going to get ready for the new school year, and I just decided to fully retire," Thompson said.

Thompson had come out of coaching retirement to guide the Deer Lakes program the past two seasons, following a 15-year stint that started in 1978 at Springdale and ended at Deer Lakes. His teams compiled a 179-99 record at Deer Lakes, with nine appearances in the WPIAL playoffs and one PIAA appearance; with Springdale, it was 89-37, including a WPIAL playoff appearance in 1979, his rookie season.

"I took a lot of pride as a coach, I looked at myself as a program-builder," Thompson said. During his stints at Springdale and Deer Lakes, he started with youth programs as early as the fourth grade and watched his players grow through the years.

Thompson thought outside the box before the term became popular. At Deer Lakes, he had his players participate in the nationally acclaimed Ozanam Summer League in Pittsburgh's Hill District.

"I thought we had to play a different type of kid," Thompson said. "Our kids grew up real fast."

Thompson's career got off to an interesting start. While attending Tarentum High School, he played four baseball seasons for the Little Pirates, the ultimate baseball travel team of the 1960s. After graduating from Point Park College, Thompson met with legendary coach Jack Heimbuecher, the Little Pirates manager and Springdale football coach.

Heimbuecher told the jobless Thompson that he would teach at Springdale -- and, by the way, coach the ninth-grade football team. Thompson, though, hadn't even applied with the Allegheny Valley School District.

"Next day, I met with the superintendent and the assistant superintendent, and I was working at Springdale," Thompson said with a laugh. "Those things just aren't done today."

Thompson learned the coaching trade from some of the greats. Besides Heimbuecher, his college baseball coach was Frankie Gustine. In the 1977-78 high school basketball season, he was an assistant to coaching legend Chuck DeVenzio, before taking over the head coaching job the following season.

"I was very fortunate," Thompson said. "DeVenzio had a special way of teaching things. I also learned from baseball coaches Frank Basilone and John Fugal."

Thompson listed as one of his coaching thrills the appointment as 1987 coach in the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic at the Civic Arena.

After 11 years at Deer Lakes, Thompson stepped away to watch his sons, Seth and Jordan, perform athletically in the Highlands school district.

Thompson still plans on following sports in the area from the stands and hasn't closed the door to coming back as a coach down the road.

Thompson's assistant from last year, Kevin Cochran, is the new head coach at Deer Lakes, assisted by Seth Thompson.

New state record

Pennsylvania has a new all-time, career rushing yards leader.

Steelton-Highspire's Jeremiah Young recently broke the previous record held by East Stroudsburg's James Mungro.

Mungro, who later played for Syracuse University and the Indianapolis Colts, rushed for 8,432 yards from 1994-97.

Young, who left last week's PIAA Class A semifinal game against Schuylkill Haven with an ankle injury, now has 8,945 yards rushing. He is expected to play in the state title game against Clairton on Friday at Hersheypark Stadium at 1 p.m. He needs just 55 yards to hit the 9,000 mark.

Pitt's LeSean McCoy was well on his way to breaking the rushing record in 2005 before he suffered a broken leg to end his high school career with Harrisburg's Bishop McDevitt High School. McCoy finished with 6,640 yards.

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