Those who are part of soccer legacy can't forget memorable area games
Cougar Stadium in Charleroi has been the site of a variety of athletic events during its more than 65-year history.
On that field a number of sports have been contested, including scholastic football, baseball, soccer and track; youth baseball and football; professional baseball tryouts and exhibitions, and, yes, even professional wrestling.
Who can forget the night Haystacks Calhoun knocked the door to the dressing room off its hinges, splintering it into pieces, much to the chagrin of his fellow wrestlers who were in various stages of undress inside?
One of the most memorable events at the Charleroi Area High School Stadium was a soccer game 37 years ago -- on Sunday, May 12, 1968. Some 1,500 fans witnessed the National Amateur Cup regional playoff affair between the Dunlevy Redbirds and the Simon Pure Soccer Club of Buffalo, N.Y.
And it is just one of dozens of unforgettable times recalled by Nick "Bozo" Pascarella, Dennis Laskey and Jack Jacobs, who are very much a part of the storied history of the game in the mid-Monongahela Valley.
"That was a great game," Pascarella, 60, said during a recent gathering to reminisce with Laskey and Jacobs at the Gallatin soccer field. "They (Simon Pure) came into town with a strong reputation, and we felt we had a darn good club, too. Both teams knew what was on the line, how important the game was, and it was a hard-fought, very physical affair."
Jacobs, who was only 19 at the time, and Pascarella were teammates on that Dunlevy team, which fell victim to a confusing ruling in the 4-3 loss to Buffalo that sunny afternoon as the New Yorkers advanced to the semifinal round of the national playoffs.
"I had played junior ball for a few years before moving up to the senior level," recalled Jacobs, who will turn 56 in June. "For me and the other younger players to take part in a game of that magnitude, well, it was something I'll never forget."
Alex Crawley, Buffalo's inside right forward, scored the winning goal on a pass from Noel Wilson, who had a free kick that resulted from a confusing call by referee Paul Lieberman, of Cleveland.
Lieberman charged Dunlevy goalie Dave Paterline with taking too many steps with the ball after Paterline stopped a Buffalo shot. That set up the free kick, and Wilson tipped the ball to Crawley instead of shooting it himself. The ball got by Paterline and the Dunlevy defenders for the winning goal.
"If the rule about steps is a new one, then we knew nothing about it," the late Roger Rossi, the legendary Dunlevy soccer figure who served as the Redbirds' manager then, said after the game. "We've been playing under the rule which allows a goalie as many steps as he wants as long as he dribbles the ball. That's been the rule for as long as I can remember and this one really floored me. It was heartbreaking to lose this way."
While the ruling was painful, Rossi was quick to praise the Buffalo team.
"I don't want to take anything away from them by complaining about the call," he told reporters. "They have an excellent team; they should go far in this tournament."
For the record, the Chicago Kickers defeated the Detroit Carpathia Kickers 2-1 for the 1968 national championship.
In the game at Charleroi, Dunlevy jumped to a 1-0 lead with about 10 minutes gone in the first half when Bob D'Amico hit from 15 yards out from the left side of the goal. Buffalo tied the score five minutes later on a shot by Wilson, but D'Amico put the Redbirds back in front 2-1 with nine minutes left in the half when he took a pass from Nick Pascarella and scored from in close. Crawley knotted the count two minutes later on a direct kick from 15 yards away, and it was 2-2 at intermission.
Buffalo dominated the second half, keeping the ball in Dunlevy territory after Frank DeRosa gave Dunlevy its last lead at 3-2 with a close shot midway through the half. With 25 minutes gone, Alvin Humphries took a shot that rebounded off the Dunlevy goal and kicked it into the nets for the score that tied the game. Less than 10 minutes remained in the game when the confusing "steps" infraction was called, and Buffalo clinched the decision.
In addition to Paterline, Pascarella, Jacobs and D'Amico, other members of the Redbirds included Ernie "Banjo" Truffa, Joe Kurty, Jon Kruczek, Ralph "Butch" Rossi, Jack Shannon, Ron Tumbry, Steve "Chimes" Kovich, Felix "Pino" Cianflone, Ed Lewellyn, Lou Nichols, Harry Wiesz, Frank DeRosa and Chuck Louttit.
Joining Roger Rossi as team officials were his brother Ralph "Beef" Rossi, Miller Savage and Lou Smith. The Redbirds rebounded from that cup game setback to win the West Penn Senior Cup championship and posted an overall 22-6-2 record that season.
Cianflone, a 20-year-old relative newcomer to the area soccer scene, won the Keystone Soccer League scoring title that season with 25 goals. It was his goal in a 2-1 victory over Weirton that gave Dunlevy the district Amateur Cup championship and the berth in the national playoffs against Buffalo.
Pascarella and Laskey were involved in another game of note, this one on a not so sunny Sunday, Dec. 21, 1980, at Dunlevy. The results were much warmer, however, as the Redbirds defeated Beadling 1-0 to win the district National Amateur Cup championship.
"It was bitterly cold," Laskey, 54, recalled. "Someone said it was in the low 20s at gametime, but I don't think they figured in the wind chill factor. The field was frozen solid; it was like playing on concrete. Everytime you got knocked down, you came up bleeding. I had cuts all over my backside and my legs."
Dunlevy, which started the game with only 10 players, and Beadling scrambled through 85 minutes of scoreless play, and it appeared overtime would take place. With just under five minutes to play, however, Dunlevy stopped a Beadling attack and began moving the ball upfield. The Redbirds closed in on the visitors' goal, and Beadling was called for an obstruction penalty.
"I knew this was our shot," recalled Art Richardson, Dunlevy's player-coach. "A couple of guys asked me about taking the shot, but I remember telling Dennis (Laskey), 'Look at their wall ... I'm going to kick it ... I'm going to hook it for the post.' I really thought I could make it."
And he did.
With four Beadling players standing directly in front of him, Richardson, a Monongahela native who enjoyed many successful years as a player and coach, slammed the ball to their left and into the right corner of the goal, out of the reach of Terriers goalie Steve Klein.
Al Lupori was general manger of the 1980 Redbirds, who also included Jeff Heino, Lew DiBernardi, Matt Engle, Angelo Mariotti, Marty Strnisha, Jim Strnisha, Roger Shaw, Tony Pearson, Dave Turner, Alan Blackwell, Billy White, Tom "Fuzzy" Martin, J.C. Martin, Gary Weber and Gary Tissue.
The weather conditions for the 1980 game, as throughout their careers, meant little to Laskey and Pascarella, and Jacobs supported their feelings.
"In those days, the only thing that delayed playing was a death in the family," Jacobs smiled. "The season started in the fall and ran through the winter and into the spring."
"We played under all (weather) conditions, rain, snow, sleet," Pascarella said. "We were like the mailman; nothing stopped us."
Little stopped guys like Pascarella, Jacobs and Laskey, from playing soccer in myriad villages throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.
"It was the thing to do in those days," said Laskey, who at age 54 is still playing today. "Dunlevy started fielding teams at the turn of the century, and it was a big deal to go down to the field on Sundays and watch the men play. As kids, we used to run up and down the sidelines. We'd chase a ball that went out of bounds and get all excited about handing it to the referee or one of the players."
For Pascarella, playing meant carrying on a family tradition that began with his father, the late Alex Pascarella, in the 1930s.
"Gallatin was no different from Dunlevy, Harmarville, Beadling, Monongahela, Hazelkirk or those other towns," Pascarella said. "They all had soccer teams. I can remember at one point there were more than 50 teams in the Washington County and Keystone leagues."
Pascarella began playing organized soccer at age 13 in 1958 with the Gallatin junior team. Two years later, he moved up to the Washington County League. He finished his career in 1996 playing in an Over-50 league.
"It was right here, on this field," Pascarella said of his final game as he pointed to the Gallatin pitch. "It all began and ended here."
Jacobs played for several teams, including Dunlevy and Heidelberg, over his eight-year career in the Keystone Soccer League.
"I had played junior ball for a few years before that," Jacobs said. "It was something to get the call for the senior teams, and I enjoyed all of the time I played there. I made some lifelong friendships; there's a special bond among soccer players. I have nothing but good memories."
Jacobs also enjoyed a successful career as a coach on the youth and high school levels. His link with Pascarella was strengthened when he was the women's varsity coach at Elizabeth Forward High School and Pascarella's daughter was one of his players. Jacobs concluded his coaching career as an assistant to longtime friend Danny Haywood at Charleroi Area High School.
"Jack was an excellent player, a fierce competitor," Laskey said. "He had the skills and he had a good head for the game. He sensed everything going on around him, and he responded appropriately. Those attributes carried over into his coaching career. There are many young men and women who benefited from his knowledge of the game and his ability to teach it to them."
Laskey, who plays for Beadling Over-40 and Mon Valley United Over-30 teams these days, also has been a successful coach on the high school and college levels for many years. He is the varsity men's coach at California University of Pennsylvania and also is highly involved in the U.S. Olympic Development Program.
Pascarella, meanwhile, continues to pass along his knowledge of the game and experience to younger players as coach of his grandson's Under-14 team.
"It's a lot of fun," said Pascarella, who previously was an assistant to Tom DeRosa at Ringgold High School. "The kids are great to work with. They show a lot of respect for what I can offer them as a coach, and they are totally committed to the game. We play outdoor and indoor seasons, so it's virtually a year-round thing, but that's what you have to do to improve and succeed."
While the Under-14 youth team has enjoyed success, Pascarella's presence also has paid dividends for the Elizabeth Forward School District soccer program. He served as a volunteer coach at EF Middle School last fall and that team posted a 16-0-0 record.
Like Pascarella, who helps run the family's landscaping business based in Forward Township, Jacobs and Laskey subscribe to the "playing up" theory; that is, competing against older teams in the top (premier) division of a league.
"That's the only way to get better, by playing those kind of teams," Pascarella said. "Sure, you might lose some games, but it doesn't prove anything if you're winning 10-0. If you want to be one of the best, you have to play against the best."
Laskey and Jacobs agreed and said that attitude helped them develop as players.
"It's hard to believe now that Nick was only four years older than I when I started in the Keystone League," Jacobs said. "I remember hearing so much about him and the others when I moved up. Hey, these were men I was playing against, and I was a little nervous. But once you get on the field and understand that you can play against them, your confidence grows. You get a sense that you belong."
Laskey said he'll "never forget" his first senior league game.
"I'm not sure that I had even turned 16 yet, but the (Dunlevy) seniors asked me to play in a Keystone League game," he said. "It was at Frick Park in Pittsburgh against the Pittsburgh Internationals. They were known as the Intros and they had a helluva good team. I got bounced around pretty good, but it was a great feeling being in that game."
Laskey also remembers one of his first encounters with Pascarella, at a time when they were not teammates.
"We were playing at Dunlevy and there I was, dribbling the ball down the field in front of our bench," Laskey laughed as he looked at Pascarella. "Next thing I know, here comes Bozo, and he's headed straight at me. He gave me a hip and arm, and I think I flew about 6 feet through the air before landing on my butt on the sideline. I had heard so much about him (Pascarella), and I started to make some comment. Before I could finish complaining, however, the coach told me to get off my (expletive) and get back in the game."
Jacobs, who retired from a long career with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare last year, remembers Laskey as a familiar sight in Dunlevy.
"As we said, Sunday meant soccer in every town that had a team," Jacobs said. "And he (Dennis) was always eager to get started. He'd be wearing his uniform and sitting on the front porch waiting to go down to the field. He was always ready to play."
Laskey smiled at Jacobs' memories and reminded his colleagues, "I still can't wait for Sundays."