Coach's skill, courage led to historic win
Before he was a coach, or even a principal, Henry DiVirgilio was a teacher.
His daughter, Annette “Netty” DiVirgilio, remembers him as a good listener who related to his students.
“I think that's why he liked coaching so much, because he really was a teacher,” she said.
Mr. DiVirgilio of Washington, formerly of Perryopolis, died on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, in Delmont. He was 93.
He grew up in Whitsett, the second-oldest of nine children, and went on to become the basketball coach with the most wins in the history of Frazier School District in Perryopolis.
Mr. DiVirgilio, a veteran of World War II who served in the Pacific Theater, was a baseball player who was inducted into the Fayette County Baseball Hall of Fame.
Mr. DiVirgilio coached baseball and football, but it was in basketball that he left his mark in Perryopolis.
He retired with 457 wins in a 30-year career that included coaching the Commodores to the WPIAL Class B title in 1969 — the only WPIAL basketball title in the school's history.
Mr. DiVirgilio taught math and science, then worked 25 years as a principal. He retired from the district in 1983. About 20 years later, the high school gymnasium was named in his honor.
Although Mr. DiVirgilio coached numerous section champions at Frazier, the history-making team of 1969 will be most remembered.
Mr. DiVirgilio's Commodores knocked off Center, 69-56, in the title game with a lineup that included Wes Ramsey, who said the team would never have made history if not for Mr. DiVirgilio.
“For one, he had the intestinal fortitude to use as many as four black kids at a time and that didn't go over too well back then. It just wasn't popular in the town,” Ramsey said. “Plus, he instituted the man-to-man defense and we would have never gotten out of the section if we played zone defense back then. We didn't start anybody over six feet (tall) ... . He was one heck of a coach. He was an innovator.”
Mr. DiVirgilio was a member of the Sons of Italy and a fourth-degree Knights of Columbus member. He sang in the choir of St. John the Baptist Church in Perryopolis until he was 90.
Annette DiVirgilio said her father, who was a hard worker, sometimes took a second job in construction or masonry to provide for his family.
“We all enjoyed his achievements,” she said. “We were some of his most loyal fans.”
He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Elizabeth “Betsy” Pirlo DiVirgilio; daughters Diane Levkulich, Michele Buttermore, Annette “Netty” DiVirgilio and Laurie Galley; four grandsons; three great-grandsons; sisters Louise Giovanelli and Loretta Gabor, and brothers Edmond, Dino and Russell DiVirgilio.
A prayer service will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, followed by a Mass of Christian burial in St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church, 3332 Pittsburgh Road, Perryopolis.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Frazier High School sports program or St. John's choir.
Jeff Oliver contributed. Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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