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Stellar Ford City team marks anniversary

| Wednesday, March 28, 2012

As the 1961-62 basketball season approached, Ford City found itself, for the first time since joining the WPIAL, mired in a three-year drought without a section basketball title.

With everybody returning from the previous season's 14-10 squad, the Glassers, as the school was nicknamed then, were eager to get the 1961-62 campaign get under way. After all, Ford City had won 27 section titles in a 41-year span.

"Certainly, growing up, Ford City was like the New York Yankees of Section 1," said Charlie Schmaus, a key member of the team. "I watched some great players from the stands, and they had a great thing going in a great little town."

The starting lineup of Schmaus, Blaine Pendleton, Ed Hudek, Ron Dillard and Butch Lazaroff wanted to make their mark.

"We played everywhere," Schmaus said. "It seemed like just about every other garage in an alley had a hoop on it, and the borough officials kept the lights on late at the parks."

In the season's opener, the Glassers, coached by the legendary Hube Rupert, showed notice that they would be a special team by winning at Tarentum, 57-42.

Schmaus sprained his ankle and missed two games — one of those being a 54-51 loss to Central Catholic, not yet a WPIAL school.

But Ford City then reeled off nine wins in a row, many against WPIAL powers such as Sharon, New Castle and defending Section 11 champion Springdale.

Har-Brack handed Ford City its only section loss, 42-40.

The Glassers then started another winning streak, avenging the Har-Brack loss, 41-33. The Feb. 2 game against Vandergrift was a 65-52 win, the final game between the longtime rivals as Vandergrift was ready for its merger with Bell-Avon High School to form Kiski Area.

Ford City, fittingly, clinched its 28th section crown Feb. 16 against another longtime rival, Kittanning, with a 73-37 victory.

The Glassers concluded the regular season by winning a 54-53 thriller at New Kensington.

Ford City opened the WPIAL playoffs by rolling past Connellsville, 50-31.

In the quarterfinals, the Glassers trailed Midland — the WPIAL's only undefeated WPIAL team — for much of the first half. But the Leopards were called for a technical foul for having six men on the floor, and that helped turn the tide for Ford City. Schmaus made the technical, and Pendleton's two free throws with 6:24 left in the game gave the Glassers the lead for good in a 38-35 victory.

Next loomed Farrell, winner of five state titles during the previous 10 seasons. The Steelers featured coaching legend Ed McCluskey, along with future NBA star Jack Marin. Ford City was without Schmaus, sidelined with an abscessed tooth.

"Sixth-man Freddie Henderson did a great job; he filled in beautifully for me," Schmaus said.

But Pendleton scored 23 points, including 13 of 14 from the foul line, as the Glassers took control in the third quarter and posted a 49-38 victory to reach the finals against Uniontown at Pitt Field House.

Schmaus tried to play against Uniontown, but left the game early.

"I didn't have enough time to recuperate," Schmaus recalled. "I came out about three minutes in, and only played sparingly."

Uniontown's vaunted full-court press was too much for the Glassers to overcome. All-stater Don Yates had 22 points to lead the Red Raiders to a 50-34 victory.

The Glassers finished 23-3 overall.

Schmaus went to Virginia Military Institute and played on the school's NCAA team in 1964. He was an assistant coach in 1976 and the head coach in '77 when the Keydets made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, including a win over Duquesne in '77.

Schmaus sells real estate in the Myrtle Beach area and serves as an evaluator of college officials.

Rupert coached for four more seasons before retiring in 1966 with 333 wins and 11 section titles. He died in 2006, and the floor at Ford City was named in his honor in 2010.

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