Nine Plum athletic greats honored at banquet
Joe Ionta didn't graduate from Plum High School, but through more than 30 years of teaching and coaching in the school district, Ionta is woven into the fabric that makes up the strong tradition that is the 62-year history of Plum athletics
Ionta coached basketball and is the longtime head mentor of both the Mustangs boys and girls cross country and track and field teams. “Look at you!” is an expression Ionta often utters when someone does something well.
Last week, Ionta and eight other Plum athletic greats, were honored for doing many things well. Ionta, Rob Carter, Matt Cassidy, Jill Markowski-Kiss, John Moses, Marty Scarano, R.J. Umberger, Scott Urch and Cara Yannotti-Clayton were inducted into the Plum High School Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony in front of 275 at the Edgewood Country Club in Churchill.
“To be inducted is a humbling experience,” Ionta said. “It took a special village to get me up here. I've learned more from the athletes at Plum than I taught them.”
Carter ran track for Ionta, and the 1993 graduate was a fifth-place finisher in the 400 meters at WPIALs and was a member of the school-record-holding 4x400 relay team.
“Nights like this are when I can appreciate how fortunate I am,” Carter said.
“When you get caught up in life, it's hard sometimes to take a step back.”
Carter said coaches, teachers and others “gave us every opportunity to succeed. It makes you appreciate how fortunate we are to have come from Plum.”
Andy Sebastian, known by many as the public address announcer for Plum football games for close to three decades, served as the master of ceremonies, and said he was excited to be a part of one of the great nights of the year for Plum athletics.
“Time flies when you are having fun,” Sebastian said. “They left me with some lasting memories of their time at Plum. They also left memories for themselves.”
The Class of 2012 is the eighth to be inducted since the hall of fame was established in 2005. The inductees, which make up the largest class to be recognized, bring the total number of hall of famers to 63.
Past inductees in attendance were Tony Bonura (2011), Marilyn Bott (2011), Rich Demko (2010), John Garcia (2008), John Hicks (2009), Tim Holt (2008), Bill Jackson (2009), Dave McDowell (2009), Dave Martin (2008), Amy Williams-Scheuneman (2011), Geoff Alexander (2011) and Chuck Miller (2008).
The common theme for the evening was the inductees' expressions of appreciation for everyone who has gotten them to this point.
Matt Cassidy, a 2002 graduate, was one of four Plum graduates to win PIAA state titles in wrestling. Other Mustangs to win state titles were Cassidy's uncle, Steve Cassidy; 2007 inductee Brian Cipollone; and 2005 inductee Bill Closson.
Matt Cassidy set school records in football for most yards rushing in a single game (326) and most career interceptions (15).
“Without (coaches, teachers, family, friends and teammates), none of the records would've been possible,” he said.
Umberger, the alternate captain for the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets, was a late addition to this year's hall-of-fame class as a result of the NHL's ongoing lockout.
He played two seasons for the Plum varsity ice hockey team and led the Mustangs to a league championship in 1998 before embarking on a journey that ultimately led to a professional career.
“I can't believe I am still playing the sport I love,” Umberger said.
“(Winning the 1998 championship) is one of the greatest moments I will ever have in hockey.”
Markowski-Kiss graduated in 1999 and had an all-star basketball career at Plum. She finished as the all-time leading scorer in the history of Plum varsity girls basketball and is one of four Plum female basketball players to score more than 1,000 points.
“We played all of our sports with heart,” she said.
The hall of fame continued its efforts to connect the hall of fame inductees with the student-athletes of today. Several current Plum athletes attended the banquet ceremony and nine of them — Jake Diguilio, Anthony Zummo, Adam Molinaro, Krista Pietropola, Brandon McCallum, Matt Dombrowski, Zach Crawford, Kyle Smecker and Kara Ioannou — escorted the members of the Class of 2012 into the banquet room.
“(The Class of 2012) serves as a reminder for young people to have something to shoot for,” Sebastian said.
John Ratesic, the presi- dent and chairman of the hall of fame since its beginning, will step down from his position after this year, but he plans to remain an adviser to the hall-of-fame committee.
“I've been able to work with so many outstanding people. I've enjoyed every minute of it,” he said.
For information on the hall of fame, including how to nominate someone for induction, visit plum sportshof.com.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at email@example.com.