Guido: Former Leechburg standout now a U.S. ambassador
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Former Leechburg student-athlete John Phillips is set to become U.S. ambassador to Italy and San Marino next week.
Phillips, a 1960 Leechburg graduate, had his appointment by President Obama confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Aug. 1. He'll begin his duties in Rome on Sept. 12.
Sunday, Phillips returned to Leechburg for a informal reception at the Marconi Club.
Phillips, 70, was the youngest of three brothers to play right end for the Blue Devils in the 1950s. Older brother Bill Phillips, 75, now lives in Northampton, Mass., while middle brother Ernie, 72, resides in Lansing, Mich.
There was a Phillips at right end for Leechburg for six consecutive years. Each Phillips brother wore No. 21.
One of John's biggest games came Oct. 17, 1959, at Dreshar Stadium when Leechburg locked horns with rival Tarentum.
The Redcats had taken a 12-6 lead early in the third period. But two plays after the Tarentum kickoff, Leechburg quarterback Jerry Mamros found Phillips at midfield, and the future ambassador raced into the end zone to complete a 65-yard pass play.
Larry Blake's point after gave the Blue Devils the lead for good in a 27-19 win.
The Blue Devils posted a 6-3 record that season.
Leechburg and the entire Kiski Valley was a great place to grow up, particularly during the post-World War II economic boom.
“Football Friday nights in all those steel towns was always a big deal,” Phillips said last week. “Everybody was working hard, the steel mills were running full blast, the coal mines were going. It was a prosperous area and very dynamic.”
Phillips' father, William, had a Ford dealership in Leechburg.
It's amazing how many people from the Kiski Valley in that era made it big.
For instance, Vandergrift native William Perry was the U.S. Secretary of Defense during the first Clinton Administration. Also, Joseph Cardinal Maida grew up in East Vandergrift and was Archbishop of the Detroit Diocese before serving in the Vatican.
Let's not forget Avonmore native Jill Corey who was married to former Pirates third baseman Don Hoak. Corey (nee: Norma Jean Speranza) was a singer who starred on NBC-TV's “Your Hit Parade” in the 1950s.
Joe McCain, fullback on Kiski Area's undefeated 1964 football team and first baseman on the 1966 WPIAL baseball champs, is a nationally-renowned oral surgeon.
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Zurisko on the mend
One of the Alle-Kiski Valley's most respected game officials also is on the shelf for 2013. Springdale resident Damian Zurisko had open heart surgery just before the season got under way, sidelining him for the entire campaign. Friends indicate that Zurisko is recovering well.
George Guido is a Valley News Dispatch scholastic sports correspondent. His column appears Wednesdays.
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