A-K Hall inducts 8-member class
Memories were relived and tears were shed as the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame welcomed eight new members during the 45th annual induction ceremony Saturday night at the Clarion Hotel ballroom in New Kensington.
Hall of Fame membership grew to 332 members following the induction of N.W. “Skip” Cady, Kelly Morda, Jay Kumar, Dave Szlachetka, Jim Marino, Ron McNabb, Frank B. Fuhrer III and Chipper Harris.
The ceremony began with the recognition of the High School Student-Athlete Honor Roll, which saluted Plum's Aliyah Odom and Burrell's Tom Spagnolo (soccer); Apollo-Ridge's Jesse Zelonka and Highlands' Allan Crastenburg (football); and basketball standouts Brian Papich of Fox Chapel, Zane Clowser of West Shamokin, Krista Pietropola of Plum and Mallory Heinle of St. Joseph.
Freeport's Matt Wolfe earned the Courage Award for persevering during his ongoing battle with cancer. His sister, Emily, was on hand to accept the honor.
All of the inductees were given the chance to thank major influences.
Cady, a 1969 all-state football player at Oakmont High School who resides in Las Vegas, was the first to take the stage.
“I'm a Pittsburgh boy,” Cady said. “I haven't lived here since the early '70s, but I'll always be a Pittsburgh boy.”
Cady emphasized the impact that the Mars Home For Youth had on his childhood. When he attended, it was called the United Presbyterian Home for Children and cared for orphans and children from broken homes.
“Times were tough, but I consider myself the most fortunate person in this room,” said Cady. “The home has influenced thousands and thousands of young boys and girls over the years, and they don't get enough credit.”
Morda scored 2,208 points and reached the PIAA semifinals during her basketball career at Ford City and went on to an illustrious career at St. Vincent.
“I can tell you one thing for sure: I am blessed. Blessed with a loving family, gifted coaches, a supportive community and loyal friends,” said Morda. “They are the reason I am here tonight.
“From each of these blessings in my life, I have acquired a quality, like a puzzle piece, of the teacher and coach I wish to become.”
Kumar, a big-play running back for Riverview and then Clarion, was one of many inductees to become emotional as he gave thanks to his loved ones.
“These podiums do things to people,” he joked. “I've seen guys that I never thought would cry, come up here and cry.”
He reminisced about the joy of seeing individuals come together to achieve success.
“The camaraderie, the friendships, the teamwork … there's nothing like that,” Kumar said.
Szlachetka, a defensive force at linebacker for Burrell and current defensive coordinator and associate coach at Shady Side Academy, quoted his father, Mike.
“He would always tell us about the development of character,” Szlachetka explained. “It can take you a lifetime to create it and three seconds to throw it away.”
Marino led Burrell to the 1965 WPIAL baseball title at Forbes Field and was posthumously inducted. His son, Bob, accepted the honor on his behalf.
“I'm proud and humbled,” Bob Marino said. “He was always a dad first and a coach second.”
Fuhrer was a state champion in golf at Fox Chapel, won three WPIAL titles and played in 26 PGA Tour events during a five-year career. In 2002, the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association named the award for the area's top intercollegiate golfer in his honor.
He thanked his parents for providing the opportunity to hone his craft and the rest of his family for supporting him throughout his career.
“Dad, you gave me the best opportunity to work with the best people and try to learn the game,” he said. “I will forever be indebted for that.”
McNabb and Harris grew up together and were teammates on Valley's 1979 state championship team. Both stressed how special it was to be inducted on the same night.
McNabb graduated as Valley's all-time leader in assists and earned a scholarship to IUP.
“None of this would be possible tonight if it wasn't for my mom and dad,” McNabb said. “My mom and dad are the two Hall of Famers here tonight.”
Harris played collegiately at Robert Morris and was selected in the seventh round of the NBA Draft by the Kansas City Kings in 1984. He ended the evening with an emotional speech.
“God puts people in your life because He's giving you what He knows you need,” said Harris.
He closed the night by directing his words of wisdom to the students on the High School Student-Athlete Honor Roll.
“As you go through this journey,” he said, “remember, don't hesitate to say thank you to the people who have touched you.
Jason Orfao is a freelance writer.