Players salute Ford City basketball icon
FORD CITY - Hube Rupert seemed surprised that so many girls were attending the basketball camp named after him.
The landscape of sports has changed a lot since Rupert last coached Ford City's boys basketball team in 1966, but his legacy remains.
To measure that legacy Friday, one needn't look to the banner in Red Mihalik Gymnasium at Ford City High School and count the section titles he helped win; seven as an assistant, 11 as a head coach. The former players who returned to meet Rupert were a more accurate gauge.
There were more former players present, nearly 30, than campers. One traveled from as far west as Las Vegas, and another still holds Rupert as close to his heart as he did when he played for Ford City in 1937.
For the third consecutive year, these former players, in conjunction with the Ford City High School Alumni Association, held the Hube Rupert basketball camp, at the end of which Rupert arrived to reminisce and to present the recipient of his scholarship with a check for $1,000.
The Coach Hube Rupert scholarship is paid for by contributions from Rupert's ex-players, and this year's winner, Cara Lyle, will be attending Pitt, Rupert's alma mater, in the fall.
"It was amazing to see all these people come back from how long ago and to sit with him and see how much it means to him," Lyle said. "At some point, he touched the basketball floor, and that's just very powerful to sit there and see how much a gym can mean."
When Lyle, a three-sport athlete at Ford City, played junior high basketball, her team had a play called 'Hube.' She said that Rupert told her it would have been "unthinkable" to have had a girls basketball team when he was coaching.
"There was another point where he said something about keeping the winning going," Lyle said. "Someone told him that the girls team has been showing the boys team up, and he was like, 'I'd be ashamed if I was one of the boys,' joking around."
Rupert, 95, has been inducted into the Armstrong County and Western Pennsylvania sports hall of fames. He began his coaching career as an assistant in 1934 under Neenie Campbell, whose brother, Billy Campbell, was a head basketball coach at Duquesne University.
Rupert became Ford City's head coach in 1943. He coached for one season before leaving to fight in World War II. In the two seasons Rupert was absent, James Davis led the Sabers. Rupert returned and reclaimed his job in 1946.
From 1946-66, Rupert led Ford City to 11 Class A, Section I titles and one WPIAL championship, in 1948. That same year, the Sabers were runners-up in the PIAA, losing to Norristown, 30-23, in the state finals.
Three members of that 1948 team were present yesterday. The 1956 team had the most representatives, and one of those men, Gene Lazaroff, the FCHS alumni association foundation chairman, said that the basketball camp and scholarship were created to pay tribute to Rupert for all that he gave his players.
"He gave a lot of us the opportunity to go to school," Lazaroff said. "We don't have the exact number, but it's probably in the 30-to-50 category, maybe in the 50s, of guys who went to school, either on a free ride or some type of granted aid because of basketball."
Lazaroff went to the Virginia Military Institute to play basketball, as did Charlie Schmaus, who went on to become VMI's coach in 1977. Schmaus graduated from Ford City in 1962, and he said that when he grew up in Ford City, most boys aspired to play for Rupert.
"Back then, we were like the New York Yankees of Class A, Section I," Schmaus said. "We won it almost every year, and so we watched them play (as boys) and always thought it would be nice to play for him."
Rupert was elated to meet his former players, who crouched down next to his chair while they spoke to him. Rupert said taking the 1948 team to the PIAA championship game was one of his fondest memories, but he couldn't pick a favorite team.
"Every team meant something to me, I'll tell you," Rupert said.
Rupert will reunite with his some of his former players again Aug. 22, when they celebrate his 96th birthday.