WPIAL Hall of Fame highlights league's heritage
Surrounded by memorabilia and acknowledgements of the area's finest high school athletes and teams, the WPIAL announced its inaugural Hall of Fame class Tuesday at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.
"The purpose of the hall is to honor and perpetuate the memory of these teams and individuals," said league administrative assistant Jim Collins, who serves as the Hall's chairman. "The Hall of Fame was organized as a means of recognizing, preserving and promoting the heritage of high school sports in Western Pennsylvania."
The class includes seven athletes, four coaches, two game officials, two teams and former WPIAL executive director Charles "Ace" Heberling. They will be inducted into the Hall of Fame during a banquet to be held at 6 p.m. June 22 at the Embassy Suites in Moon. FSN sports announcer Paul Alexander will be the emcee of the event, where all inductees, except golf legend Arnold Palmer, who won back-to-back WPIAL and PIAA championships at Latrobe, will be present.
Palmer will be in Denver, attending a tribute dinner for long-time friend Will Nicholson, who retired in 2006 as Chairman of The Masters Competition and Rules Committees. Palmer made the commitment to the dinner several months ago.
At the news conference, Alexander revealed the inductees, who were chosen from 75 nominations made by 63 schools, and highlighted their accomplishments.
Among the inductees is recently retired former Steelers running backs coach Dick Hoak, a three-sport athlete and quarterback/defensive back on Jeannette's 1956 WPIAL championship team. Hoak also played at Penn State.
Said Alexander: "The only thing he couldn't do was outlast Joe Paterno as a coach. This is a man from Jeannette who did everything on the playing field, did everything as the legendary Steelers coach."
Joining Hoak among the football honorees are former Penn Hills and NFL offensive lineman Bill Fralic, former Gateway football coach Walter "Pete" Antimarino and the 1987 North Hills football team. North Hills coach Jack McCurry, who was named the 1987 national coach of the year by USA Today, represented the undefeated Indians team, which started and finished the season ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today.
"It's quite an honor, and I think for that reason there are so many great teams in all the different sports," McCurry said. "To be singled out and identified and to be inducted into that first class is really quite an honor. When we look over the years the WPIAL's been in existence with all of the outstanding teams, we are quite proud of our accomplishments.
"They were ranked No. 1 in the country at the beginning of the year so there was tremendous pressure, a tremendous pride, but it was the athletes themselves. Not only did they play hard, they had outstanding God-given ability, so it was the talent more than anything else."
Collins emphasized that the inductees were selected based solely on their high school performance, not their careers beyond the WPIAL. The members had to be nominated in order to be considered for the Hall.
Many of the inductees have credited their post high school success to their experience in the WPIAL. Take Suzie McConnell-Serio, for example, who along with Jennifer Flynn-Oldenburg, a former three-sport standout at Baldwin before playing volleyball at Ohio State and coaching at Illinois, used their experiences as high school athletes to mold their coaching careers.
"Everything stems from a solid foundation," said McConnell-Serio, who was a three-sport athlete at Seton-La Salle and played basketball at Penn State and in the WNBA before coaching at Oakland Catholic and now Duquesne University. "I look back and look at the foundation I was able to have growing up and playing in the WPIAL. The competition of it and the structure of the WPIAL really has been part of the foundation that helped me accomplish all of the things I was able to do after high school."
Other coaches who made the cut include Dave Nichol, who won a combined 967 games as Monaca's basketball and baseball coach, Don Graham, a former North Catholic coach who is the winningest coach in Pennsylvania boys basketball history and Bethel Park boys swimming coach Pat Campbell. Campbell's 1996 swim team, which was rated among the top three teams in the country, will also be inducted.
"It's probably the greatest honor ever bestowed on me in my life," Campbell said.
"I had the finest athletes in the WPIAL. They were without a doubt the most dedicated young men anyone could ever coach."
Rounding out the athlete category is 1985 Moon graduate and soccer player Sean Shapert, who holds the high school national record with 213 career goals. He won a WPIAL title in 1984 and scored the winning goal when Indiana claimed the national championship in 1988. Former Jefferson-Morgan wrestler Cary Kolat posted a 137-0 career record, including four state titles, before competing in the 2000 Olympics.
Officials Jim Horner and Norm Crawford were recognized for their dedication to the WPIAL
Heberling, who will be inducted in the contributor category, said it was equally rewarding to watch the athletes he once supervised reach the Hall of Fame as being inducted himself.
"I think (being inducted is) a fitting climax to the kind of life those kids led from the time they were in ninth grade until now," Heberling said. "To see the success all these people had, it's due, I'm sure, in a great part, to their participation in athletics. The WPIAL could offer a playing field that was even, was fair, a place for them to demonstrate how good they were and a place for them to learn how to be caring adults."
Hall of Fame inductees
• Walter "Pete" Antimarino, Gateway
Coached football at Gateway from 1958-89 with a 236-80-12 record including three WPIAL championships and two co-championships.
• Dave Nichol, Monaca
Recorded a combined 967 wins while coaching baseball and basketball at Monaca. He led Monaca to a WPIAL and PIAA championship in basketball and a WPIAL and state runner-up in baseball.
• Don Graham, North Catholic
As the winningest coach in Pennsylvania boys basketball history, Graham posted a 801-436 record, including three Catholic state championships and 10 section titles, in 51 years at North Catholic.
• Pat Campbell, Bethel Park
From 1969-88 and in 1996, Campbell led Bethel Park swimming to 11 WPIAL championships, including eight consecutive titles, and six state championships.
• North Hills football, 1987
Ranked No. 1 nationally by USA Today, North Hills finished 13-0, including 11 shutouts and outscored opponents, 435-20. Jack McCurry was named USA Today's national coach of the year when the team won the WPIAL and PIAA title.
• Bethel Park boys swimming, 1996
Six swimmers reached All-American status as Bethel Park finished the season ranked No. 2 in the country. The team scored a record 176 points at the PIAA championships and broke four out of a possible 10 state records.
• Sean Shapert, Moon
A 1985 graduate who won a WPIAL title in 1984, Shapert holds the national high school soccer record for goals scored 213. He also scored the game-winning goal when Indiana won a national title in 1988.
• Bill Fralic, Penn Hills
Arguably the best lineman to come out of the WPIAL, Fralic was a Parade All-American before graduating in 1981 and becoming a four-time Pro Bowler during eight seasons in the NFL. He also recorded a 98-7 high school record on the wrestling mats.
• Suzie McConnell-Serio, Seton-La Salle
Before finishing her career with 1,934 points, 953 assists and 813 steals, McConnell-Serio led Seton-La Salle to a Class AAAA championship in 1984. She was a standout softball player before becoming a renowned basketball player at Penn State and coach at Oakland Catholic.
• Dick Hoak, Jeannette
A quarterback/defensive back on Jeannette's 1956 WPIAL championship team, Hoak was an all-state player in football. He received all-section honors in basketball and was a three-year letterman in track.
• Jennifer Flynn-Oldenburg, Baldwin
A three-sport athlete who earned 12 letters in basketball, softball and volleyball, Flynn-Oldenburg won a combined seven WPIAL titles in volleyball and softball as well as a state title in volleyball. She played volleyball at Ohio State, where she was a four-year starter, and now serves as an assistant coach at Illinois.
• Arnold Palmer, Latrobe
Palmer became the first golfer to win back-to-back WPIAL and state championships in 1946-47. Palmer won the PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 and has been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
• Cary Kolat, Jefferson-Morgan
Kolat posted a 137-0 career record and won four state championships, where he was voted the tournament's outstanding wrestler each time. He went on to compete in the 2000 Olympics.
• Jim Horner
A Montour graduate, Horner officiated wrestling for 27 years, working almost 700 dual meets. He was inducted into the Southwestern Pennsylvania Hall of Fame in 2005.
• Norm Crawford
Crawford has been a starter for high school track meets for nearly four decades. A 1940 graduate of Coraopolis High School and three-sport athlete, Crawford was a starter at the 1984 and 1996 Olympics.
• Charles "Ace" Heberling
Heberling served as the first full-time executive director of the WPIAL. He headed the effort to play the four WPIAL football championship games at Three Rivers Stadium in one day. Heberling was a football and basketball official at the high school level. He also refereed in the NFL, where he worked three Super Bowls.