Arnold High School players remember coach Marino

| Friday, Jan. 8, 2010

As a small high school, Arnold accomplished big things, particularly in sports.

No more was that the case than in 1965 when the Lions defeated a number of much-larger high schools en route to the WPIAL baseball title.

Arnold defeated Beaver Falls, 11-1, for the WPIAL title at Forbes Field on June 15, 1965.

The coach of that remarkable team, Jim Marino, died Tuesday of kidney failure at his home in Cheswick. He was 85.

"Coach really taught us a lot; he was a disciplinarian, but he was fair," said Chester Napierkowski, the starting first baseman in 1965. "We were in shape. His practices were tougher than we had in football and basketball."

"He was fiery, and we took his personality as players," said catcher John Mazur. "He taught us that discipline was the key to being successful in life."

In those days, there were no enrollment classifications. Arnold routinely beat much-larger schools such as New Kensington and Har-Brack.

Arnold played its home games at Valley Camp Field, then located behind the current site of North Side Packing. Players had to run from the high school on Alcoa Drive about six blocks to the field. Some would be buttoning their shirts and fastening their belts while running down the steep hill.

"We only had so many minutes after school to get down to the field," Napierkowski said. "You didn't want to be late with him in charge."

In those days, only section winners qualified for the playoffs. In 1965, Joe Unites pitched a no-hitter in the section clincher against Har-Brack. In the playoffs, the Lions beat Greensburg, 5-2, on a one-hitter by Jim Fantuzzo.

In the quarterfinals against North Hills, Unites was one strike away from a second no-hitter, but settled for a one-hitter and an 8-0 victory.

That set up a semifinal matchup against Gateway, a school with about five times the student population of Arnold. But it didn't matter. The Lions won, 3-1.

"We didn't think that (school) size made any difference," Mazur recalled. "He had us focused and ready to play."

In the finals, Arnold was a heavy underdog against Beaver Falls at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood — home of the Pittsburgh Pirates at the time.

But Fantuzzo pitched the Lions to the big victory.

Marino was known for his intensity. In one game, he was ejected by the home plate umpire for arguing. Marino persisted, and the ump ordered him to go back to the team bus.

Marino persuaded the bus driver to pull behind the backstop, where Marino continued arguing with the beleaguered umpire.

After Arnold High School closed, Marino managed the Springdale American Legion Post 754 team while continuing as a teacher of world cultures and driver's education in the New Kensington-Arnold School District.

"After you graduated," Mazur said, "the things you learned from him began to sink in."

Napierkowski said he spoke with Marino at least once a month for 40 years.

"We were golfing one day and he told me I could call him 'Jimmy,'" Napierkowski said. "But I said I could never stop calling him coach."

The Valley News Dispatch occasionally will run obituary stories on notable local residents. They are news items and as such, no charge is applied. The subjects of these stories are solely the discretion of the editors.

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