Alle-Kiski Valley Hall of Fame enshrines 50th class on emotional night |
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Alle-Kiski Valley Hall of Fame enshrines 50th class on emotional night

William Whalen
The Alle-Kiski Sports Hall of Fame inducted its latest class Saturday. It included, front row, from left: Brian Jacob, Laurie (Scharff) Suprano, Daniel Hawkins, Rob Tatrn; and, back row, from left: Dr. Paul Killian, Frank Rocco Jr., Dennis Persin, Bob Rukavina.

The empty seat at the dais was about the same size as the hole in everyone’s hearts Saturday night as the 50th class of the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame was enshrined at the New Kensington Quality Inn.

The rich and familiar voice that echoed through the air waves for nearly 60 years was no longer around. It hasn’t even been a year yet, but Bob Tatrn’s passing is still being felt by sports fans across the Alle-Kiski Valley.

“I was at my dad’s a little over a year ago and we were setting up for one of his shows and he looked up at me and said, ‘Can you believe that they’re gonna put me in the hall of fame?’ ” said Tatrn’s son, Rob, who delivered his late father’s acceptance speech.

In addition to Tatrn’s posthumous induction, seven other A-K Valley sports standouts were inducted as a part of the hall of fame’s golden-anniversary class.

Tatrn helped co-found the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame in 1970 with former Valley News Dispatch sports editor, the late Bob Schank. Tatrn had a presence on radio, cable and satellite television before it became popular for media personalities to cross over different platforms. Tatrn died in July following a fall at his home while recovering from open-heart surgery. He was 78.

“My dad’s passion for sports and broadcasting was contagious and his smile was equally as infectious,” Tatrn said.

Frank Rocco, a three-sport athlete and 1978 Fox Chapel grad, was also ahead of his time on the football field in the Foxes’ pass-happy offense of the late 1970s. Rocco rode his gridiron success to Penn State where he led the Nittany Lions to a 9-6 win over Tulane in the ‘79 Liberty Bowl. He came back to the A-K Valley to coach a few WPIAL high school football teams including Highlands from 1986-92.

Rocco moved on to the college ranks and became Liberty’s offensive coordinator from 2000-04. He moved back to coaching high school football at Liberty Christian Academy from 2004-15, where he won six Virginia Class 4A titles while becoming the school’s all-time winningest coach at 118-16.

“It’s so great to be back and see so many familiar faces,” Rocco said.

Former Valley standout wrestler Brian Jacob finished his junior and senior season with a combined record of 45-3. He went to Pitt to wrestle where he suffered an injury following his sophomore season that left him a quadriplegic. The injury didn’t slow down the former Westmoreland County wrestling champ.

“I think the theme of the night should be, ‘The older we get, the better we were,’ ” Jacob joked.

Tarentum football standout Dr. Paul Killian came from humble beginnings and never would have thought he would end up in the hall of fame one day. The former Redcat earned a scholarship to Pitt where he played defensive back for the Panthers. He used his athletic scholarship as a springboard to medical school. Killian went on to become a rheumatologist and run successful medical practice in the A-K Valley.

Oakmont grad Dennis “Duke” Persin was an integral part in the Oaks’ 1965 WPIAL Class B football championship team under the late Chuck Wagner. Persin went on the play football at Penn State for two seasons before transferring to Pitt to close out his career. He was part of former Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s first recruiting class.

Laurie (Scharff) Suprano was a pioneer for girls sports at Springdale. She was a two-sport standout in volleyball and softball earning team MVP honors her senior season.

At 95, Daniel Hawkins has seen the game of football change dramatically. The East Deer grad starred as an option halfback and was integral in helping establish the school’s football program back in 1939. Hawkins was a dual-threat player before the phrase became popular.

Riverview’s Bob “Truck” Rukavina had a reputation for driving the lane and his basketball skills helped with a smooth transition when Verona and Oakmont high schools merged to become Riverview at the start of the 1971-72 school year. Bad ankles cut Rukavina’s playing career short, but it didn’t keep him away from the game. He moved on to coaching where he led Pitt-Johnstown basketball team for 30 years becoming the Mountain Cats’ all-time winningest coach with 485 wins and four trips to the NCAA Division II tourney.

“I’ve been very fortunate to do two things I love and make a living doing it,” Rukavina said.

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

Categories: Sports | Other Local
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