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Longtime basketball coach Tom Traynor dies

| Saturday, May 28, 2011

Longtime basketball coach Tom Traynor died Thursday night of pancreatic cancer. He was 71.

Traynor coached for 49 years, beginning his career at Pitt-Johnstown in 1962. Traynor spent nine seasons there, winning 116 games.

In 1971, he began coaching at Hempfield High School. In 30 seasons with the Spartans, Traynor's teams won 393 games, and he was named Section 1-AAAA Coach of the Year 10 times.

In 2001, Traynor became the boys coach at Mt. Pleasant High School. In 10 seasons with the Vikings, Traynor had 103 victories, and his 600th career win came in 2010, when Mt. Pleasant beat Derry, 50-20. Despite his illness, Traynor continued to coach Mt. Pleasant through the 2010-11 season, guiding the Vikings to the playoffs.

"I've known Tom for 10 or 12 years, and I haven't met too many finer people," Mt. Pleasant athletic director Dennis Miscik said. "He was a man of tremendous class. Somebody that coaches 49 years is remarkable, and I have the utmost respect for Tom Traynor. Not only was he a very good coach, he was a great role model for the kids. He did things the right way for high school athletics."

Gene Brisbane, an assistant track coach at Hempfield and Seton Hill who coached the Hempfield girls basketball team for 20 years, recalled working as an assistant to Traynor in the 1970s.

"I remember he gave me my first opportunity to be a high school basketball coach," Brisbane said. "I couldn't have been in a better position because Tom was a very innovative coach. He was doing things that other people didn't do in high school basketball until years later. But the biggest thing about Tom was that he was a gentleman, and he conducted himself with a lot of class."

Mark Katarski, who was women's basketball coach at Chatham for six seasons and recently accepted an assistant coaching job with the women's team at Niagara, grew up learning the game from Traynor.

"My first basketball camp that I went to when I was 8 or 9 years old was one that Tom was doing at Pitt-Johnstown," he said. "I went to that camp all the way up through high school, and then I started working and coaching at the camp. ... I don't know if I would be where I am without Tom's mentorship."

In February, Traynor was honored before a Mt. Pleasant game against Southmoreland. Family members, friends, coaches and players were on hand to celebrate his career; Matt Knizner, who played for Traynor from 1981-83, was there that night.

"Tom was well-organized and very competitive," he said. "He always had you prepared for every game. He was one of the guys that you look back and you respect because of how consistent he was and because of his personality and his demeanor."

Traynor's final victory, the 612th of his career, came Feb. 14, a 52-50 triumph over Belle Vernon. His last game was a first-round playoff loss to Trinity on Feb. 18.

Trinity coach Joe Dunn and Traynor have been friends for more than 30 years, working at basketball camps and running a scouting service together. They also coached against each other for several seasons in Section 1-AAAA.

"We had a wonderful, long relationship," Dunn said. "He might have been the most intelligent man I ever knew. He was truly a renaissance man, and I was fortunate enough to work with him and even more fortunate to call him a friend.

"He was a man of great character. First and foremost, he was a family man. He was so much bigger than basketball."

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