Chiarelli, Tyburski to be honored at banquet
Mark Chiarelli still hears the monotonous sound of a basketball bouncing in his driveway.
He remembers looking out the window and seeing his son, Brandon, working on his game.
But the sound remains only in his memory.
Brandon “Nucci” Chiarelli died Feb. 2, 2001 in a car crash that also killed fellow junior Montour teammate Brian “Finney” Finnegan. The two were on their way to play in a varsity basketball game.
“He would be out there at all times of the day, in all kinds of weather, bouncing that ball,” Mark Chiarelli said. “I can still hear it. I never had to tell him to work on his game. He just went out and did it.”
That's just one reason Brandon will be honored May 29 at the 28th annual YMCA Tribune-Review Scholar Athlete Banquet at the Hilton Pittsburgh and Towers, Downtown. At the time of his death, Brandon was ranked third in his class and was one of the top players in the WPIAL. He will be recognized along with 143 other student athletes.
In addition to the scholar athletes, Dr. Freddie Fu, chairman and professor of the department of orthopedic surgery for UPMC Health System, will receive the YMCA Person of the Year Award.
Pitt men's basketball coach Ben Howland has been selected as the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review City of Champions Award winner. Guest speakers include Steelers coach Bill Cowher; Swin Cash, a McKeesport graduate who plays for the Detroit Shock of the WNBA; Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. Two-time Olympian Suzie McConnell Serio also will attend, as will Steelers players Mike Logan, Dan Kreider and Chris Combs.
Monessen senior Ricky Tyburski will receive the Frank Fuhrer Outstanding Performance Award. The honor is given to a senior who has shown exceptional fortitude and courage in overcoming physical adversity.
A car crash Aug. 12, 1999 left Tyburski with a fractured skull, a blood clot on his brain and severe damage to the right side of his body, including a shattered elbow and shoulder, dislocated hip and a broken jaw. He was in a coma for two days and underwent three surgeries.
But he returned to play golf, basketball and baseball.
Brandon wasn't as fortunate.
“As a father, I am uncomfortable talking about his achievements,” Mark Chiarelli said. “We love him, and we miss him, and are very proud of what he achieved athletically, academically and as a human being.”
In his short time on earth, Brandon had a profound effect on people. He was quick with a smile and the first one to turn a negative into a positive.
While Brandon would have been honored to be among the scholar athletes being recognized at the banquet, he also would have been quite humble about the whole thing.
He didn't need to be the center of attention. As a point guard, he made sure his teammates got the ball, so they could shine. At services in St. Vladimir Church on the South Side, he was proud to be an altar boy. He liked to learn, even when the subject matter wasn't his favorite.
“Brandon was a fantastic kid with a winning attitude,” said Larry Ludwig, who coached Brandon in middle school. “In the clutch, he was our go-to player. He always had a basketball in his hand and was always working on his game no matter what time of year. If he made a mistake, he would come and tell me before I could tell him.”
Living without their son, hasn't been easy for the Chiarellis.
Mark and his wife, Jamie, endured milestones in their son's life without him, such as his induction into the National Honor Society. They returned to Montour High School when the game jerseys of their son and Finnegan were retired.
The YMCA banquet will be no different.
“We plan to go,” said Mark Chiarelli, who added this event will be even tougher because this would have been Brandon's senior year. “But it is kind of mixed emotions for us. We are grateful people still think about our son and want to honor him, but at the same time it is gut-wrenching. Some people say time helps … but I just don't know.”
Banquet chairman Ken Horoho Jr. said this event honors the best and brightest of student athletes, and Brandon is deserving.
“It was such a tragic loss,” Horoho said. “A brilliant academic and athletic career was cut short, as well as, the promise of a productive life of great achievement. Nucci represents all those young men and women who do what it takes to excel on the field and in the classroom. We are pleased to honor his spirit.”
Ludwig said he thinks about Brandon daily and wonders why a young man with such promise was snatched away.
Rich Brennan, who started coaching Brandon in the seventh grade and into high school, continues to anguish over what happened. Brennan was confident enough to put Brandon in as a freshman into a must-win game to make the playoffs with less then two minutes remaining. He responded with a pair of free throws and a three-point play in the victory.
“You wonder why it had to happen,” Brennan said. “Brandon loved being on the basketball court. He played the game with a great attitude and a smile on his face, no matter what.”