Hall of Fame has decorated nominees
The Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame nominees for this year include three deceased legends of local athletics, a who's who of gridiron greats and one Westinghouse High School coach eligible again after battling a City League suspension last year.
Now in her 19th year of coaching, Westinghouse's Phyllis Jones has won seven City League girls basketball championships. In February, however, the City League announced that she had been suspended for allegedly trying to recruit a Langley High School player, a charge that fizzled when Langley dropped the charge.
Jones did not return messages seeking comment. The nearly 700 voters of the Western Chapter could induct her and nine others out of 20 finalists for the voting, which ends Jan. 16.
"The voters take in 10 inductees, and then we have a committee that chooses the person they believe also should be in the Hall of Fame," said Western Chapter president Robert "Tick" Cloherty, 74, of Jefferson Hills.
The largest division of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, the Western Chapter will hold an induction ceremony banquet May 1 at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel in Mars.
"These are heavy hitters," said Art Rooney Jr., 74, the scouting guru who helped sculpt the Steelers' dynasties of the 1970s. "It's a great honor to be considered. I'm kind of excited about it."
Rooney, a Marine Corps veteran, played football for North Catholic High School and St. Vincent's College. He's vying in a special category for a spot in the Hall against Westinghouse's Jones, deceased Coraopolis track and field legend Clarence Norman Crawford, fellow North Catholic teammate Joe Bushofsky, longtime pro coach Joe Haering and Kelly Kolankiewicz Paterno, the first female tennis player to win three WPIAL championships in a row while starring at Mt Lebanon High School.
Other nominees draw heavily from the ranks of football players and coaches — the Chicago Bear's Doug Plank, Penn State assistant Fran Ganter, Shaler High School's Neil Gordon, Woodland Hills' George Novak, Clemson University's Lou Fogle, West Virginia University's Paul Bischoff, Latrobe's Bob Jury, Villanova University's Frank Polito — and basketball players, including Clarion hoops standout Reginald A. Wells, Duquesne University basketball hero Carl T. Pacacha and Bethel Park's Jonna Huemrich Burke.
"It's a real honor. I'm stunned," said Woodland Hills' Novak, 59, one of only three coaches to have won six WPIAL championships. "But it's really a tribute to a lot of players and coaches. It's a humbling experience."
Two deceased greats, West Mifflin basketball star Ray Saunders and former Steelers' defensive end Charley "Iron Man" Mehelich, also are on the ballot.
Hall of Fame nominees
Football (Two of four)
Fran Ganter: Bethel Park native became a star running back for Penn State from 1967-70 before becoming an assistant coach for the Nittany Lions, helping them reach 28 bowls.
Neil Gordon: Former gridiron star from Central Catholic, Gordon played at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and coached elite high school teams at Penn Hills and currently Shaler.
Joe Kopnisky: The Shaler High School standout later captained West Virginia's team. An Academic All-American, he was drafted into the NFL by the Chicago Cardinals in 1957 but became best known as a coach at Grove College and Slippery Rock.
George Novak: One of only three coaches to have won six WPIAL championships, Novack is the only coach Woodland Hills High School has ever known.
Basketball (two of four)
The Rev. Ray Saunders: A hoops star at West Mifflin High School, Saunders played at Penn State before entering the military to go to Vietnam, where he served as a battlefield chaplain's assistant. Ordained a minister in 1973, he tirelessly worked to help Mon Valley kids before dying Dec. 20 at the age of 64.
Reginald A. Wells: Inducted into Clarion University's Sports Hall of Fame in 1990, Wells excelled as a basketball player. His son, Reggie, helps to anchor the Arizona Cardinals' offensive line.
Carl T. Pacacha: Inducted in Duquesne University's Sports Hall of Fame in 1990, he captained the Dukes' 4th-ranked 1957 squad and fought in the Korean War. He later excelled as a senior tennis player, nabbing a gold medal at the National Senior Olympic Games in 2008.
Jonna Huemrich Burke: A star at Bethel Park High School and Pitt, Burke later returned to coach the Black Hawks to the elite ranks.
Football (three of six)
Paul Bischoff: Starring at Beaver Falls in basketball, baseball and football, Bischoff became an All-American receiver for West Virginia in 1952. He later played for the Canadian Football League's Hamilton Tigercats and coached at Geneva College.
Lou Fogle: A Franklin High School standout, Fogle played tight end at Clemson. He was twice named South Carolina's high school coach of the year.
Frank Polito: Holder of a dozen records at Villanova, Polito later played for the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League.
Bob Jury: The leader in the Panthers' secondary, Jury holds Pitt records for interceptions, interceptions in a season and return yards following interceptions. He later played for the San Francisco 49ers and coached at Latrobe High School.
Charley "Iron Man" Mehelich: The Oakmont defensive end led Duquesne University to an undefeated season in 1941. Enlisting in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he returned to play for the Steelers from 1946-51 and was considered one of the team's toughest players. He later coached North Catholic High School. He died in 1984. Former Pitt standout Bill Fralic is his nephew.
Doug Plank: Greensburg native Plank went on to star as a safety at Ohio State and with the Chicago Bears, where his jersey number became the name for the famed "46" defense. One of hardest hitters in the League, he's now a coach for the New York Jets.
Other Sports (three of six)
Clarence Norman Crawford: A championship sprinter at Cornell High School, Crawford served in the U.S. Army during World War II before returning home to coach and become a famed track and field official. A steadfast supporter of women's athletics, he also was an official at the 1984 and 1996 Olympic Games. He died Aug. 4 at the age of 88.
Joe Bushofsky: Starred and coached North Catholic High School's football teams, Bushofsky carved out a long NFL career as director of player personnel for the Detroit Lions and a scout for the Steelers, Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers.
Joe Haering: A top linebacker for Bucknell, Haering later coached there and at Boston University, Kent State and Kentucky before stints with the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets. He also coached in the United States Football League, the CFL and the Arena League.
Phyllis Jones: Now in her 19th year of coaching, Jones has won seven City League championships with Westinghouse.
Kelly Kolankiewicz Paterno: The first female tennis player to win three WPIAL championships in a row while at Mt Lebanon in the 1980s, Kolankiewicz later starred for the University of Virginia. She's married to an assistant coach Penn State football assistant coach.
Art Rooney Jr: The scouting guru who helped build the Steelers' dynasties of the 1970s, Rooney is a vice president and part owner of the franchise. The Marine Corps veteran played for North Catholic High School and St. Vincent College and published "Ruanaidh," a memoir and history of his clan and the Steelers, in 2007.