Armstrong County sports figures recognized
FREEPORT — Worthington High School graduate Richard McGrady’s athletic career got off to an unusual start. His father’s advice was: “You can’t eat a baseball.”
McGrady related the story by adding it was his father’s way of telling him he should spend more time on the family farm than playing baseball. But the elder McGrady soon realized his son’s love for the game was genuine, and a career began its climb, which culminated in Sunday night’s induction to the Armstrong County Sports Hall of Fame.
McGrady was one of 11 inductees at the 35th hall of fame banquet at Laube Hall. A crowd of 460 jammed the banquet hall, one of the largest turnouts in the organization’s history.
Besides McGrady’s induction for baseball and basketball, he also was recognized for his coaching, which brought a baseball section title to Mars and a soccer section title to Worthington.
Former Apollo-Ridge football coach and athletic director Harry Rollinson, on hand despite his battle with an advanced stage of liver cancer, received three standing ovations. Rollinson, a McKeesport native, gave a speech from his seat in the audience that came straight from the heart — no notes or script.
Harry Beckwith, one of the area’s most successful football coaches, with 150 career victories and leading three different schools to WPIAL playoff berths, preferred to talk about his son, H.B., a member of the U.S. Army Rangers who parachuted 20 times into war-torn Afghanistan during his military service.
Larry Cignetti, another successful football coach, whose teams made seven WPIAL playoff appearances at Leechburg and Apollo-Ridge and an eighth postseason berth at The Kiski School, thanked his high school coach at Washington Township, Don Earley, and former Leechburg head coach Don Olshansky, who gave Cignetti his coaching start.
Ray Bartha was honored for his spectacular coaching career at Apollo-Ridge, which is still going strong after 31 years, 19 with WPIAL playoff appearances. Bartha thanked his coaches at Leechburg High School (Frank Cignetti, Olshansky, Frank Pinto and Bob McDermott) for demanding the best of him as a student-athlete.
“These coaches made me see what it takes to become a coach, and I respect and admire them,” Bartha said.
Richard Smith was honored for his contribution to a string of outstanding football teams at Leechburg that included WPIAL titles in 1965 and ’66.
Bo Durkac, who lettered in four sports at Kittanning, was coaching the baseball team at North Carolina-Charlotte and was unable to attend. His acceptance speech was given by his father, Dr. Gabriel Durkac, himself a stellar athlete at Tarentum High School in the early 1960s.
Bo Durkac recalled the “turning point of his athletic career” when he exited the University of North Carolina and was told he was “not an Atlantic Coast Conference-type player.” Durkac was so incensed he went on to have a solid career at Virginia Tech and played professional baseball seven seasons.
Jadi Boyer French accepted the posthumous induction for her father, Jack Boyer, who died Nov. 17, a month after West Shamokin High School named its football stadium after him. Boyer overcame polio as youth and played football and basketball at Shannock Valley High School. He founded several youth sports teams in his home area and was the public address announcer for 28 years for Shannock Valley high school and midget league football.
Tom “Auck” Schrecengost didn’t know how he got his nickname, but the Ford City graduate and all-Section 1 selection from 1951 and ’52 made it to the banquet despite two broken legs.
The youngest recipient was 1997 Freeport graduate Rob Stauffer, who guided the Yellowjackets basketball team in his junior year that started out 1-11 but made the WPIAL Class AA semifinals. Stauffer is now a teacher and assistant coach at Hempfield High School.
The Armstrong Hall’s special award was given to David S. Cader, who coached basketball at the Leechburg Catholic Youth Center fro 31 years. Cader recalled a motivational speech given at a Catholic sports seminar by former Nore Dame coach and current ESPN analyst Digger Phelps on stressing fun to players.