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City League Hall of Fame class harkens golden era of Western Pa. basketball

It has been 40 years since the Fifth Avenue High School basketball team went out with a bang.

The Archers won the PIAA Class AAA title in the final year of the school’s existence.

That team and 30 other individuals were honored Sunday night at the third annual Pittsburgh City League Hall of Fame induction ceremony at John Heinz History Center.

The odd thing about that team is it went 15-0 with its season abbreviated by a Pittsburgh Public Schools teachers’ strike.

The team didn’t play its first game until the last week of January, rolled through a 10-game regular season and won the state championship in Hershey against Norristown.

It was an era when City League basketball was at its peak. Each school had a number of stars, and the competition only made Fifth Avenue better.

“They made us who we were,” said Sam Clancy, who went on to have a stellar career at Pitt. A number of his teammates played in college, including David “Puffy” Kennedy, Bill Clarke and the late Warner Macklin.

Retired Fifth Avenue teacher Vince Neal introduced the team by recalling the strike.

“We were out from Nov. 1, 1975, to Jan. 27, 1976,” Neal said. “As a teacher, I know, because I was broke. But that team took the sting out of it.”

After the school year, Fifth Avenue closed and was made part of the Brashear High School drawing area.

Among the other inductees were Perry coach Chuck Franklin, who guided the Commodores to 11 City basketball titles; Ron Wabby, who coached Brashear to a number of football titles; Oliver graduate Ray Zellers, running back for Notre Dame and the New Orleans Saints; former Schenley and UNLV basketball standout Larry Anderson; and female stars Yvonne Ferguson and Tamicka Hunter of Westinghouse.

One of the main speakers was Northview Heights native Ron Carter, one-time Perry star who also played for VMI and the Los Angeles Lakers. Carter worked in the Clinton Administration under Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros.

The theme of his speech was that “anything is possible in Pittsburgh,” saluting great sports teams and the city’s reinvention of itself as a health and technology center and the challenges facing the future.

Banquet organizer Bill Neal also recognized the former Connie Hawkins Basketball League that nurtured some of the greatest basketball players in the Pittsburgh region.

Two current athletes from each of the City high schools were introduced and gave brief remarks of thanks for the recognition.

“We don’t get the exposure the WPIAL kids do, so this really helps,” Spencer Cebula of Carrick said.

The biggest ensuing problem for the City League Sports Hall of Fame might be finding a venue large enough.

“Our first year, we met in a bar that seated 100, but 175 showed up,” Neal said. “Last year, we had the event at a hotel in Oakland that held 250, and 400 showed up.

“Tonight, we have a standing-room crowd of over 500.”

Master of ceremonies was Bob Allen, a KDKA-TV reporter and a graduate of the former Langley High School.

George Guido is a freelance writer.


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