O’Barto enjoying the moment — and giving back to Blairsville
With 18 seconds left in the district championship, Blairsville coach Mark Rydbom took his starters out of the game and grinned at the rest of the coaches.
As Andy Ostach walked off the court, he first approached Rydbom, then assistant Jason Stone and finally volunteer assistant Shawn O’Barto.
Unlike the other two, O’Barto wouldn’t let go — he was trying to make this moment last as long as he could.
“(Friday) night that was the first time I’ve experienced a championship like that,” he said. “It was special.”
It would have never come about, however, if O’Barto didn’t see a few kids playing in his neighborhood a couple years ago.
O’Barto spoted people playing at Adam Highberger’s home in Blairsville, which has a full basketball court, and decided to join them.
“I went down there just to play with these kids,” he said. “I knew Mark and I asked if he wanted me to help him out, and I’ve been enjoying it ever since.”
O’Barto graduated from Greater Latrobe in 1980 after winning section titles his junior and senior years. A single-season scoring record (513 points) and a place on the All-state team during his senior year earned him a scholarship to St. Vincent College.
“I was nothing spectacular,” he said. “I was just one of the players.”
O’Barto moved to Blairsville 15 years ago after meeting his wife, Beth, but it wasn’t until two years ago that he decided to volunteer his time to the area.
“I thought it was time to donate some time to help this community and help this team out,” O’Barto said. “I really didn’t have any expectations other than coming in and helping people.”
Being 6-foot-5, O’Barto focuses mainly on the forwards and holds himself partially responsible for their success.
“I’m very happy to see them progress, like a Jerome Nadeo from last year to this year,” he said. “And Andy Ostach, to watch him turn into a super player also. That’s very enlightening to see.”
As a volunteer, O’Barto makes all of the games and practices he can, provided he can leave his job.
“I have to thank Laurel Valley Motors for letting me leave work all the time to do this,” O’Barto said. “I sometimes feel like I should pay the school money because I enjoy it so much.”
After wearing a shirt and tie for most of the regular season, Rydbom and the rest of the coaching staff made a change for the District 6 playoffs.
The Bobcat coaches wore black turtlenecks with “Blairsville Bobcats” in orange on the neck.
This and That
Blairsville plays Clarion in the first round of the PIAA playoffs Friday. Clarion (19-9) is coming off two consecutive losses in the District 9 playoffs. Clarion lost to Purchase Line the first game of the season, 49-47, and Blairsville beat Purchase Line twice this season. Clarion has the same colors (orange and black) and same nickname (Bobcats) as Blairsville. … Blairsville needs four wins to tie the school record of 30 wins in a season. Four wins also would put Blairsville in the state championship. … A team from the Heritage Conference has won the Class A district title five out of the past seven years. Championship wins by Homer-Center (1998) and Blairsville (2005) bookend three Saltsburg titles (2000, 2002, 2003). … Claudia McDowell broke the Juniata Valley scoring record in a win over Conemaugh Valley on Tuesday. Melissa Patterson previously held the record of 1,470 points. McDowell has 1,486 career points.