Plum athletic greats honored at induction banquet |
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Michael Love
The Plum High School Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2014 are, in front, from left, Joe Dello Stritto Sr., Lisa Poeschl Vavrek, Diane Sujansky Taylor and Jack Savage. In back are Mark Pupilli, Craig Cooley, Joe Manganello, Dave Blotzer and Michael John Kovalchick. The group was inducted on Nov. 13, 2014.

The Plum High School Sports Hall of Fame celebrated its 10th induction class last Thursday at a banquet ceremony at Edgewood Country Club in Churchill.

The organization’s president, Bill Rometo Jr., said it seemed like only yesterday that the first induction class was enshrined. That 2005 class included his father, Plum football coaching legend Bill Rometo Sr., standout Mustangs wrestler Bill Closson and volleyball coaching great Mike Larko Jr.

Larko Jr., along with fellow Class of 2005 member Joe Naunchik, were among 16 past inductees on hand to welcome this year’s class of nine into the hall-of-fame family.

Honored and enshrined as the Class of 2014 were Dave Blotzer (Class of 1977), Craig Cooley (Class of 1992), Joe Dello Stritto (Coach, 1966-1985), Michael John Kovalchick (Class of 1962), Joe Manganello (Class of 1998), Lisa Poeschl Vavrek (Class of 1997), Mark Pupilli (Class of 1976), Jack Savage (Class of 1985) and Diane Sujansky Taylor (Class of 2003).

“This class is of high quality and very diverse from the different sports to the spans of years,” Rometo said.

“Plum is a special place, and it’s good to get the word out that people appreciate that.”

A common theme from the inductees throughout the evening was how their time in the Plum Borough system helped form a solid foundation for future endeavors, from the school district and the community to family, friends, teachers and coaches.

They spoke of the quality of education, not only in the classroom but also in their field of sport.

Former coach Joe Dello Stritto said he was grateful for his years as a coach and teacher at Plum and his ability to help develop students and athletes. He coached football, wrestling, track and volleyball 20 years in the district and served as a teacher 36 years before retiring in 2001.

He led O’block Junior High wrestling teams to an 80-28-2 record from 1971 to 1985, and that included a 65-3 mark from 1977 to 1985.

“There were two or three inductees who saw people special in their lives (at the banquet) who they didn’t know were coming and hadn’t seen for years,” Rometo said. “That’s what makes this banquet special every year. It’s a reunion of a Plum’s athletic family that spans 40 or 50 years and even longer. It’s a celebration of Plum’s athletic history and those who have found success in it.”

This year’s nine inductees brings the total number enshrined to 78 over the past decade.

“Time flies when you’re having fun, said Plum’s Andy Sebastian, the master of ceremonies for the induction festivities.

Sebastian is known as the longtime public address announcer for Plum football games. Eye issues forced him out of the press box for the 2014 season.

In addition to Larko Jr. and Naunchik, past inductees in attendance were Tony Bonura (2011), Marilyn Bott (2011), Randy Cosgrove (2009), Rich Demko (2010), John Garcia (2008), Joe Ionta (2012), Lou Klauss (2013), Julie George McCormick (2008), Matt Morgan (2010), John Ratesic (2013), Jeff Schmeck (2013), John Schmeck (2011), Monica Zalevsky Williams and Dan Zelahy (2010).

“I couldn’t have grown up in a better place or with better people,” said 2014 inductee Jack Savage, a member of the 1983 Plum football team that brought home a WPIAL Quad-A championship.

Runner-up finishes at the WPIAL and PIAA wrestling tournaments in 1985 highlighted his Plum varsity wrestling career.

Savage went on to a solid football career at Pennsylvania’s Franklin & Marshall College.

The pride of Plum was not lost on Blotzer, a Plum resident who helped the Plum wrestling team record its first undefeated season in 1975-76. He also was a part of the wrestling team’s first section-title season.

“I’m proud to say I’m a Plum Mustang,” Blotzer said. “It meant everything to represent the Purple and Gold.”

Sujansky Taylor is the youngest member of the hall of fame.

She was the first Plum athlete to qualify for states in three events, accomplishing the feat in cross country, swimming and track and field before a standout athletic career at Lock Haven University.

Sujansky Taylor now wears the hat of a coach as a mentor to swimmers for the Jewish Community Center club team.

A goal of the hall of fame each year is to connect the inductees and their athletic accomplishments to the current Plum standout athletes.

A select group of those athletes — Nathan Turchick, Mike McGuire, Ronny Amato, Wil Fuhrer, Phil Mahr, Rachel Satira, Billy Bob Baird, Zach Martin and Crista Messenger — escorted the Class of 2014 inductees into the ceremony room and also introduced each inductee

Plaques honoring the hall-of-fame classes continued to be on display in the lobby of the main gym at Plum High School.

Information on the Plum High School Sports Hall of Fame can be found at

Included at that site is the process for nominating a potential inductee and the criteria for induction.

Michael Love is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at [email protected].

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