Veteran basketball coach to receive university honor
California University of Pennsylvania will hold its eighth annual Athletic Hall of Fame Banquet 6 p.m. Saturday in the Natali Student Center’s Performance Center.
With “March Madness” and the college basketball season recently completed, it is fitting that one of the eight inductees is one of school’s most successful basketball coaches — Myles Witchey. The other inductees are: Monica DiNatale-Bach (tennis), Rick Krivda (baseball), Robert Lippencott (football), Alan Sepsi (football), the late Jack Scarvel (football), Jen Wagner (softball) and Jackie Wilson-Miller (volleyball).
California University’s men’s basketball program has been one of the most successful in the history of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, and one individual who played a very significant role in the Vulcans’ rich history is Witchey.
Not only was Witchey one of the school’s most successful basketball coaches, he was also a longtime distinguished faculty member. He began teaching at Cal U as an assistant professor of physical education in the fall of 1962 and retired as the department head in January of 1988. Witchey received professor emeritus status by the university’s council of trustees in April of 1988. While he earned considerable fame for his on-court successes, Witchey looks back fondly on his teaching days.
“I enjoyed the teaching very well,” Witchey said. “As the chairperson of the health and physical education department I had the opportunity to do a number of different things. In particular, I helped develop the senior citizens’ swimming program, which got many Mon Valley people involved. I look back at that as one of my more interesting memories in dealing with Valley people.”
Witchey is originally from Belmont, Ohio, and a 1948 graduate of Belmont High School, where he competed in basketball and softball. He earned his degree in education from West Liberty, a master’s degree from West Virginia University and served in the U.S. Army for two years. Before starting his exemplary teaching and coaching career at Cal U, Witchey taught mathematics and was the head basketball coach for three years at St. Clairsville, Ohio. He also coached and taught for two years in Los Angeles before coming to California, Pa.
Witchey was a fixture as the Cal U men’s basketball coach, guiding the Vulcans from 1962-63 through 1977-78. He also led the 1966-67 Vulcans to the school’s first-ever PSAC-West title and appearance in the state championship game, where Cal U lost to Cheyney.
“We just could not match up well with Cheyney that year,” said Witchey. “They had three guys destined for the pros and our guys prepared hard but they were too strong.”
Three years later, Witchey coached the 1969-70 Cal U team to a school-best 20-5 overall record. That squad won the first of seven PSAC championships for Cal U in men’s basketball. That team’s .800 winning percentage remained the best in school history until 1988.
Witchey was the 1970 PSAC and NAIA District 18 Coach of the Year. Cal U’s first basketball state championship culminated with the host Vulcans defeating heavily favored Cheyney by a 110-91 score. Before that game, the Wolves had won four of the past five state titles. Cal U’s riveting 19-point upset win avenged the championship game setback of 1967 and is still regarded as one of the most exciting moments in school athletic history. Witchey’s 1969-70 team was one of only four PSAC-West schools to win the conference championship from 1961 through 1984.
Before winning the state title, Cal U had played three tight playoff games in four nights.
“I believe the whole week kind of added to the excitement of the state championship game,” Witchey said. “First we beat Edinboro on a Saturday night for the West title and then beat Westminster that Monday in the first round of the NAIA district playoffs. Then we had to beat Edinboro again the next night, which was a one-point win. All the games leading into the Cheyney game were big games with close results.”
Going 8-32 after his first two seasons of rebuilding and adjusting, Witchey coached Cal U to 182 basketball victories and still ranks third among all Vulcan hoop coaches in career victories. Over his final 14 years, Witchey’s cumulative record was 167-150 with nine winning seasons and the school’s first two of 12 state championship game appearances.
Semi-retired, Witchey now commutes between Lexington, Ky., and California, Pa. He is a former member of the NAIA Coaches Association and NAIA Tournament Selection Committee. Witchey is a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches and has attended every NCAA Division I Final Four men’s tourney since 1965. He has two grown children, Brian and Myles II.
Witchey called his Hall of Fame induction “very exciting and an honor above all things.” He remains an active supporter of Vulcan athletics and attended last month’s PSAC Women’s Basketball Final Four tourney at Hamer Hall.
“Women’s basketball has really picked up and is very interesting,” said Witchey after watching the Lady Vulcans win their first-ever state championship. “I thought the California team was well-coached and played very well. ”
Though he retired from coaching nearly 25 years ago, Witchey still keeps tabs on good players and his loyalty to Cal U remains intact.
“One of my former players is coaching in Ohio and has a really good two-guard there,” Witchey said. “I need to speak to Coach (Darcie) Vincent about her because Indiana is apparently interested. We can’t have her go there.”
Despite his extensive travels, Witchey calls California his home.
“I’ve spent more than 26 years teaching here and California has been my home,” said Witchey, who credited former Cal U President Dr. Michael Duda and former athletic director Gene Hester as two influential people in his life. “Yes, I’m originally from Ohio but anymore I’m from California, Pa. California will always be special to me.”
For more information on the Cal U Hall of Fame, call Wayne Miller at 724-938-4303, Ext. 249.