When Bob Amalia agreed to become Blackhawk High School's baseball coach in 2000, he wasn't sure he was making the right decision. Heck, he wasn't sure he was in the right sport.
Although Amalia had been coaching Blackhawk's American Legion baseball team for 12 seasons, he considered himself more of a "basketball guy." He was a former Blackhawk basketball player, a co-captain for the Cougars before going on to play at Penn State Beaver. On top of that, he spent 15 seasons as a Blackhawk assistant basketball coach under legendary John Miller.
Amalia had thought maybe someday he'd be Blackhawk's basketball coach, but Blackhawk threw a curveball at Amalia when the school offered him the varsity baseball job 12 years ago.
"Even after I took the baseball job, I wondered if I should just continue what I was already doing," Amalia said. "I wasn't sure."
These days, Amalia is totally sure he made the right decision -- and Blackhawk sure is fortunate.
Amalia has turned into one of the top baseball coaches in the WPIAL, and he has turned Blackhawk into one of the premier programs in Western Pennsylvania. Tonight, Amalia goes after only the second WPIAL championship in school history.
Blackhawk (20-2) takes on Belle Vernon (18-4) in the Class AAA final, 8 p.m. at Consol Energy Field in North Franklin, just outside of Washington. It is one of four WPIAL title games at Consol over the next two days.
WPIAL championship appearances are becoming a regular occurrence for Blackhawk under Amalia. This is the fifth title game in the past 11 seasons for the Cougars, who won the championship in '04.
But about that coaching decision in '00 ...
"I kind of always wanted to see what I could do as a head coach, so I took [the baseball job]," said Amalia, a 1974 Blackhawk graduate who teaches math at the high school. "I liked baseball, but I liked both sports. Now, I'm really pleased at the avenue I chose."
After two sub-.500 seasons to start his coaching career, Amalia has a 182-57 record over the past 11 (195-82 overall). His teams have made the playoffs 11 consecutive years, won eight section titles, and a victory today would tie the school record for wins, set in '03.
Amalia is quick to credit a supportive Blackhawk school administration for playing a big part in the baseball program's success as well as a stable coaching staff. Assistant coaches Joe Basile, Joe Boyer and Lou Wolber have been with Amalia since he was hired.
Talented players also have been abundant at Blackhawk in Amalia's time, with 15 going to Division I colleges. This year, the Cougars have senior catcher Matt Emge, an Ohio State recruit. Pitcher-outfielder Brendan McKay was named one of the top 50 sophomores in the country by Maxpreps.com before the season started.
He will start the championship game.
Amalia also will tell you he learned plenty from two other coaches. One was legendary former Hopewell baseball coach Joe Colella, who died of a heart attack last summer. The other was Miller.
"No one works harder and is more committed to being successful than John Miller," Amalia said. "His work ethic, love and passion for the game is just unbelievable. When I got to my sixth or seventh year with him, it was just like, wow. There would be a snowstorm, but it wouldn't matter. He would still practice.
"Basketball and baseball aren't the same, but coaching is coaching. I learned so much from guys like Joe Colella and John Miller.
"John had such an influence on me, and I'm kind of the same way today. If it's pouring rain or lightning, we'll still practice in the gym. Or we'll sit in the dugout until it stops raining and we'll still practice something.
Amalia also coaches middle-school girls basketball for Blackhawk in the fall. He and his wife, Audrey, live in the Blackhawk school district and have two daughters who play basketball.
Amalia also is still highly successful as coach of Blackhawk's American Legion team. He has won a state championship and made it to the national tournament five times in 24 years as coach.
Winning seems to follow him, no matter the team. Or the sport.