In 35 seasons coaching softball at Sto-Rox, Bill Palermo has prepared his team for 17 WPIAL championship games and four PIAA title games.
Palermo, the all-time winningest softball coach in Pennsylvania history, prepared his team for those games like few coaches can. Those championship games have yielded 10 WPIAL titles and one PIAA title. Palermo is proud of those medals but nowhere near as proud as he is for what else he prepared his players for -- life.
More than 100 players who have gone through the Sto-Rox softball program during the past three-and-a-half decades have received scholarships to play in college and more than 85 percent have gone on to compete and study in college.
"[Hearing about a former player graduating from college] is better than winning a WPIAL championship," Palermo said. "You enjoy the kids getting there and that is what makes me the most proud, preparing these kids for life rather than preparing them for a WPIAL championship."
This week Palermo is preparing his team for another playoff run. The fifth-seeded Vikings (13-4) play No. 12 Shenango (14-6) at 5 p.m. today at Shaler in the first round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs.
This playoff run may be Palermo's last as head coach. Palermo, 65, has hinted this may be his last ride but he has not fully decided his plans for the future.
Palermo is an old-school coach through and through, a dying breed in the WPIAL. Earlier this season after a disappointing performance by his team during a spring trip game in Florida, he took away his player's cell phones.
While some parents ultimately chase coaches away, it has been the Sto-Rox parents who have made it easy for Palermo to stick around.
"The parents here have been tremendous," Palermo said. "The parents here are supportive and I don't know if there are better parents anywhere. I don't know if there is anybody over that long period of time who has had continued support. They let me teach their kids and yell at their kids."
He also gets those kids scholarships. Other coaches throughout the WPIAL when praising the Sto-Rox program usually point to the effort Palermo puts into getting his players scholarships.
Palermo grew up on Broadway Street just a block away from Sto-Rox High School. As a teacher at the high school he did not want his kids going to a school where he taught. So in 1989 he moved his family to Kennedy Township and the Montour Area School District. He remained close to the area and continued to teach and coach softball at Sto-Rox. Palermo has also coached girls' basketball at Sto-Rox, Carlynton and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
Palermo eventually moved to Robinson Township. The one constant through it all has been Sto-Rox softball.
"Why I was always going to be here was because of these kids," Palermo said. "They don't have a lot. When you give them something, they really show appreciation and it really makes you feel good inside. They have something in them called 'Sto-Rox grit.' We weren't always the best team, but they always dug down deep inside and we won all these championships."
Besides continuing to coach, Palermo keeps himself in great physical shape.
On Monday he swam 1.5 miles at the LA Fitness in North Hills and then biked 20 miles at North Park. He then drove to North Allegheny to coach his team in a scrimmage. He is preparing for two upcoming triathlons in the next three weeks. If his postseason track record is any indication, he may have to work those triathlons around his team's playoff schedule if the Vikings make another deep postseason run.
Palermo never kept track of all his wins and medals but thankfully others did, including Ken Hohman a former girls' basketball coach at Sto-Rox. Hohman keeps detailed statistics for Sto-Rox athletics and for Palermo there is plenty to keep track of.
He has won 27 section titles and can claim victories against 120 different teams. A win against Shenango would make that 121. His overall record is 589-136. When you ask Palermo about his wins and his medals he will quickly correct you by saying "we" and making it about his players rather than himself.
This 2013 edition of the Vikings perfectly exemplifies "the Sto-Rox grit" Palermo talks about. A majority of the seniors on this team had very little softball experience when they were in eighth grade.
"They weren't softball players," Palermo recalled. "It didn't look like there was potential -- how is this ever going to happen? What they have done up until now is an amazing story. Their parents helping and their work ethic and them wanting it and believing in it, they have made themselves players and it is just amazing to see them do that."
First Published May 16, 2013 4:00 AM