The Westinghouse boys basketball players won the City League championship last Saturday decked in their blue Nike shoes.
To second-year coach Tariq Francis, those shoes are an example of the respect the program has earned as much as the championship trophy.
Francis is in his second year as Westinghouse's coach, and he has made a quick impact, guiding the Bulldogs to their first City League title since 1998. The title shouldn't be taken lightly because Westinghouse is a City League school that, besides girls basketball, has had very little success in sports over the past decade or so.
Francis, 32, is from Newark, N.J., and played at Seton Hall Prep (N.J.) with Pitt assistant coach Brandin Knight. Francis also is a former manager of the Pitt basketball team.
He has apparently made a difference at Westinghouse and not just because of the title. Just look at the shoes. Westinghouse played Peters Township in the Peters Township tournament in early December. After the game, Francis was approached by an unknown man who eventually bought shoes for the entire team.
"I tell the kids all the time: Don't make things a lose-lose situation," Francis said. "You can lose the game, but don't make it a lose-lose. Do something else to win and show respect. We lost that game by 30-some points and the man [from Peters Township] was just impressed by how we carried ourselves and the respect that we showed, and he wanted to buy us team shoes."
Francis, a substitute teacher at Arsenal Middle School, seems to be enjoying his time as a City League coach.
"Everything is steps," Francis said. "My thing is I'm going to coach you to work hard. I tell them, 'Sometimes, you have to do things you don't want to do. You have times when you don't want to be here. Sometimes you hate me, and sometimes I hate you.'
"I'm just glad that they have seen that the hard work they put in can lead to success. It's one of those life lessons."
Not all about scoring
Bishop Canevin senior guad Erin Waskowiak is considered one of the top players in the WPIAL, making the Post-Gazette Fabulous 5 last year. Waskowiak, a Duquesne University recruit, averaged 20 points a game last season, but her average is only 15 ppg this year.
But Bishop Canevin coach Tim Joyce is emphatic in stating that Waskowiak is a better player this season, even though she doesn't score as much.
"She's very unselfish, probably to a fault sometimes," Joyce said. "This is probably her best year, really. She's defending more. We're putting her on the other's team point guard all the time. That's really something we couldn't do in the past. She has really rounded her game that way."
The first round of the PIAA basketball playoffs is next weekend and the WPIAL will have 22 boys teams and 23 girls teams in the field.
In boys, the WPIAL will have five qualifers in Class AAAA, six in AAA, seven in AA and four in A.
In girls, the WPIAL will have five qualifiers in AAAA, six in AAA, seven in AA and five in A.
Three years ago, Rachel Zilinskas was a freshman swimmer at Indiana High School who broke a WPIAL Class AAA championship record and won a PIAA title. Now she is a senior and considered one of the best swimmers in the country. But she is no longer in the WPIAL.
Zilinskas left Indiana after her freshman year and transferred to Germantown Academy in eastern Pennsylvania. She was heavily recruited before accepting a scholarship to the University of Georgia and Swimming World ranked her the No. 2 high school swimmer in the country. No. 1 was Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin, who swims at Regis Jesuit High in Aurora, Colo.
Last Saturday, Zilinskas swam on Germantown's 400 freestyle relay team that broke a national high school record at the Eastern Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships at La Salle University.
From Pitt to coaching
Two WPIAL high schools hired former Pitt football players as varsity head coaches this week.
On Monday, Pine-Richland hired Eric Kasperowicz, a former Parade All-American quarterback at North Hills who went on to play outside linebacker at Pitt.
Kasperowicz was a Pine-Richland assistant coach the past few seasons under Clair Altemus, who retired. Kasperowicz was a North Hills assistant before going to Pine-Richland.
On Tuesday, Plum hired Matt Morgan as its new coach. Morgan succeeds Frank Sacco, whose position was opened after four seasons. Morgan is a former Plum offensive lineman who played at Pitt before playing in the NFL for two seasons.
Morgan was an assistant at Gateway under Terry Smith the past few seasons.
Mayor thrown out
The mayor of Bethlehem, Pa., was ejected from last Saturday's District 11 Class AAA wrestling championships for criticizing calls by the officials.
Mayor John Callahan was asked to leave during the 220-pound championship match. His son, John, placed fourth in the 195-pound class earlier.
On his Twitter account, the Mayor said, "Pretty sad when a wrestling fan can't express displeasure about a call."
First Published March 1, 2013 5:00 AM