Varsity Xtra: Rox solid


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Daren DiMichele follows WPIAL basketball, but mostly he follows the standings.

For a few decades now, DiMichele, 47, has paid close attention to the loss column, usually starting in January. By early February, he scans the standings closely, hoping to see every team in the WPIAL with a loss. Just one.

DiMichele doesn't relish in team's defeats. He just wants to protect the legacy of the 1983 Sto-Rox High School basketball team.

DiMichele was a standout guard on the 1983 team. Thirty years ago, he and the rest of the kids from McKees Rocks rocked just about everyone in their path. It was domination. WPIAL title. PIAA title.

32-0.

Coach Dick Cetrone's Sto-Rox team was a model of perfection, and the WPIAL hasn't seen anything like it since. Thirty years have gone by and Sto-Rox is still the most recent WPIAL boys team to go through an entire season undefeated.

Blackhawk came close in 2000, going 32-0 before losing in the PIAA final to Steelton-Highspire. Now, New Castle has a chance for perfection, as the Red Hurricanes take a 26-0 record into the PIAA playoffs. But the legacy of the 1983 Sto-Rox team is still going strong.

The 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only NFL team to go through a season undefeated and their players have been known to root for other undefeated teams to lose.

"I think I'm worse than the Dolphins," said DiMichele. "I don't know if I actually root for teams to lose, but it's nerve-racking. Every year, I'm checking the newspaper to make sure everyone has a loss. Once they all lose, I feel better."

In the WPIAL, 11 boys teams have gone through a season undefeated. McKeesport was the first in 1921, and Sto-Rox was the most recent.

"Being the last to [go undefeated] is something special for all of us," said DiMichele, who still lives in McKees Rocks. "I haven't seen New Castle play. In a way, I'm rooting for them. But if they lost, it wouldn't break my heart."

But no matter what New Castle does, nothing will tarnish what the 1983 Sto-Rox team accomplished and what it did for the small town of McKees Rocks. The team won't be forgotten. There is still a sign entering McKees Rocks that denotes the "1983 undefeated state champions." There is another one entering Stowe Township (Stowe and McKees Rocks merged in 1966 to form Sto-Rox).

"Looking back, we didn't have the inkling of how big of an achievement it was to go undefeated," said Mark Beavers, a senior forward on the team who now lives in Milwaukee. "You kind of were just like, 'We went undefeated. Sure.' But now you realize. Thirty years and still no one else has done it? I think we're all very proud of what we achieved and accomplished."

Beavers was the star of the team, a 6-foot-7 forward and future Duquesne University player who was recruited by a number of major colleges. He was so coveted by some schools that Duquesne coach Jim Satalin and Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo were more than willing to speak at the team banquet in April 1983.

But the Rox also rocked with a red-headed point guard (Ken Tschudi) who was tougher than sandpaper, a 6-5 forward (James Price) known to everyone as Junior and a slick-shooting guard (DiMichele) who would eventually marry the sister of a starting forward (Dennis Vith).

What this team also featured was a special chemistry. African-American players mixed with white players. Mark Beavers remembers all the pasta dinners he had with DiMichele's family. When the team stayed at a hotel in Hershey for the PIAA Class AA championship, Cetrone didn't assign roommates. The players picked their own roommates.

"I think every black kid roomed with a white player," Cetrone said. "They were just good kids. Out of the 12 kids we had on the team, seven were on the honor roll. Maybe these guys weren't as talented as some of the other great teams from around here, but I don't know if there was ever a team that played so well together."

Expectations were pretty big for Sto-Rox entering the 1982-83 season because four starters were seniors. DiMichele was a junior. Only two years previous, Sto-Rox won a WPIAL title.

The 1983 team had a big following. A group of men in their 40s and 50s, including some former McKees Rocks High School athletes, followed the team religiously. They sat front and center for games. Tony "Toodles" Magnelli, Joe and Vince Panucci and Al Seretti were part of the group. Vince Panucci owned a barber shop in McKees Rocks ("I still remember it today," Beavers said). Vince is now 86, been through five bouts with cancer but still cuts hair, with pictures of the 1983 team on the wall behind him.

"I used to go with my dad to all the Sto-Rox games," said Ron Panucci, Vince's son. "I went to Bellevue High School and our colors were red and black. Everyone at Bellevue used to ask me why I was the only kid who always wore a green and white tossil cap. That's because that was Sto-Rox's colors."

But Eugene Dellemonache, a senior at Sto-Rox, might have been the team's No. 1 fan. He was a well-built football/track and field standout at Sto-Rox who would get the Vikings faithful into a frenzy during games by swinging from railings and spelling out "Sto-Rox" with his body. He meant so much to the team that the week after the PIAA championship game, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette named DiMichele and Dellemonache co-athletes of the week.

On the court, Beavers averaged 19 points, 15 rebounds and 5 blocked shots a game. He had long arms, excellent jumping ability and versatility. His final list of colleges included Saint Joseph's, Connecticut, San Diego State, Pitt and Duquesne.

DiMichele averaged 15 points -- without a 3-point line. Price was 6-5 and had a nice medium-range game. Tschudi and Vith played their roles exceptionally. Senior guard Mike DeVecchio, junior forward Lee Smith and sophomore forward Keith Williamson were some of the top reserves.

Sto-Rox dominated just about everyone, outscoring opponents, 70.5-45.6. Only five games were decided by fewer than 10 points. The team played man-to-man, but Cetrone said "our bread and butter was a 2-1-2 trap defense."

The toughest game in the regular season was a 42-40 win at Quaker Valley. Sto-Rox had defeated Quaker Valley, 77-37, earlier in the season.

"There was just an eerie feeling about that game," Beavers said. "The lights at Quaker Valley were almost yellowish. It was one of those games where we were just totally off. They kept holding the ball. I think I remember Tschudi hitting a shot to put us over the top."

Sto-Rox breezed through the WPIAL playoffs and crushed Freedom and the Williams brothers (Chuck and Tony), 67-35, in the Class AA title game at the Civic Arena.

Sto-Rox won five PIAA games to claim the title. There was a 60-54 victory against Forest Hills in the second round. In a semifinal game against Chief Logan at Saint Francis College, Beavers got in foul trouble, but DiMichele came through with 24 points and Sto-Rox breezed to a 65-46 win.

In the title game against Tamaqua at the Hersheypark Arena, things didn't look good early. Beavers got three fouls in the first quarter and Tamaqua led, 22-8. But DiMichele scored 10 points in the second quarter and the Vikings trailed, 28-27, at halftime. DiMichele finished with 23 points and was 9 of 11 from the floor. Beavers scored all of his 15 points in the second half and Sto-Rox won, 71-64, to finish perfect.

"I'll never forget the first shot I took in Hershey was an airball and Mark turned to me and said, 'That's enough of that,' " DiMichele said. "I said, 'Listen, if I get it again and I'm open, I'm shooting it.' After the game, Mark said, 'Daren, thanks for not listening to me.' "

Cetrone still stays in touch with some of the players. Two years ago, Sto-Rox had a reunion of championship teams and a number of players from the 1983 team came back. Cetrone, 75, is a retired teacher who lives in Robinson.

"So many of them went on to successful things in life," Cetrone said.

Beavers' wife, Hillary Wynn, is a psychiatrist and the couple have three children. But they also adopted four others and Mark Beavers runs the family home in Milwaukee.

DiMichele lives in McKees Rocks and is in the insurance and financial-planning business. Vith lives in Ohio Township and is in the real-estate business. Price lives in Jacksonville, Fla., and is a pastor. Tschudi retired from the Army and lives in Florida.

"Besides the birth of my kids and getting married, that year was one of the best times of my life," DiMichele said of the 1982-83 season. "People can say I'm living in the past. They can say those championships and that season along with a quarter can buy me a cup of coffee. But you know what? No one can never take away from us what we did that year. It is something that will be close to my heart forever."

Perfectly put.

mobilehome - hsbasketball

Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com


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