High School Notebook: EF playing like a champ, on best run since 1976

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Frank Champ teaches biology, anatomy and physiology at Elizabeth Forward High School. This spring, he's added history.

Only he's not teaching history. He's making it.

Champ, 34, is in his sixth year as Elizabeth Forward's baseball coach and it has been an historic year for the Warriors. They won their first section title in 27 years. They made it to the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals and qualified for the PIAA playoffs for the first time in school history. They have won two PIAA games and play in the semifinals tomorrow against Hershey.

Elizabeth Forward is one of three WPIAL teams still playing in the state semifinals. The two others aren't surprises. Serra made it to the PIAA Class A final a year ago. Pine-Richland (AAAA) has won four WPIAL titles in the past seven years and one PIAA championship.

But Elizabeth Forward in the state semifinals? The Warriors are having their greatest season since they won the 1976 WPIAL title with a 4-3 victory against Springdale at Three Rivers Stadium.

That was the last time Elizabeth Forward won a postseason game until this year.

Champ could be a champ by the end of this week. The PIAA title game is Friday.

"I think, at least right now, these guys believe they can compete with anyone," Champ said. "We've told the kids all along, 'Don't be content. Don't be satisfied with where you are.' And they're not. They believe they can win it all and that's what we're striving for."

Elizabeth Forward has made steady progress under Champ, qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs a year ago. And maybe this program isn't a one-year wonder. The team's top two pitchers -- Danny Altavilla and Tony Totedo -- are juniors.

"We have five key seniors that we're losing, but we have a good bunch of juniors coming back who I think will help us carry on the tradition," Champ said.

Championship coach ousted

Marvin Emerson won three WPIAL championships in his seven seasons as Aliquippa's boys' basketball coach, but the Aliquippa school board voted, 6-3, Wednesday night to open his position.

The move might come as a surprise when you consider the championships on Emerson's resume. But it seems the folks in Aliquippa don't accept mediocrity too well. Aliquippa lost in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs two of the past three seasons and in the quarterfinals the other time.

That would be more than acceptable at many schools, but from 1983 through 2007, the Quips made it to at least the semifinals 18 times and had 11 title game appearances.

Batteer gets high honor

Mt. Lebanon's Zach Batteer, the Post-Gazette soccer player of the year for the 2009 season, was named a Parade magazine All-American.

Although Batteer played in the fall, Parade doesn't select its All-American team until June because some states play soccer in the spring. The All-American team appears in today's Parade magazine in the Post-Gazette. Batteer was one of only two Pennsylvania players selected.

A coach and John Wooden

It seems many people were touched by legendary former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who died recently. Wooden even touched a district soccer and baseball coach.

Dave Fortun, who coached soccer at Deer Lakes and was an assistant baseball coach at Shaler, has a terrific story about Wooden.

Wooden was Fortun's idol as a coach. Fifteen years ago, Fortun wrote UCLA's athletic department asking if he, his wife and two sons could meet Wooden while the family was vacationing in the Los Angeles area. Wooden sent Fortun a handwritten letter, inviting the family to meet him at UCLA.

After meeting Wooden, the former UCLA coach took the Fortun family to breakfast and they spent three hours together. "This was with four people he had never met before and four people he would never see again," Dave Fortun said.

Check this out

• Serra hired Jamie Eckels as its new football coach. Eckels was an assistant at McKeesport the past 19 seasons and plans to run the flexbone (triple option) offense that was highly successful at McKeesport.

• Gateway defensive back Dondi Kirby was offered a scholarship by Southern California this week. Florida also offered him recently.

Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1975.


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