Obituary: Fred Yee / State champion basketball coach at Schenley

April 4, 1934 - Jan. 28, 2012

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Fred Yee was 20-something and wasn't exactly enthralled working in the business world. His wife, Karen, couldn't help but notice his unhappiness.

"One day I asked him, 'Fred, what do you want to do?' " Mrs. Yee said. "He told me, 'What I really would like to do is coach. That's what I want to do.'

"So I told him, 'You're going to work until you're 65. Go ahead and coach.' "

Fred Yee went back to college at the University of Pittsburgh, earned a master's degree in education, got a teaching job -- and then a coaching job.

Mr. Yee, who went on to become a highly successful championship boys basketball and girls softball coach, died Jan. 28 at St. Clair Hospital of complications from lymphoma. He was 77.

Mr. Yee, of Bethel Park, is a member of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. He was best known as the coach of a strong Schenley boys basketball team that won a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association championship in 1978. Mr. Yee also went on to win five City League titles with the Carrick girls softball team.

"That was one of his goals to win that state championship," said Mrs. Yee, Fred's wife of 50 years. "But he did a lot of other things, too. He was the first Asian to play basketball at Pitt [1955-56]. He was the first Asian to be inducted into the Western Pennsylvania Hall of Fame. He really was kind of a trailblazer for other Asians in this area."

Mr. Yee was a retired physical education teacher from Pittsburgh Public Schools. His first coaching job was the head boys basketball coach at Westinghouse High School. He went from Westinghouse to Schenley during the glory days of Schenley basketball in the 1960s and '70s.

"Schenley was a dynasty back then, an absolute dynasty," said Ken McDonough, who was then an assistant coach at Peabody. "I was amazed they didn't win more state titles and please don't take that as a reflection on coaching. It's just that those teams were all so impressive. They played hard and [opponents] had to overcome so much natural talent and athletic ability."

From 1966 through 1978, Schenley won four state championships. Mr. Yee's 1978 team had a memorable championship game against Lebanon High School and 7-foot Sam Bowie, who would go on to play at the University of Kentucky and in the National Basketball Association. Schenley won, 51-50.

In the title game, Mr. Bowie had 24 points and nine rebounds. But Schenley banged Mr. Bowie around with a front line that had James Smith and David Thornton, both 6 feet 7 inches, and Larry Anderson, 6-5. Mr. Thornton and Mr. Smith each scored 11 points, point guard Calvin Kane 10 and Mr. Anderson 8.

Four Schenley players from the 1978 team got NCAA Division I scholarships. Mr. Anderson, a junior in 1978, was the most heralded player and went on to have a notable career at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Mr. Smith went to Wisconsin, Mr. Thornton to George Washington and Mr. Kane, who died Tuesday at age 50, to Lamar. The fifth starter was James Alston, and James Walsh was a key player off the bench.

"I don't know if that '78 team was as good as the [2007] Schenley team that had DeJuan Blair and D.J. Kennedy," said Buddy Valinsky, a star player at Allderdice in 1978. "But that '78 team was so big and Larry Anderson was just a stud."

Mr. Yee pushed all the right buttons during the PIAA tournament as Schenley had three one-point victories against Wilkinsburg, Erie Cathedral Prep and Lebanon. The Spartans also won another PIAA game by three points against Allderdice.

"Fred never got real excited as a coach," said Fred Lucas, a Schenley fan who also taught physical education with Mr. Yee at Schenley. "He knew what to do, and the kids respected his knowledge of the game without him having to yell and scream to motivate them. He conducted his classes the same way."

Mr. Yee went on to become an assistant coach at Brashear under Elmer Guckert on two teams that played in state championship games (1985 and 1989).

"Freddie was hardworking and very competitive," Mr. McDonough said. "But he could always give a smile and say congratulations."

In addition to his wife, Mr. Yee is survived by daughters Michelle Caslin of Upper St. Clair and Jacqueline DePolo of Mt. Lebanon; a son, Kenneth, of Cincinnati; brothers Paul and Ed of Los Angeles, Bob of San Francisco, Henry of Bethel Park and John of Baldwin; sisters Mabel Wong of New York City and Rose Hom of San Diego; and four grandchildren.

Arrangements were by Jefferson Memorial Funeral Home, Pleasant Hills.


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


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