Obituary: Don Asmonga / Belle Vernon coach, social studies teacher

Feb. 15, 1928 - Jan. 13, 2014

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As a player on Belle Vernon's basketball team in the late 1970s, Randy Giannini knew that if head coach Don Asmonga called for a Saturday practice at 9 a.m., that meant you had better be at the gym, laced up and ready to go by 8:45.

Mr. Asmonga's no-nonsense attitude -- the one that made him successful at virtually every sport he tried -- also translated over to coaching. He won 297 basketball games at Belle Vernon, including a 1978 WPIAL championship.

Mr. Asmonga of Rostraver died Monday in Jefferson Regional Medical Center of complications from multiple illnesses. He was 85.

"He was a tough coach, but everything he said came true," said Mr. Giannini, who played point guard on that 1978 championship team. "It worked out very well for us."

Mr. Asmonga's love of sports started as a child and he played on various teams at Homestead High School. Mr. Asmonga, who was born in West Mifflin, played on the 1946 "Four Johns and a Don" Homestead basketball team that was 28-0 and won the state title. Homestead's coach at the time was former Duquesne University coach Chick Davies, who Mr. Asmonga looked up to and emulated as a coach.

"That was a name he would discuss with his [Belle Vernon] players many times," said retired Belle Vernon superintendent Steve Russell, who was once a student statistician under Mr. Asmonga.

After a brief baseball career with the Boston Red Sox organization was derailed because of an arm injury, Mr. Asmonga spent some time playing professional basketball with the Baltimore Bullets in the mid-1950s.

During that time, he married Bernice Staisey. Her father had followed Mr. Asmonga's athletic career from high school and introduced the two.

"When they were first together, my dad was still playing ball so he was gone quite a bit," said Donald Asmonga Jr.

Eventually, Mr. Asmonga decided to settle down and applied to be the first basketball and baseball coach for the newly formed Belle Vernon Area School District in 1965. The 39-year-old eventually landed both jobs.

According to Mr. Asmonga's son, his style on the basketball court translated to their home, where he was always quick to dole out some advice -- "solicited or unsolicited," joked Mr. Asmonga Jr. -- to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"When we walked in the house these last couple of years we could expect to see him in the kitchen with his coffee or in the living room in his chair," the younger Mr. Asmonga said. "He was talking, asking what was going on, joking with us, giving us advice.

"I guess when you get down to it, he never stopped coaching."

Despite overtures from local colleges, he never felt the urge to leave Belle Vernon. He retired from coaching in 1988 and from his job as a Belle Vernon Area social studies teacher in 1993. Since then, he was content to play golf, tend to his garden or just spend time with his growing family.

"More than anything -- he had the athletic accomplishments -- but you ask my dad what he's proudest of, it's two things," Mr. Asmonga Jr. said. "One is being married to my mother for 64 years and the other is raising six kids."

In addition to his wife and son Donald of Frederick, Md., Mr. Asmonga is survived by another son, Daniel of Conway, S.C., and daughters Mary Ann Asmonga-Knapp of Battle Creek, Mich., Cathy Ciaccia of Farmington, Nancy Colleton of Great Falls, Va., and Emilie Gadd of Monongahela.

A blessing will be held at 9:30 a.m. today at the James C. Stump Funeral Home, 580 Circle Drive, Belle Vernon, followed by a 10 a.m. Mass at Church of St. Anne, 1870 Rostraver Road, Belle Vernon.


Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published January 15, 2014 11:55 PM


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