Sam Clancy was a legendary basketball player at the University of Pittsburgh and played football in the National Football League from 1983 to 1993. His coaches were countless, but one stands out in Mr. Clancy's mind.
Elmer Guckert coached Mr. Clancy in basketball in the 1970s at both Fifth Avenue and Brashear high schools of the Pittsburgh City League.
"I wouldn't be where I'm at today if it wasn't for 'Guck.' He meant everything to me," Mr. Clancy said. "He was like a second father to me."
Mr. Guckert, who coached Mr. Clancy on one of the greatest high school basketball teams in Western Pennsylvania history, died June 6 at Masonic Village in Aleppo of complications from Alzheimer's disease. Mr. Guckert, of McCandless, was 84.
Mr. Guckert was a retired physical education and health teacher from the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Besides basketball, he also coached swimming, cross-country and baseball in the City League. He enjoyed plenty of success, but there was one team he always held special to his heart -- the 1976 Fifth Avenue basketball team.
That year, Fifth Avenue saw its season shortened by a teachers' strike, but the Archers still went undefeated, 15-0, and won a state championship. They are the last team from the City League to win a state title with an undefeated record. That team was dominant and blessed with loads of talent.
They were ranked No. 2 in the country and featured three future Division I college players -- Mr. Clancy; David "Puffy" Kennedy, University of Cincinnati; and Bill Clarke, Duquesne University. The team also had a terrific point guard in Warner Macklin, who played at Point Park College.
"That team was special to him," said Mr. Guckert's daughter, Sarah Rizzitano. "He had a state championship ring from that '76 team that he wore all the time. In fact, we're putting that ring in his casket."
Mr. Guckert, who played sports at Oliver High School in the City League, was not a "rah-rah" type of coach. In many ways, he was like having your grandfather as a coach.
"He never raised his voice and never got out of hand coaching," Mr. Clancy said. "I could take hard coaching. He coached with a firm hand, but not too firm."
Mr. Clancy stayed in touch with Mr. Guckert for decades, visiting his former coach at a retirement home every couple months. Mr. Clancy would even show up to watch Mr. Guckert's grandson, Anthony, play sports.
"Because of the Alzheimer's, he wouldn't recognize many people, but he always remembered and recognized Sam," Mrs. Rizzitano said.
Mr. Clancy said, "You'll never find anyone more caring or loving for his players than Guck. I remember when I was young, I would come home from somewhere and in my front yard would be my mom, aunts, uncles -- and Guck."
Fifth Avenue closed in 1976, and its students then transferred to Brashear High School, which opened for the 1976-77 school year. Mr. Clancy was part of Brashear's first graduating class in 1977. Mr. Guckert also coached Brashear before retiring in the early 1990s.
Two of Mr. Guckert's Brashear teams (1985 and '89) made it to state championship games. The 1985 team was memorable because it had four future Division I college athletes -- Major Harris, football at West Virginia University; Darelle Porter, basketball at Pitt; Darrell "Rocky" White, basketball at Duquesne; and Anthony Horne, basketball and football at Colgate.
That team lost to Carlisle in the state final, but Brashear upset a great Altoona team in the semifinals at Johnstown War Memorial. Altoona had two future NBA players -- Doug West and Mike Iuzzolino. Mr. Harris went to football stardom at West Virginia, twice finishing in the top five in Heisman Trophy voting.
"I played in all types of sports games in my career, but that Altoona game is still one of the biggest wins of my career," Mr. Harris said. "The thing about Guck is that you never really appreciate some coaches until you look back and see that they instilled this and that in you.
"At that time, he helped develop me from a teenager to getting ready for college and becoming a man. He and [former Brashear football coach] Ron Wabby left a big imprint on me."
Mr. Guckert was inducted into the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. He also was a PIAA official for basketball, baseball and softball. In 1976, Major League Baseball umpires wouldn't cross a Three Rivers Stadium picket line, so Mr. Guckert umpired a Pirates game.
Mr. Guckert was preceded in death by his wife, Gloria. Besides his daughter, Mr. Guckert is survived by three other children, Kathy Allison of Hickory, N.C., Karen Morris of Ben Avon Heights and Jim of Cranberry; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
A funeral will be held at 9:30 a.m. today in Christ Episcopal Church, 5910 Babcock Blvd., Ross. Interment will be at Allegheny County Memorial Park, McCandless.obituaries
Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 or on Twitter @mwhiteburgh.