Simply perfect: Uniontown basketball was unbeatable in 1964
Red Raiders won using quickness, teamwork and relentless defense under coach Everhart
March 6, 2014 7:54 PM
Associated Press Wire photo
Uniontown High School's WPIAL and Western Regional basketball champion captured its second PIAA Class A title in three seasons with a 62-51 win over Plymouth - Whitemarsh, Eastern champ, in Farm Show Arena at Harrisburg. The Red Raiders who turned back the defending champions are (left to right) : Seated : Stuart Lantz, Ray Parson, John Miller, Pat Yates, Jim Rae, Bennett Gregory and Ray Stephens. Second row: Coach A. J. Everhart Jr., Dave Zebrasky, Chris Cluss, Paul Yesbak, Jake Barnett, Harold bates, Lee Collier, Eugenne Huey, Chuckie Beckwith and Asst. Coach John Kruper.
By Mike White / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
You'll be hard-pressed to find many basketball teams in WPIAL history that had two future NFL players in the starting five.
Then add a future NBA player to the same starting five and you have a team for the ages.
Meet the 1964 Uniontown Raiders.
Sports 'n 'at: The incredible '64 Red Raiders
PG sportswriter Bob Dvorchak takes a look back at the undefeated 1964 Uniontown high School basketball team. (Video by Steve Mellon; 6/11/12)
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Uniontown's unforgettable team. Considering what the team accomplished, the talent on the team and what the players did after high school, the 1964 Uniontown team lives in WPIAL lore as one of the best ever in Western Pennsylvania.
Ray Parson was a starter on that 1964 Uniontown team and one of the players who made it to the NFL. He is now 67, living in Edina, Minn., having endured kidney and liver transplants. One thing that always makes him feel good and brightens his day is when he thinks back to that magical '64 season.
"It's kind of hard to forget that team and the collection of athletes," Parson said. "That was a fantastic team. I think that team would play anybody in [WPIAL] history and do well. I would put it up against any team even today."
The 1964 Uniontown team was coached by legendary Abe Everhart (549-149 career coaching record), and it was an absolutely perfect squad. The Raiders finished 28-0 and won the PIAA title March 21 in Harrisburg, the same day that UCLA and legendary coach John Wooden won his first NCAA title and did it with an undefeated record. About one month after Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali, Uniontown's '64 team etched its name in the record books. To this day, Uniontown is one of only 11 teams in more than 100 years of WPIAL basketball to make it through an entire season with a perfect record.
Joe Everhart was in sixth grade in 1964 and attended many of his father's games. That team is still revered in Uniontown 50 years later.
"Not so much with the younger kids, but those who were around back then still talk about that team a good bit," said Joe Everhart, 62, a retired Uniontown teacher who still lives in Uniontown. "In fact, I used to think that team was only that good to me because I was so young. But then years later, when I saw tapes of that team, I realized they were that good. They were amazing."
March of 1964 was when the TV game show "Jeopardy" debuted.
Question: "One of the all-time great WPIAL teams did not have a starter taller than 6 feet 4 but gushed with talent and a handful of future pros."
Answer: "Who is 1964 Uniontown?"
* Stu Lantz was a 6-foot-3 senior forward and the team's leading scorer at 18 points a game. He went on to play at the University of Nebraska and then seven seasons in the NBA. He averaged 20 points a game in the 1970-71 NBA season with the San Diego Rockets. He is the longtime color commentator for the Los Angeles Lakers TV games.
* Ben "Pope" Gregory was a 6-foot guard who averaged 13 points a game. He played running back at Nebraska and in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills.
*Parson was a 6-4 sophomore center who averaged 7 points a game. He went on to play tight end at the University of Minnesota and offensive tackle with the NFL's Detroit Lions. (The '64 Uniontown team actually had three future NFL players. Gene Huey was a reserve player who spent one season with the San Diego Chargers).
* The other two starters were 6-2 junior guard Pat Yates, an excellent player who averaged 11.2 ppg, and 5-11 senior guard Jim Rae.
* Uniontown also had talented players coming off the bench, including Ray Stephens, Charlie Beckwith, Paul Yezbak and Jake Barkett. Stephens went on to play quarterback at the University of Minnesota.
The surprising thing about the 1964 Uniontown team is the Raiders were not expected to be all that powerful. The 1963 Uniontown team was a vaunted squad that many expected would roll to its second consecutive WPIAL and PIAA titles, but Norwin pulled off a gigantic upset in the 1963 WPIAL quarterfinals. Big John Naponick, a 6-9, 280-pound center, scored 30 points as Norwin defeated Uniontown, 61-50, and broke Uniontown's 36-game winning streak.
Four regulars graduated from the '63 Uniontown team. But the Raiders came together and the foundation for the '64 team was laid the preceding summer on the playgrounds of Uniontown.
"Stu Lantz didn't play much until his senior year and he made a big leap from his junior to senior year playing on the playgrounds," said George Von Benko, a radio sportscaster and co-founder/excecutive director of the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame.
Von Benko spent much of his childhood in Uniontown and remembers when summer playground games at Boyle, Lincoln View, East End and other places would draw Uniontown players and sometimes draw 100 fans.
"I vividly remember Jerry West and his teammates at West Virginia University used to sometimes come up and play," Von Benko said. "The playgrounds were a real incubator for what happened to that '64 team."
Parson said, "The East End playground is where I got to meet and play with all the guys. We all got together and played. It got to the point where we started to know if one guy had a cold and he was ready to cough, we had a tissue ready to wipe his nose. We knew each other so well and had great chemistry. I don't think teams have that kind of camaraderie today."
Everhart molded the team into a machine and Uniontown's staple in '64 was a full-court press.
"It was hard for teams to get the ball past half court," Parson said.
"They just had so many great athletes who made the press so good," Joe Everhart said.
Uniontown developed a mighty reputation in the 1963-64 season. For home games, the student pep band played "Sweet Georgia Brown", the Harlem Globetrotters theme song, when the team came on the court for warm-ups.
"I remember one game the other team came out to warm up and then Uniontown came out," Joe Everhart recalled. "The other team stopped to watch Uniontown warm up."
Uniontown breezed through the regular season with a 22-0 record, averaging 82 points a game. After two blowouts in the WPIAL playoffs, Uniontown played Midland in a highly anticipated WPIAL championship game between two undefeated teams. Midland was loaded with talent, including two future professional players in Simmie Hill (ABA) and Norm Van Lier (NBA). A sellout crowd of 10,037 packed the Civic Arena as Uniontown beat Midland, 46-43.
Yates scored 13 for Uniontown. Hill had 26 for Midland, but Van Lier was held to three.
"We probably had more depth than they did," Parson said. "We couldn't stop Simmie, but they couldn't stop us."
The PIAA playoffs came next. Lantz scored 31 in a 66-46 first-round victory against Huntingdon. Uniontown crushed Punxsutawney, 83-47, in the semifinals before beating Plymouth-Whitemarsh, 62-51, in the title game at the Harrisburg Farm Show. Yates scored 19, Gregory 16, Rae 13 and Lantz 12.
The perfect season started Uniontown on a 52-game winning streak, which is still tied with Washington for the longest in WPIAL history.
"Coach Everhart demanded quite a bit of excellence and some people just couldn't perform under that," Parson said. "But that  team was just a really loose bunch of guys, too, and one of the reasons we had so much success was because we were so loose -- and we always had each others backs."
The Uniontown Red Raiders' perfect 1963-64 season:
Pittsburgh South 97-34
Mt. Lebanon 73-62
Youngstown Chaney 71-57
*Albert Gallatin 75-45
* - WPIAL playoffs
^ - PIAA playoffs
For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh
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