PIAA boys basketball preview: 1988 Uniontown-Farrell meeting legendary

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Uniontown coach Rob Kezmarsky attended a scholarship fundraiser Saturday night in Uniontown and ran into a number of fans who wanted to talk about the Raiders’ second-round PIAA playoff game against Farrell.

Only they wanted to talk about the Farrell-Uniontown PIAA game 26 years ago.

The two teams play tonight at Penn Hills in a Class AAA game that is stirring plenty of memories of the last time they met. The 1988 Farrell-Uniontown game was one of the most unforgettable games in PIAA playoff history, not because it went double overtime but because an error by the scorekeeper cost Uniontown the game. It was “The Deuce Game” — with an “Ace” also playing a role.

“Whether it was at that fundraiser, or on Facebook or Twitter, you keep hearing people talk about that game,” Kezmarsky said. “As soon as we won our [first-round] game Friday night and as soon as I knew we were playing Farrell, I said, ‘Here it goes.’”

Farrell won the 1988 game, 65-62, at Pitt’s Fitzgerald Field House. Kezmarsky was a junior at Laurel Highlands High School at the time, but he attended the game with his parents. Lawrence “Deuce” Skurcenski, a legendary statistician in Western Pennsylvania high school sports, was the official scorer for the game and mistakenly credited Farrell’s No. 30, Carletis Williams, with a basket in the first half that was scored by Uniontown’s No. 30, Dana Vaughns.

At one point in the first half, the score was tied, 20-20. But officials stopped the game, conferred with Skurcenski, then changed the score to 22-18 in favor of Farrell. That score was wrong.

At halftime, officials Jim Julian and Walt Szala discussed the mistake with WPIAL executive director Charles “Ace” Heberling, who was working the game as a site manager.

Although the officials knew the score was wrong, media members knew the score was wrong and fans knew the score was wrong, Heberling told the officials the score had to stand because he believed the rules stated the error needed to be corrected by the first dead ball.

Heberling was wrong about that, too, because the score could have been changed at any point in the game.

So the incorrect score stood, Uniontown lost in two overtimes, and Skurcenski drew the ire of Uniontown fans that night. Upset Uniontown coach Lash Nesser never coached another game. Nesser, a legendary coach who won 680 games at St. John’s High School and Uniontown, died of a heart attack later in 1988.

As for Skurcenski, he came into the Post-Gazette offices after the 1988 game, like he always did on basketball nights. He looked ready to cry.

Now 72, Skurcenski said what he remembers most about that game was “the fact that I had to get escorted out of the danger that was in the Field House.”

The PIAA barred Skurcenski from being an official scorer for any playoff game the next year. The PIAA also barred Julian and Szala from officiating any PIAA playoff games the next year.

In October 1988, a state Senate task force was investigating operations of the PIAA and had a hearing in Pittsburgh. Heberling testified at the hearing and admitted he was wrong by saying the scoring error couldn’t be corrected.

“We blew the whole thing,” Heberling said in testimony. “But we learned a valuable lesson because I don’t think anybody in Pennsylvania will ever allow this to happen again.”

Skurcenski isn’t sure if he will attend this Uniontown-Farrell game, but he has been to a few Uniontown games since the 1988 debacle.

“Everybody kids me about that game, but I’m over it. It’s just another game now. That’s all,” said Skurcenski, who claims to have seen 10,250 games in his life. “Uniontown people have been nice about it. They’ve got great fans down there and knowledgeable, too.”

As for the game tonight, it matches two teams with great traditions. Farrell used to play in the WPIAL until leaving for District 10 in 2006. The Steelers won 13 WPIAL titles, the most in league history. Uniontown, which lost to Chartiers Valley in the WPIAL semifinals, hasn’t been to the second round of the PIAA playoffs since 2002.

“We didn’t play our best against Chartiers Valley but they deserve credit because they make a lot of teams look that way,” Kezmarsky said. “Now we’ve got another chance to go and play in the Pittsburgh area.

“Our kids don’t want the season to end. If we win, we’ll be back playing in the Pittsburgh area again Friday [in the PIAA quarterfinals].”

For more on high school sports, go to “Varsity Blog” at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.

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