WPIAL 100 years: These are the athletes who have helped define it
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Stan Musial, Donora
At Donora High in the late 1930s, Musial was quite the athlete, playing football, basketball and baseball. But Stan "The Man" went on to become one of the greatest in Major League Baseball history. He played outfield and first base for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1941-63 and his 3,630 career hits is fourth all time behind Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron. His career batting average was .331.
Musial was a three-time National League MVP and a seven-time batting champion. When he retired, he held 17 Major League, 29 National League and nine All-Star Game records. He is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Ken Griffey Sr.
Two of the greatest Western Pennsylvania baseball players are from Donora High. Decades after Musial came through Donora, Ken Griffey Sr. was an outstanding athlete for the Monongahela Valley school (Donora merged with Monongahela High to form Ringgold).
Griffey Sr. was an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds and also played for the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves and Seattle Mariners. He finished second in the race for the National League batting title in 1976, played in the majors for 19 seasons and had a .296 career average. In '91, he and his son, Ken Jr., made history when they became the first father and son to play in a game together.
Played 15 years in the major leagues, mostly with the Philadelphia Phillies. Hit 351 career home runs and had a .292 career batting average.
Dick Groat, Swissvale
Insert an 'e' for the 'o' in the last name, and you have the best word to describe Groat's athletic ability. One of the greatest athletes in the history of the WPIAL, excelling in baseball and basketball. Was an All-American basketball and baseball player at Duke in the 1950s and had his basketball jersey retired. He led the nation in scoring as a senior with a 26-point average.
After his rookie season with the Pirates, Groat played for the NBA's Fort Wayne Pistons and averaged almost 12 points a game. But his NBA career lasted only one season because Pirates general manager Branch Rickey made him quit. Groat went on to play nine seasons for the Pirates. A shortstop, he won the NL batting title (.325) in 1960 and also a World Series title that year. He played 14 seasons in the major leagues.
Billy Knight, Braddock
The kid known as "Mooney" was a Knight to remember. After a stellar prep career at Braddock (now part of the Woodland Hills district), this forward-guard had a marvelous career at Pitt, leading the Panthers to the 1974 Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, the furthest any Pitt team has advanced. He was an All-American and played 11 seasons in the ABA and NBA. In 1976-77, he was the NBA's second-leading scorer (behind Pete Maravich) with an average of 26.6 points.
How's this for select company? In 1958, the AP and UPI first-team college All-Americans were Hennon, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor and Guy Rodgers.
Hennon, the pride of Wampum High, whooped many opponents with his shooting. His 2,376 career points at Wampum from 1951-55 stood as the WPIAL record for 38 years (Wampum is now part of the Ellwood City and Mohawk districts). He had a brilliant career at Pitt, making All-American status in 1958 and '59. His 1,841 career points is No. 4 on the all-time Panthers list. He passed up the NBA to become a doctor.
He was a center in his high school days but became an accomplished point guard at the University of Maryland and in the NBA. He was the first player of the Dallas Mavericks to have his number retired (No. 15). His NBA career spanned 15 seasons (1977-92), and he was among the league's assists leaders a few times. When he retired, he was one of only 15 players to play 15 NBA seasons.
Norm Van Lier, Midland
"Stormin' Norman" was a point guard on a legendary Midland team in the 1960s with Simmie Hill. Van Lier went on to play at St. Francis, Pa., and then in the NBA (1969-79). His best years were with the Chicago Bulls when he made the All-Star Game three times and led the NBA in assists (10.1 per game) in the 1970-71 season. His 5,217 career assists is 37th all time in the NBA.
Swin Cash, McKeesport
Cash has followed a golden path throughout her career. She won a WPIAL title at McKeesport in 1998, but that was only her first golden moment. She is one of only six women to have won an NCAA title (University of Connecticut in 2000 and 2002), an Olympic gold medal (2004) and a WNBA championship with the Detroit Shock (2003).
Suzie McConnell, Seton- LaSalle
A tiny point guard who rose to great heights in her career. Her 1,307 career assists at Penn State (1984-88) is an NCAA record. She won a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic team in 1988 and, as a mother of four children, played in the WNBA with the Cleveland Rockers. She won WPIAL and PIAA titles as a player at Seton-LaSalle, and a number of WPIAL and PIAA titles as coach of the Oakland Catholic girls' basketball team. She also coached the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA for more than three seasons.
Gretchen Rush, Mt. Lebanon
One of the most dominant players in WPIAL tennis history, Rush went on to make it to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, the French Open and U.S. Open. Rush won three WPIAL titles in the 1970s before attending Trinity College in Texas, where she was a four-time All-American. She was a two-time NCAA singles runner-up, a two-time doubles runner-up and a doubles champion in 1983. She was the college women's player of the year in '84 and '85.
, Mt. Lebanon
This isn't the Hollywood actor, but he put on quite a show with Jared Palmer in 2001 when they won the men's doubles title at Wimbledon. The team also made it to the U.S. Open final that year. Johnson also teamed with Kimberly Po to win the mixed doubles championship at Wimbledon in 2000.
Arnold Palmer, Latrobe
The legend started when he was young, as Arnie was the first golfer from the WPIAL to win back-to-back PIAA titles in 1946-47. Went on to greatness on the PGA level and is one of the great ambassadors of the sport. Won seven majors in his career -- four British Opens, two Masters and one U.S. Open.
, Upper St. Clair
The 1979 PIAA champion, Berteotti went on to play more than a decade on the LPGA Tour. She tied for sixth at the 1988 U.S. Open.
TRACK AND FIELD
John Woodruff, Connellsville
They called him Long John because of his long legs. His legacy has lived a long time. After finishing his freshman year at Pitt in 1936, he made the U.S. Olympic team and won a gold medal in the 800-meter run in the Games in Berlin, Germany. Every gold-medal winner that year was given a small tree. Woodruff's was planted at Connellsville High School's stadium. Today, the tree towers over the field near an end zone.
Lauryn Williams, Rochester
A former student-council president at Rochester, you could call Williams the fastest woman in the world. Williams won the 100-meter dash at the 2005 world championships. The year before, she won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics. A former WPIAL and PIAA record-holder, Williams also had a stellar career at the University of Miami.
Carole Zajac, Baldwin
This distance runner had a penchant for putting a great distance between her and the rest of the pack. Last fall, she was named the NCAA's most outstanding student-athlete in cross country for the past quarter-century. A WPIAL and PIAA champion at Baldwin, Zajac won two NCAA cross country titles and two track titles in the 10,000 meters.
, Greensburg Central Catholic
A 1985 Greensburg Central graduate, she held the national high school record in the discus at one time. She went on to compete at the University of Florida but eventually changed gears, making the U.S. Olympic judo team in 2000.
, Penn Hills
Some WPIAL high schools had to lengthen their long jump pits because Bentley would jump out of them. His leap of 26-91/4 at a 1989 summer meet in Argentina is still the national record for a high school athlete. The record for a high school meet is 26-6, by Carl Lewis.
This guy could throw 18 pounds a long way. In the 1932 Olympics, he won a bronze medal in the 18-pound hammer throw.
, Beaver Falls
Young qualified for the Olympics at a young age. In 1980, the same year she graduated from Beaver Falls, Young qualified for the U.S. team in hurdles, but the U.S. boycotted the Olympics that year. At one time, Young held the world indoor record in the 55-meter hurdles and tied the world record in the 60-meter hurdles.
Cary Kolat, Jefferson-Morgan
Many considered him the No. 1 wrestler in the country his senior year at Jefferson-Morgan. Finished his high school career with a 137-0 record. Went on to wrestle at Penn State and Lock Haven and won two NCAA championships in 1996 and '97. Also made the U.S. Olympic team in 2000.
Kurt Angle, Mt. Lebanon
Angle is now a professional wrestler in the WWE, but his talent was for "real" during his amateur days. The only WPIAL wrestler to win an Olympic gold medal, accomplishing the feat in 1996. He also won two NCAA championships ('90 and '92) at Clarion University. At Mt. Lebanon, Angle won two WPIAL titles but was known also for his football talent, making the Post-Gazette Fabulous 22 all-star team.
, Greensburg Salem
The only wrestler from the WPIAL to win three NCAA championships (2002, '04 and '05). Only 38 other wrestlers in NCAA history have won three titles.
Besides Jones, Angle and Kolat, the only other WPIAL wrestlers to win two NCAA championships were Washington's Tony Gizoni (1950-51) and Shaler's Ed Perry ('55-56).
Sean Shapert, Moon
He's from Moon, and his star is still shining. His 213 career goals from 1981-84 remains the national high school record. Shapert went on to a successful career at Indiana University.
Dick Rydze, Mt. Lebanon
Rydze made a splash at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, winning a silver medal in platform diving.
Paul Wyatt, Brownsville
Used to rub elbows on the U.S. Olympic team with "Tarzan." Wyatt, a backstroker, won a silver medal in the 1924 Games in Paris and a bronze at the '28 Olympics in Amsterdam. One of his U.S. swimming teammates in '28 was Johnny Weismuller, the original "Tarzan" in movies.
Namesnik is one of the most famous names in district swimming. A former WPIAL and PIAA champion in the 1980s, he went on to become a two-time Olympic silver medalist (1992 and '96) in the 400-meter individual medley. At one time, he was ranked No. 1 in the world in the event.
Jen Flynn, Baldwin
A former Post-Gazette Athlete of the Year, Flynn was the starting setter on the U.S. national team that finished second at the 2002 World Championships. She was an all-Big Ten Conference selection at Ohio State.
First Published August 27, 2006 12:00 am