LORETTO - Drew Frank interrupted his post-game interview to shake hands with John Swogger, the former Altoona Area High School coaching great.
Frank was a reserve for the State College Little Lions when Swogger's teams were dominating District 6 in the 1970s, a legacy the Mountain Lions sustained under Larry Betar into the 1980s.
"When I was playing, we never believed we could beat a Coach Swogger-coached team," Frank said.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
State College coach?Drew Frank instructs his team during Wednesday night’s District 6 championship game.
The last 20-plus years have seen the torch passed to State College, which captured its ninth District 6 Class AAAA title - more than doubling the total of any other school in that span - following Wednesday night's 68-61 win over the Mountain Lions at DeGol Arena.
For the humble, unassuming Frank, the title marked his sixth in 12 seasons and fifth in the last eight, but he downplayed his growing place on the District 6 mantle.
"If we try to compare eras, the Altoona teams with Coach Swogger, there is a huge difference," he said.
Maybe so. Maybe the talent level from the mid-1970s through the early '90s, when Altoona turned out four NBA players and several other Division II standouts, was a bit higher than it is these days.
But there's no question State College, which also won the PIAA title in 2003, has become the standard-bearing program.
A lot of that has to do with Frank.
"I love playing for him," senior guard Tanner Curley, one of four State College players in double figures with 17 points, said. "He teaches basketball the way it should be played, and he runs a high school program the way it should be run."
Frank did not allow his players to attend Saturday's semifinal between Altoona and favored Hollidaysburg, even though the game was played at State College High School. He wanted the Little Lions solely focused on Central Mountain, a team they dispatched later in the day.
Part of Frank's reasoning was his sense, and admission, that he didn't have his team adequately prepared mentally for last year's final, a loss to the Tigers, "and I didn't want to make that mistake again."
There was no denying State's focus Wednesday night.
The Little Lions showed off their balance with six players scoring in the first half - Altoona needed 22 minutes before its third starter scored - and then a seventh, sophomore forward Bryon Sekunda, went off for 10 points in the third quarter.
"That's been a strength," Frank said. "We have a lot of flexibility without much dropoff."
When the Mountain Lions showed their heart by hanging tough and cutting the lead to two in the fourth quarter, State College calmly responded by sinking 15-of-16 free throws in the final period - including a perfect 8-of-8 by Kyle Kanaskie.
"We have good chemistry and trust each other down the stretch," Kanaskie said.
Of State's top eight, just two are seniors so the Little Lions' future is bright. SC will join the Mid-Penn Conference in basketball in 2012 - it's already a member in football - but the Little Lions will stay in District 6, and Frank hopes to keep Altoona and Hollidaysburg on the schedule.
"It never gets old to win a district title and for Altoona and State College to be here, when no one was talking about them early in the season, speaks well for District 6," he said. "For years, there was no rivalry because we didn't hold up our end, but I want to continue this rivalry because I think it's been based on respect."
Drew Frank and State College showed Wednesday night - on the court and after the game - why that respect is mutual.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.