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Wagner's story inspires Williamsburg

September 16, 2012
The Altoona Mirror

Kudos to Walt Frank (Williamsburg class of 1968) for his insightful, and well written story featuring Tyrone resident and Williamsburg native Don Wagner Sr., who is truly a basketball legend in his hometown.

To learn that Don is still playing the game well into his 70s and at a very high level is amazing as well as inspiring.

Frank's article couldn't help but bring to mind those glorious days at Williamsburg High School, beginning in the mid-1950s and continuing deep into the 1960s when the Blue Pirates pieced together a veritable "golden age" in the history of Pennsylvania hoops.

Over 14 seasons starting in 1953-54 and culminating in 1967-68, Williamsburg won 12 Juniata Valley League titles, nine District 6 titles and six western regional championships. The proverbial icing on the cake was our area's first state championship (1958) with coach Bill Casper at the helm. Then in the '60s, coach Dick Buckley directed the Blue Pirates to a second PIAA title (1966).

During the 1950s, it was Ron Robeson, Wagner, Galen Hall, Jack Campbell, Dick Dibert, Ken Flaig, Jim Hancuff and Eldon "Shorty" Lower, among others, that made up the core of Casper's dominating squads.

From 1954-1958, they posted a combined record of 100 wins against eight defeats while reaching the state title game in three consecutive seasons. The 1958 state crown was especially sweet since Williamsburg edged Jenkintown, which had beaten the Blue Pirates in 1958.

Both games were played at Juniata College.

Williamsburg excelled in other sports too, going undefeated in football in 1955 and 1957 and adding a Blair County baseball title in 1958. Coaches Bill Rhodes and Sam Fonzi led those outstanding squads.

Buckley followed Casper and during an incomparable run from 1963 to 1968, his charges rolled up a record of 124 wins with only six losses. This spectacular stretch included a 67-game regular season winning streak, a team (1964-65) that averaged 100 pints per game, five consecutive District 6 titles and one undefeated squad at 25-0 (1965-66).

It's hard to imagine that any other school of comparable size, anywhere, could match these unparalleled achievements. No doubt Robeson, Wagner, Hall and company launched a tradition that has endured for many decades.

The successes of the 1950s and '60s were matched with the Lady Pirate powerhouses of the 1990s, including another state championship in 1997, and Williamsburg still ranks in the top 10 in PIAA basketball history for state championship appearances with a total of eight trips to the title game.

Not bad for a school that is currently the smallest in the state that is still sponsoring a football squad each fall.

Don Appleman, Williamsburg

Outlook bleak for PSU

The ghost of coach Joe Paterno visited the Scott Stadium in Virginia last week in a sun-drenched, humid atmosphere in the body of Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco.

In 2010, Paterno recruited high school quarterbacks Rob Bolden and Paul Jones. He didn't recruit Rocco, son of former Penn State quarterback Frank Rocco Jr. and grandson of former assistant PSU coach and administrator Frank Rocco Sr.

What a major mistake.

Michael Rocco took advantage of finding major holes in Penn State's secondary when his own team didn't seem to want to win at times.

Penn State is now 0-2 with winnable games against Navy and Temple in non-conference play and Indiana in conference play.

Emotions can carry a team only so far before things unravel.

Coach Bill O'Brien is still making excuses for his team, but that is becoming very tiresome.

My assessment is that the Nittany Lions will go 0-12 at worst or 3-9 at best. But that isn't enough to hold undergraduate players from leaving after this season. To exacerbate the problem, members of the 2013 class are starting to have major doubts and with losses mounting will also contemplate moving on.

O'Brien is in a learning mode in dealing with these young kids.

He is searching for answers. Professional players can fit an O'Brien style of offense more easily than even good college players.

There is a long, long way to go for O'Brien and his staff to get these young folks not only to buy into the offensive and defensive game plan but to actually have the right talent to execute what is to be done.

This is a long, long haul even for the Penn State fans to continue to be patient.

Les Hart


Blame NCAA, not Ficken

I was disappointed in the Mirror's headline last Sunday, which I thought blamed Sam Ficken for Penn State's loss to Virginia.

Football is a team sport, and the team wins or loses as a team. The kicker only played five plays. His extra point was blocked.

Blame the NCAA for slowly killing the PSU football program. They have more power than God. It is a disgrace to punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty.

This team will be remembered not for the wins or losses but for their great courage off the field. It's a great team of honor.

Gerald Joe Wills


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