PSU Altoona squad had right mix

As one of the coaches of the 1967-68 Penn State-Altoona Campus basketball team that won the Commonwealth Campus state championship, I would like to make a few comments to add to the recent Mirror piece about the success of that great team.

John Wiberg, the head coach, was my very good friend and mentor until his death in 2015.

In my opinion, he had the best basketball mind of any coach who ever coached in this area. Unfortunately, most people never heard of him.

Soon after winning the first Mountain League title for Tyrone in 50-plus years, and after winning the title at PSU-Altoona and then coaching a couple of years at Hollidaysburg, he dropped out of coaching during the height of his career to care for his elderly mother.

Wiberg’s success began as a player for Altoona High School in 1950-52. He spent one year on a scholarship at Iowa, and then transferred to Clarion, where he became captain of a 19-1 team.

In 1989, he was inducted into Clarion’s first Hall of Fame along with Cy Young winner Pete Vuckovich, Baltimore Colts great Alex Sandusky and Wade Schalles. It was Wiberg’s ability and influence that contributed greatly to the success of this PSU-Altoona team.

That being said, to be a winning team, the players need basic talent, and the coaches need to help develop that talent. Without that basic talent, nothing outstanding is really going to happen.

In general for teams to win championships, there must be at least three other ingredients — character, attitude and intelligence. Without all of these elements working together, any team will struggle.

This group had all these items working for them.

Each one of these players were men of character. They were good people who had their heads on straight, thinking right and wanting to do the right thing. They were all good, moral people with integrity, honesty, trust and a deep concern for each other.

This contributed to them wanting to be a team. No one was interested in being the star player. Each one of them was team-oriented instead of self-oriented, and each had great respect for their coaches.

Second, this group of players had the right attitude that history proves makes winners — whether you win the top prize or not. These players were willing to do anything we coaches asked of them and more.

Our key goal was to do the best we could no matter where that led us. The players were willing to take the time to learn the fundamentals of the game. They worked hard, never complained, and in the process helped and listened not only to the coaches but to each other.

In the process, they not only became great teammates but also life-long friends.

The third characteristic is intelligence. These players were not only intelligent, but they used their intelligence wisely. To some extent this is God-given, but it can also be learned to a great extent, especially in athletics.

To play the game right, the mind must be able to focus and be analytical about all the adjustments that are going on during any game. The more players are able to make those adjustments during the game, without the coach always taking timeouts, the more successful the team will be.

Wiberg was a master at this, and he taught all of us how to think analytically while the game was in progress.

Having enough basic talent, along with character, attitude and intelligence were the characteristics of this team, which is exactly what my 1970 PCIAA championship team at Bishop Guilfoyle High School also had. Putting together all these attributes is why both teams won state championships.

They were winners on the court.

These are the qualities that also makes one a winner in life.

Tom Bradley had each of us send him three things each person did or accomplished in life. I wish there would have been room in the Mirror’s piece about the team to list those accomplishments.

All of them were not only winners on the court but also big winners in the game of life. They were and are true champions.

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the celebration, for even at the age of 77 years, I am still a professor at the State College of Florida in Bradenton-Sarasota, and we were in the last week of classes and the beginning of final exams with grades due.

It was impossible for me at this time to take the long trek to Altoona. Even so, I am always with them in spirit.

They gave me one of the great thrills of my lifetime, and it was my good fortune to have the honor to have been one of their coaches.

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