Golden Eagles community mourns loss of Catich

By Philip Cmor

After teaming up with Dave Rizzo to win their division at the HoopsFest 3-on-3 basketball tournament in their hometown of Tyrone, Steve Catich savored the victory by paying his a boyhood idol with a heart-felt acknowledgement.

“He told me, ‘You know, I always looked up to you,'” Rizzo said. “What he didn’t know was that I looked up to him.”

Rizzo was 7 years older and about 3 inches taller than Catich. But, then, in many ways, Catich was larger than life, and the impression he left was much bigger than a 90-by-50-foot court.

This week the Tyrone community and many of those locally who enjoyed top-flight basketball are mourning the passing of Catich, who died unexpectedly on Saturday.

He was just 27.

Friends, teammates and coaches remembered Catich — the Mirror’s 2008 boys basketball player of the year — as much for his infectious good nature as they did for the athletic talent that packed the Tyrone Area High School gym when he donned Golden Eagle orange and black 10 years ago.

“Steve was one of those guys who touched everyone in a very good way. He always knew how to make someone feel good,” said Travis Peterman, a starting guard one year younger than Catich.

“When he walked into the room, his smile, his laugh just lifted everybody up,” Eagles coach George Gripp said. “It’s been a very tough weekend. “I couldn’t even tell the team at first. I broke down. Sunday, we had ‘Meet the Eagles’ Night, and I barely got through it.”

A 5-foot-10 guard who went through a growth spurt that turned him into a 6-4 swing player with a strong perimeter game, Catich turned in one of the great seasons for an area boys player in recent history in 2007-08 when he led Tyrone to a Mountain League championship, a District 6 Class 2A runner-up showing and a PIAA first-round playoff win by averaging 21.6 points and 8.6 rebounds while tying for the team high in steals and finishing second on the squad in assists.

“I was honored to be his teammate,” said Nate Dane, a close friend since childhood who spent the last 18 months as Catich’s roommate in Pittsburgh. “He was the main guy we went to on the basketball court. A lot of the plays revolved around him, but he still was very unselfish with the ball. He would pass it. He cared about the team.”

His exploits brought fans to Tyrone and even Division I coaches, like Penn State’s Ed DeChellis for a January clash with archrival Central when he went off for 30 points.

“I just went crazy. I think I even had a dunk that night,” Catich recalled enthusiastically a couple of months later.

Catich was named third-team all-state and led the Blair County boys to one of their few victories in the Mirror Classic, collecting team highs of 24 points and 13 rebounds. He finished his career at Tyrone with 1,366 points before going on to play college ball at Division II Wheeling Jesuit, where he averaged 20.7 points as a senior on a 21-win team.

“There’s only a handful of players that come along, and, when you watch them getting ready and putting on that Tyrone uniform that you had a pretty good chance of winning that game,” Gripp said. “Steve was definitely one of those guys. His teammates loved and adored him.”

Catich’s legacy has survived long beyond his graduation. For many years, boys basketball success at Tyrone was dependent on a special talent coming through, like Nick Leasure, Eric Castorina, the Flemings or Nate Newlin. Catich seemed to light a fire in the community’s youth, that they wanted to follow in his footsteps, and the Eagle program has been a fairly consistent winner ever since.

“He motivated me to be a better basketball player,” said Richard Crabtree, who was 5 years younger than Catich. “He was a great, great person. He was always smiling. You could always talk to him. If I ever had any questions about how to get my game better, I could always go to him.”

According to those that knew Catich best, his personality accentuated his on-court accomplishments, even overshadowing them.

“Basketball brought us together more as friends, but we were more than friends, even beyond basketball,” Peterman said.

Although he had moved out of the area, Catich never forgot his roots, coming back home to Tyrone, where his parents, Steve and Gloria, still live, whenever he had the opportunity. Catich’s friends said he had been pursuing a job in Blair County, and Gripp said Catich already had talked to him about joining his coaching staff — Catich had been coaching in Pittsburgh while working at Cintas.

Catich still was a popular figure around Tyrone even 10 years after his magical senior season.

“Going out, even just to Sheetz, there’d always be at least one person. ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ You’d get caught there for a while. He was just that kind of guy. Very approachable. Very humble,” Dane said. “It was just the way he carried himself. You could be having the worst day of your life. He’d walk in the door, crack a joke, you’d be smiling right off the bat.

“Here’s an example about him. I’ve known him my entire life and never got in a fight with him. Not even an argument.”

There never will be an argument that Catich’s untimely passing was a huge loss for those whose lives he touched, one that can’t be measured by his basketball numbers. A winner, on the court and off it.

A viewing for Catich will be held from 3-6 p.m. on Friday at Grace Baptist Church in Tyrone, immediately followed by a funeral service.

“When he walked in a room, it was like the sunshine just came out. He was always laughing and enjoying life,” Rizzo said. “I think he brought the best out in people.”