PSU Altoona champs recall title
Members of 1967-68 team will be honored Saturday at Adler Athletic Complex
When the Penn State Altoona men’s basketball team won the Commonwealth Campus Athletic Conference basketball championship back in March of 1968, it did so by providing a storybook ending to a very memorable season.
Trailing Penn State New Kensington, 59-58 in the waning seconds of the championship game at Penn State University’s Rec Hall, the Penn State Altoona team was facing an uphill battle as time ran down.
The Penn State New Kensington squad helped the Altoona team by missing a free throw with seven seconds left, and center Craig Foust grabbed the rebound for Penn State Altoona.
Foust’s outlet pass went to forward Dale Bridges, who found left-handed shooting guard Tim McCaulley with another pass that would lead to a history-making event.
McCaulley’s 20-foot shot from the left of the key hit nothing but net, lifting the Altoona team to a heart-stopping 60-59 victory and the conference title.
Nearly 50 years later, the memories are still fond.
“I got the ball and passed it to Tim, and he hit a shot right before the buzzer,” said Bridges, who went on to become a long-time Hollidaysburg Area School District teacher and coach. “It was a very close game, and a good game.”
McCaulley — who went on to become a long-time teacher and administrator in the Altoona Area School District — felt confident about the shot as he was taking it.
“I had been playing basketball since the fourth grade, and when I shot it, I knew that it was in — you have one of those feelings,” McCaulley said. “When I saw the clock hit four seconds, I took the shot. I wanted to make sure I got it off in time. The opportunity was there, and I wanted to make sure that I took advantage of it.”
The players and coaches from that 1967-68 team will rekindle and re-live all the pleasant memories when they meet again this Saturday afternoon at Penn State Altoona’s new Adler Athletic Complex to celebrate the golden anniversary of their conference championship. The team will be honored by the school with a reception prior to the game and a formal recognition at halftime of the PSU Altoona men’s basketball game with Medaille College.
The 1967-68 Penn State Altoona squad was blessed with three fine coaches in the late John Wiberg, who had served as the team’s head coach, and Carl DeCaspers and Tom Lane, who were his assistant coaches. All three coaches made significant marks in coaching various high school programs in this area, and each agreed to take on their Penn State Altoona coaching duties on a volunteer basis after having wrapped up a coaching tenure together at Tyrone Area High School.
“It was an outstanding experience,” Bridges said. “We had an ideal coaching staff which had experience coaching and which had coached together before (coming to Penn State Altoona). John (Wiberg) was an outstanding coach. I can’t say enough about him and the other coaches. They all worked so well with us.”
Tom Bradley, who went on to become a long-time teacher and director of public relations for the Altoona Area School District, was a reserve player on the championship PSU Altoona squad who prepared write-ups and box scores from the games for the Altoona Mirror.
“John Wiberg, Carl DeCaspers and Tom Lane were long-time friends who had all coached together at Tyrone,” Bradley said. “They were such wonderful men and wonderful coaches. It was a thrill to play for those guys.”
DeCaspers, who still works in public relations at the age of 77 for the New Pig company in Duncansville, said that the PSU Altoona players were also a thrill to coach.
“They were all good kids who played hard and practiced hard,” said DeCaspers, who went on to high school head coaching jobs at Hollidaysburg and Bellwood-Antis. “Everybody had different roles on that team, and they all worked together as a team to carry out those roles. They were just great kids who played their hearts out every game. I enjoyed coaching them so much, because of the kind of guys they were. And they’re all still great guys today.”
The PSU Altoona team posted a 13-10 season record against top-notch competition that included freshman teams from the main Penn State campus and Saint Francis.
Bridges and Dick Miller — who is now employed as a professor and does research at the University of Louisville — were the starting forwards on the PSU Altoona team. Foust was the starting center, and McCaulley and Tim Leso were the starting guards. Rich Peo was the first player off the bench.
“Bridges was probably one of our best shooters and scorers, and Leso, Bridges and Foust were extremely good rebounders for their size,” DeCaspers said. “McCaulley was a good ballhandler and a good shooter from the outside, and Rich Peo was a good-size guard — a strong, well-built kid.”
Bradley, Pat Labriola, Tom Dodson and Walter Musselman rounded out the 10-man roster.
The team’s games and practices were held at the old Keith Junior High School gymnasium for the first half of the season, and at the old Logan Junior High School for the second half of the season.
“You really had to want to play sports at Penn State Altoona (to go out for the team),” Bradley said. “There were no facilities (like the posh new Adler Gym that exists today). I’m surprised we had uniforms. We only had 10 or 11 guys on the team, so everybody was needed at practices.”
As fond as the memories of the last-second championship win are, the players also forged lifelong friendships that were even more satisfying. Bridges, McCaulley and Leso all had prior military experience before enrolling at PSU Altoona as older students.
Nonetheless, they all meshed well with the 17 and 18-year-old freshmen.
“We all got along really well,” Bridges said. “Tim McCaulley and I were both married, and our wives went along with us together on the bus trips on road games. My wife, Marion, and I, had a young son, and he went along on the trips as well. You don’t see that a lot today, but it made it extra special.”
Labriola — who has had careers as a bank manager and Altoona Area School District administrator and teacher — also relished the late-night fish dinners that the team enjoyed on road trips.
“We got $1.50 for meal money per road game,”‘ Labriola recalled with a chuckle. “And a lot of times, Howard Johnson’s had an all-you-can eat fish dinner special on Wednesday nights, and for what we could spend, we would get a great meal.”
That story will no doubt be part of the lore that’s recycled at the upcoming reunion.
“I’m just thankful that the team is getting recognized — it’s an honor,” DeCaspers said. “I’m really happy for the players. They really deserve it.”