Bickel’s Richards project comes to fruition with basketball courts

Commentary

A celebration of basketball and a legacy came together Saturday morning.

Galen Bickel realized his longstanding dream of establishing a pair of circular courts at the Eldorado Kiwanis complex, at the same time naming them for late local broadcaster Dick Richards.

“I’m ecstatic,” Bickel, nearly moved to tears, told the gathering of supporters and a couple dozen players for an inaugural 3-on-3 tournament to unveil the facility.

Richards, whose given name was DiRoma, died seven years ago at the age of 77. Several members of his family were on hand Saturday, including son Chris, a Florida resident whose vitamin supplement company financed the basketball hoops, padding and signage, along with cooperation from the Central Blair Recreation Commission.

“My dad was all about sports,” DiRoma said. “This project is amazing. It means a lot to us.”

The day brought out a number of the area’s top players, including former Penn State player Tyler Smith, ex-PSU Altoona and Altoona Area High School gem Tyler Franklin and many familiar names like Buchanan, Hansard, Conlon and Griffith who have made marks on local high school programs.

Longtime referee Mike Reighard, who has endured health issues, tossed up the ceremonial opening tip.

With fresh paving and distinct 3-point lines that Bickel painted, the complex transformed an old, unused tennis and volleyball court into a perfect complement to neighboring Seitz Field and the Blair County Miracle League.

Blair County commissioner Ted Beam, a veteran referee and fixture on the local sports scene, praised Bickel’s efforts.

“I think it’s a wonderful project,” Beam said. “I commend Galen and all his work and all these fine players for coming out today. I hope it’s a longstanding activity at this magnificent complex.”

Beam worked as a spotter for Richards during the latter’s days as a broadcaster for Penn State football games.

“Dick was so much into young people and athletics,” Beam said. “This would be a pride and joy to him. He’d be beaming to have these courts named after him.”

As a member of the Bellwood-Antis School Board in the late 1970s, Richards helped get Bickel the Blue Devils’ coaching job.

“Dick was a friend,” Bickel said. “I had some rough times at Bellwood, most of which were my own doing, but Dick Richards was there the whole time. I owe him everything for that.”

Chris DiRoma was Bickel’s standout point guard and a central figure in B-A’s 85-83 classic double-overtime win over rival Williamsburg in the 1979 District 6 playoffs.

DiRoma’s arching bomb from halfcourt at Bishop Guilfoyle sent the game into overtime and capped a 30-point performance.

The shot was judged No. 13 in Buck Frank’s Big Shots series in 2008 that ranked the biggest scholastic shots in Blair County history, even if some in the Williamsburg camp still wonder if it brushed the roof.

Nearly 40 years later, DiRoma laughed at the memory.

“Tell them it didn’t hit the ceiling,” he said, “and if we had the rules now, we wouldn’t have been in overtime because we would have had the 3-point line, and the game would have been over.”

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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