Drew Schifino was already considered one of the best basketball players from the WPIAL in some time when he entered legendary status.
It happened during the winter months of 2000. The highly skilled guard, a player talented enough to play any position on the court for Penn Hills High School, carried a good, but inconsistent team to a WPIAL Class AAAA championship.
To say Schifino single-handedly won the title might not be fair, but, yeah, he pretty much won a district basketball championship in the state’s largest classification by himself.
Schifino took over games, set a postseason record for points scored and Penn Hills dispatched several good teams along the way.
How good was the Peters Township, one of the teams Penn Hills defeated, in the 1999-2000 season? Well, the Indians, led by Eric Lang, went to Uniontown and left that overflowing gymnasium with a win. Remember, at the time, the Red Raiders were in the midst of an amazing multi-year run as an elite Quad-A team.
Wins like the one in Uniontown earned Peters Township the top seed in the WPIAL playoffs and a first-round bye.
The Indians reward? A quarterfinal game against Penn Hills.
Schifino put on a show. He scored at will and carried Penn Hills to a four-point win. The rest of the WPIAL playoffs followed a similar pattern. Schifino played otherworldly basketball, his teammates offered just enough help and Penn Hills won a WPIAL title and went all the way to the PIAA semifinals before it lost to Uniontown.
Schifino’s record-setting postseason display drew praise from every corner. Heck, even the holier-than-thou columnists from the Post-Gazette took notice. Considering how those scribes rarely “stoop” to writing about a high school athlete offers an idea of how much attention Schifino garnered.
From Penn Hills, Schifino went to West Virginia University, where he ended up leading the Mountaineers in scoring before being suspended indefinitely. He’d eventually land at Cal U., a frequent stop for former Division I athletes from Western Pennsylvania.
Schifino played professionally overseas and again drew attention when he made anti-gay slurs on Facebook concerning Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
The social media posts and problems at West Virginia were in the past, and Waynesburg Central High School made Schifino its boys basketball coach before the 2013-14 season. By all accounts, Schifino exceled in the role and pointed an anemic basketball program in the right direction before filling the opening at Steel Valley, a location much closer to his home, before the start of this season.
Steel Valley had its ups and downs, players and coaches dealt with behind-the-scenes difficulties, but the Ironmen still managed to make the Class AAA playoffs – another testament to Schifino’s burgeoning coaching career.
Behind the scenes, however, is where stories differ depending on the source, but it boiled over hours before Steel Valley’s playoff game against South Fayette. That’s when Schifino learned senior center and leading scorer Dom Keyes was ruled academically ineligible.
The timing was certainly curious, and the decision obviously angered Schifino, who refused to coach the playoff game, which South Fayette won handily.
Schifino claims he wants to return to Steel Valley next year, and told the Post-Gazette that the school board at Steel Valley wants him back.
The question is why? Schifino quit on his kids. There’s no way of sugar-coating it. Why Steel Valley or any other WPIAL program would give him a head coaching gig following this transgression would be something more than head-scratching.
No matter what was going on out of public view, to let down players is unforgivable. What if Keyes slipped getting on the bus and couldn’t play?
It’s life. Things happen. How you deal with it speaks volumes.
And this was an instance where Schifino, unlike the 2000 postseason, didn’t deal with adversity well.
High school athletics is about the student-athletes. Always has. Always will be. No matter your previous credentials, it’s never about the adults.