Monthly Archives: June 2015

Schifino tells his side of the story

Getting the whole story is a vital component of journalism, and when it comes to the tale of Steel Valley High School boys basketball and its coach, Drew Schifino, many of us, including this blogger, are getting it wrong.

That’s the message Schifino conveyed when speaking to him. He initiated contact with me via Twitter in regards to this piece, which I wrote shortly after developing an opinion on Schifino’s decision to not coach the Ironmen in their WPIAL Class AAA playoff game against South Fayette. Schifino’s decision was in response to having Steel Valley’s leading scorer – Dom Keyes – ruled academically ineligible before the postseason.

The timing made it easy to jump on the decision, but Schifino, who remains Steel Valley’s coach, said he’s had little trouble maintaining the trust of his players and the majority of their parents. The fact he remains at Steel Valley backs up that statement, and he’s already anxious for the 2015-16 season to start,

“There was a player and parent meeting before that (playoff) game, and I told them what was happening and what I was going to do,” Schifino said. “Ninety percent were on board. A large majority have been backing me.”

Schifino, a former standout at Penn Hills who went on to play – and play well – at West Virginia and California University of Pennsylvania, knew his decision would be controversial.

“It was one of the toughest things I ever had to do,” he said. “I wanted to be there. The situation was tough for me, and I pretty much knew my name was on the line. I’ve had different adversities in my life, and the main thing is I’ve learned a lot of stuff. It’s easy to say I should have coached that game, and this is something I can say that I’d probably never do that again.”

What Schifino wants to do is to keep coaching at Steel Valley, and he wants basketball fans of Western Pennsylvania to look past the things they’ve read.

For him, coaching high school basketball is a passion. It’s a big reason why he gave up a professional playing career in Europe to return to Western Pennsylvania and take a gig coaching boys basketball at Waynesburg, which entailed a 75-minute commute to a school where many top athletes opt to wrestle during the winter sports season.

He counts West Virginia men’s coach Bob Huggins and Pitt men’s assistant Brandin Knight among his friends, but the college game is not for Schifino.

Schifino follows Steel Valley in offseason leagues. He offers one-on-one training with players from places as varied as Norwin, Fox Chapel, West Mifflin and Pine-Richland. Schifino said he trains an averages five to six players a day, six days per week. He’s in the first year of leading an AAU program, Oh Boy Sports.

And, during those hard winter months of the 2014-15 school year, Schifino drove Steel Valley players to school, as the school district does not bus students.

“I just wanted to give back. I’m a guy who worked hard and I wanted to show others where hard work can take you,” Schifino said. “During the winter, I drove players to school, and I’d go pick them up. People don’t know those things about me, but when I get mentioned, people just see negativity. It’s the only perception of me for whatever reason. I want people to see the good that is going on.”

Blogger’s note: No anonymous comments or comments under pseudonyms will be accepted.

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Going ape

Mud races. Check.

Long-distance runs. Check.

Obstacle courses. Check.

Rock climbing. Check.

When it comes to adventure activities, this blogger is a big-time fan and regular participant. Never before, however, did I have the pleasure of ascending 30-40 feet into the trees at North Park outside of Pittsburgh, where British-based Go Ape has a tree-top adventure course. It comes complete with five zip lines, two Tarzan swings – including one with about a 35-foot flight into a hanging cargo net, countless obstacles and difficult rope ladders to come.

In other words, it’s the perfect place for someone like me.

And I was fortunate to get there last week with Observer-Reporter staff writer F. Dale Lolley, who covers the Steelers and doubles as Outdoors editor. Lolley wrote a story for his Outdoors section, and I got to wear the O-R’s go pro camera while working my way through the course.

Check out the story and video here.

For more information on Go Ape, click here.

Paul Stanley’s Inspirational Quote of the Week

It’s Thursday. It’s hot. It’s understandable if a boost is needed to get through the rest of the week.

Thankfully, the eternally optimistic lyrics of KISS frontman Paul Stanley can pull us through. Stanley’s ability to inspire didn’t end when KISS took off the makeup in the early 1980s. If anything, Stanley dug deeper into his reservoir of rock and roll righteousness, penning classics like “Lick It Up,” a beloved tour de force of live shows these days.

KISS also dusted off another 80s classic, “Crazy Nights” on a recent tour. That’s where we look to for Paul Stanley’s Inspirational Quote of the Week.

They try to tell us we don’t belong;
That’s alright, we’re millions strong;
This is my music, it makes me proud;
These are my people and this is my crowd.

That’s right, Starchild. It is your crowd. We are you’re people – the unabashed members of the KISS Army. “And nobody’s gonna change me, cause that’s who I am.”

First-grader-to-be

Anna was dropped off at Amos K. Hutchinson Elementary School last Thursday just like nearly every other weekday morning the past nine months, but there were several differences.

  • Anna wore a pinkish-orange dress – something she picked out and purchased for herself while shopping with her mother. Given her propensity for making messes, wearing dresses to school was reserved for special occasions.
  • She went armed with a homemade card for Mr. Kepple – her kindergarten teacher.
  • Finally, Anna was dropped off just before 9 a.m. An hour later, she’d be leaving.
Anna Noel Kovak proudly holds her homemade card for her kindergarten teacher, Mr. Kepple, who Anna calls, "the best teacher ever."

Anna Noel Kovak proudly holds her homemade card for her kindergarten teacher, Mr. Kepple, who Anna calls, “the best teacher ever.”

Last Thursday was Anna’s last day in kindergarten. My bubbly, kind, caring, intelligent and funny 6-year-old is officially a first-grader-to-be.

Where did the time go?

It seems like only a few weeks ago when I walked Anna to school for her first day as an elementary student. She was excited beyond belief, and she sang a tune from Mary Poppins as we walked – hand-in-hand – toward the front entrance. And it didn’t seem like nearly 10 months passed since I took her to Kinder Camp, a weeklong program designed to get students acclimated to the new environment.

So many things about Anna made me believe she’d excel in a daily school setting and, so far, those premonitions have proven correct. She excels in mathematics. She reads books cover to cover with little need for help from mom or dad. Friends squeal with delight when they see Anna. Teachers like her. And she loves her teachers. (Mr. Kepple, if you end up reading this, Anna already misses you.)

Like I said months ago on this blog, she’s owning that school.

And I’m so proud of her.

Anna made tremendous strides in kindergarten, and she’s growing up more quickly than I could ever imagine. Her progress academically is amazing. She’s growing vertically, too. She still talks people’s ears off, but is learning there are times when it’s important to zip it shut. Anna will still walk hand-in-hand with me, just not for the long stretches I grew accustomed to.

And, it’s official. I now embarrass my daughter.

She best get used to it. We’ve got a long way to go together. Too bad it will pass in the blink of an eye.