Category Archives: Friends

Deuce Skurcenski: A Western Pennsylvania legend

One word of advice I offer to young sports writers – the guys who graduate college and believe they should immediately be covering the Steelers instead of high school girls soccer – is this, “You haven’t made it as a sports writer in Western Pennsylvania if you don’t know Deuce Skurcenski.”

Deuce became part of my work life sometime during the 1997-98 school year. I was an aspiring sports writer, working at the Beaver County Times and being mentored by John Perrotto, who I still consider the best sports reporter in Western Pennsylvania, and Bill Utterback, a top-notch writer whose abilities supercede those of newsprint.

Once you get to know Deuce, you have stories to last decades. He’s a statistics-keeping force of nature that can only happen in Western Pennsylvania.

Two of these Deuce cards hand at my desk. They weren't the only Deuce baseball cards.

Two of these Deuce cards hand at my desk. They weren’t the only Deuce baseball cards.

I can’t forget sitting beside Deuce at Three Rivers Stadium during the 1998 WPIAL football championships. I was there, with Utterback, Jim Equals, Bill Allmann and crew, covering the Class A tilt – as Deuce would say – between Rochester and Monaca, and the triple-A fray – another Deuceism – between Blackhawk and Moon (if memory serves correct).

While writing during the Class AA game between Shady Side Academy and Wash High, Deuce continually asked …

“Was that Ruggerio or Alexander on the carry?”

“Do you have eight or nine yards on that carry?”

Well, I didn’t have Ruggerio or Alexander for eight or nine yards.I wasn’t covering the game, something I told Deuce repeatedly. He never stopped asking.

A year later, I was working at the Observer-Reporter and covering the Class AA championship game between Waynesburg and Wash High.

The Raiders were rolling when, at halftime, I went to the restroom. Deuce was at the urinal beside me, and he kept looking over with that look – the one that indicated he had something important to say.

“What’s up Deuce?” I asked, a slight regret in my voice..

Deuce zipped up, stepped back and dropped into a two-point stance, “Awwwwww, Miiiike Kovakkkk, Lanfer Simpson, ooooohhhhhhhhhhhhh.” As Deuce aptly described the Raiders’ dominating fullback/linebacker, his hands flew in the air and he shook them rapidly. Think spirit fingers from “Bring It On.”

There was the time Deuce was supposed to drive to Uniontown with me for a big-time hoops game between Peters Township and the Red Raiders – two of the top Quad-A teams in the state at the time – but he backed out at the last minute. If you know his history with Uniontown, you understand why.

For all the funny stories and sayings Deuce provided sports writers, coaches and athletes, he always greeted you with a smile and a handshake. He always called you by name. He always identified where you worked. He always told you to tell co-workers that, “Deuce Skurcenski says hello.” One thing I always admired about Deuce, to him, it didn’t matter if you worked at a weekly, a low-watt radio station, a suburban daily with a dwindling subscription base or one of the big metros, he treated you the same. And that’s to say he treated you well.

Deuce was also a tremendous self-promoter. He carried Deuce baseball cards. He autographed them and personalized them. He told you how many football and basketball games he attended, whether it was for the Post-Gazette, Woodland Hills High School or himself.

Many of those cards still hang at my desk.

Living on the South Side Flats for years, I often bumped into Deuce while walking my dog during the day or late at night, walking home with friends after a night on Carson Street. Those friends always asked who I was talking to outside Paparazzi restaurant. I always said, “He’s too hard to explain.”

Thank goodness his essence was captured in an entertaining 2008 documentary, a film Chris Dugan and I made sure to attend during a special screening at a South Side theater. Still remember a wide-smiling Deuce asking us what we thought about the flick afterward.

Lawrence “Deuce” Skurcenski died Tuesday night. He was 73. Old friend Mike White of the Post-Gazette knew Deuce as well as anyone in the region, and he wrote this obituary.

High school and small-college sports in Western Pennsylvania won’t be the same.

Rest easy, Deuce.

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Rest easy, old friend

I’ve always been a person who’s never been completely comfortable or confident, but I still remember the first time I actually felt cool.

I was a junior at Somerset Area High School and, at the time, a popular activity on the social calendar was keg parties at David Berman’s house. It was in Berman’s backyard where I first met Mike Hinton, and one of his younger brothers, Joe.

Now, I hadn’t met the Hintons before this party, but I sure did hear about them. The Hinton brothers were cool, or so was the word. After hanging with both in Berman’s backyard, those stories were validated. Actually, they were shattered. Mike and Joe were beyond cool.

And I left that party feeling better about myself, a rarity during my incredibly awkward teenage years. I wasn’t the only one. Brian Lizambri rode home with me. Like me, he didn’t know Mike and Joe before the party. And, like me, he left that party with a strong understanding of why we heard about the boys from Shanksville well before hanging out with them at Berman’s. I still remember B and I talking about how we hoped to hang out with them more often.

Over the next few years, I had the pleasure of spending time with Mike and Joe Hinton. From all those keg parties in the countryside of Somerset County to beach volleyball games at Seven Springs to sitting around parking lots looking for something to do, if they were there, I wanted to be there. The best part? They seemed as happy to see me as I was seeing them. Joe and I even formed a “gang” we dubbed, “The Vultures.” Membership was exclusive – a two-person crew that came about when we each noticed we were getting ready to hit on the same female at a keg party somewhere in Zehnersville. The last time I saw Joe in a social setting, he greeted me with our old Vultures signal. It made my night.

It’s never easy pinpointing characteristics or traits that make some people great, but that’s not the case here. Mike Hinton had a way of making you feel welcomed. He listened. He gave your words weight. You felt like you mattered. It doesn’t get any more genuine than that. If you’re looking for greatness, look no further.

My only contact with Mike in recent years came via Facebook and Twitter, but when word of his untimely death got to me in a text from P.J. Brown Saturday afternoon, a flood of memories came rushing back, including one I’m not sure I ever shared. The day before I moved into the University of Pittsburgh, the crew was at Seven Springs to play beach volleyball. I left early for another destination, but left my volleyball with the boys. Mike brought the ball back to my house, and when I returned home, it was sitting by the front door. As I approached, I noticed a piece of paper with the ball. It was a note from Mike. Now, when I return home from vacation in two days, I’ll dig through old photos to share, but the details of the note will remain private. Rest assured the note – worn and faded – still sits among those old memories, a wonderful reminder of an amazing time of my life.

Time made better by Mike Hinton – a husband, father, brother, son and friend to many.

Rest easy, old friend.

Happy birthday, Anna

Erin began having serious labor pains sometime during the second half of Super Bowl XLIII. A call was placed to the doctor. Erin wanted to finish watching the game, so did the doctor. I was ready to roll.

Her breathing intensified as the great Larry Fitzgerald shredded the Steelers’ defense for a late touchdown and a lead for the Cardinals. Our old, faithful golden retriever, Marley, was right by Erin’s side, his head occasionally on her lap in a canine’s attempt to make everything better.

Not long after Ben Roethlisberger’s game-winning touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes, we were in the car and on our way through Pittsburgh to Magee Women’s Hospital.

Between 1 and 2 a.m., Anna Noel Kovak was born, and my life was forever changed.

Anna spent Saturday in Elsa costume for a Frozen birthday party with 12 of her closest friends.

Anna spent Saturday in Elsa costume for a Frozen birthday party with 12 of her closest friends.

After cutting the umbilical cord, nurses cleaned and wrapped Anna and asked if I’d like to hold her. There she was, all 7 pounds and 6 ounces of her. Wrinkly face. Dark hair.

Completely beautiful.

Now, there have been some powerful moments in my life – getting married, the precise moment the Grateful Dead’s music became an eternal soundtrack and, heck, even the time former Observer-Reporter sports editor Tom Rose was arrested. (If you need the details, fire up the Google machine.)

But I’ll never forget what ran through my mind the second I held Anna in my arms and looked into her eyes.

“I don’t know a thing about you, but I know I’ll die for you.”

Crocodile tears poured from my eyes. I was instantly smitten. Six years later, I still am.

Anna rules.

Anna rules.

Today marks Anna’s sixth birthday. She’s at school and I’m about to get ready for work, but it doesn’t damper the mood. She’s an incredible friend, and Anna amazes me on a daily basis. I marvel at her enthusiasm (a mother once told me Anna makes a story about eating bananas for snack exciting). her quest for knowledge, her sweetness and her exuberant personality. There’s nothing I don’t love about her, from the way she says “Daddy” to the way her pants always find a way to drift below her waistline in public.

Happy birthday, Anna Banana.

Tribute to TM

In the newspaper business, reporters form an unusual bond. We’re driven, perfectionists and, in most cases, weird and quirky. That bond is even stronger for those of us who make a living working at night in the hectic, deadline-driven world.

And when Tim Menees arrived at the Observer-Reporter as a night cops reporter a little more than a decade ago, I immediately knew he’d fit right in. He was quick with a smile, easy-going and we became immediate friends.

Tim, whose father Tim Menees was a well-known political cartoonist for decades at the Post-Gazette in Pittsburgh, cut his teeth in sports. Before the O-R, he worked for the Pirates, and he followed sports closely. At the time, I was a sports writer, but Tim and I shared more in common than a knowledge of Jason Kendall’s batting average or Jack Wilson’s range. We were the same age. We both lived in the South Hills, and neither of us turned down a good time.

It wasn’t long before TM, as we often called him at the O-R, and I worked Carson Street together or the bars along Route 19, whether it was in Washington County following a shift or some haunts in the South Hills. We even formed a bit of a routine. TM was the starter, the fearless guy capable of starting a conversation with anyone. I was the closer, the one who came in and added energy and humor to keep things moving. For a couple guys trying to make a living working nights and weekends at a newspaper, it was a pretty good tandem.

TM and I hit concerts together. He crashed on my couch multiple occasions. I placed bets for him. He helped me move from South Park to Bethel Park on a muggy, Western Pennsylvania summer day with no convincing needed. He came to house parties after I began co-habiting with Erin, who later became my wife. He was at my bachelor party and our wedding.

Most importantly, TM was a good friend, a person I could sit at my dining room table with until 3:30 a.m. talking about anything and everything. I’ve met precious few people in my 40 years I was as comfortable talking to as TM.

And after that wedding reception wound down, TM was right there at the hotel, hanging out and providing those of us there who knew him with another classic Menees story – a story I still share now that I’m back at the O-R.

Sadly, it was the next to last time I saw Tim, who, according to information on Facebook and provided by co-workers, was found dead Monday by his girlfriend. I got the news about an hour ago, right after I got back inside my house from walking the dog. Even if I hadn’t seen Tim in some time after job changes, moves and life created distance, it hit me like a sledgehammer.

TM had fallen and hit his head on ice. A supposed minor injury somehow turned fatal. It’s the first TM story I’ve heard that doesn’t put a smile on my face.

Doesn’t seem real.

Good guys, and believe me when I say he was the dictionary definition of good guy, aren’t supposed to leave us early.

Rest easy, TM.