Category Archives: Journalism

EQT 10-mile training – Week 6 9/28/15

Not an Iron Maiden fan. Never have been, even with my musical roots firmly planted in the 1980s. But, when it comes to running in Greensburg – and most of Western Pennsylvania, hills are an unavoidable circumstance when piling miles on to a workout plan. That’s why my mind often thinks about “Run to the Hills.”

Now, this blogger has lived in tons of hilly neighborhoods – Dormont, South Park and Bethel Park among them. None of those communities seem to hold the number undulating roads as the City of Greensburg.

My home is located on Summit Drive, and it’s aptly named. If Summit Drive isn’t the highest point within the city limits, it’s awfully close.

Before left-calf injury No. 1, which happened in August of 2014, ascending Summit Drive to finish runs was a regular accomplishment. Over time, I found five different access points to scale the hill toward Summit Drive – each a different type of brutal.

Following left-calf injury No. 2 and a right-foot sprain and the subsequent decline in endurance and leg strength, climbing Mt. Summit became too much. During the first five week of following Fleet Feet Sports’ training program for the EQT Pittsburgh 10-miler, I didn’t attempt a full run up the hill home.

That changed in Week 6.

9/21/15 – More than a week passed since a treadmill run, so the timing was appropriate to work on consistent pacing again. A five-mile run in under 41 minutes, never running slower than a 7.4 mph pace.

9/23/15 – Back to the street of Greensburg for a run with a steady incline between miles 2.0 and 4.5. Yep, poor planning on my part. Traversed 6.43 miles in 54:58. Later that day, did a 5:30 p.m. spin class with Erin at LA Fitness. Talked to the instructor, my boy Kevin, before class. I told him about my run, and he told me about his 9:15 a.m. class. We questioned our collective sanity in tackling a second test of endurance that day so, naturally, he made class tougher than usual. Glad I did it.

9/25/15 – For the second consecutive week, Erin was working in Pittsburgh on Sunday, so that meant I had to get Anna to Sunday School. That eliminated Sunday as a long run day. I set out Friday morning for an 8-miler, and it was a strong run. Mile 7 was at a 7:47 pace, and I finished 8.44 miles in 1:11.00, including a 78-second stop for traffic at Huff Ave.

9/27/15 – The legs were slightly weak from Friday’s run, but, on Sunday while  Anna was in Sunday school, I put in 4.79 miles in 39:57. Miles 1-4 were strong, with paces ranging from 7:50 to 8:08. After Mile 4, it was time to climb Mt. Summit. The next .79 miles weren’t fast – it was a 9:50 pace – but I made it from the bottom of the hill to my front door. A huge barrier knocked down.

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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.

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.

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.

Old-timer hits the court

A couple weeks ago, I attempted to hang with a group of teenage all-star basketball players, as mentioned here previously. The article appeared in Monday’s edition of the Observer-Reporter.

Here’s a link: http://www.observer-reporter.com/article/20150405/NEWS01/150409686

If you’d just like to check out the video, here’s another link:

Can’t quit on the kids

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.

Saint Sid

Oh, Ottawa Sun. Shame on you, and thank you.

The newspaper to the north reported Canadian soccer star Sidney Crosby – the fellow from the Pittsburgh Penguins who lit up the 2013-14 regular season but flamed out in the 2014 postseason – was arrested late Tuesday night while driving a rented Porshe in Ottawa.

Problem was Crosby wasn’t in Ottawa, he was in Vail, Colo., reportedly training for the upcoming Canadian soccer season.

Tsk, tsk Ottawa Sun. Checking facts is a crucial step in Journalism 101.

As the story evolved this morning, Chief of Ottawa Police Department, Charles Bordeleau, went as far as taking to his Twitter account to confirm Crosby was not arrested.

On behalf of those who prefer their sports stars a little more Lawrence Taylor than Larry Bird, bummer.

Had the report, which the Ottawa Sun quickly deleted without nary a correction, been true, it would have made Crosby come across as human. Here in Western Pennsylvania, we’re spoon-fed an image of Saint Sid since the Penguins made him their cornerstone in 2005.

Whether you love, hate or don’t care about Crosby, there’s no denying he’s as boring a “superstar” as there is in sports. Maybe as there’s ever been in sports.

And, if you believe many in the local media, Crosby is Saint Sid. He only asks ladies out for sodas and roller skating, eats his veggies, says prayers before bed, walks elderly people across the street, is working on a cure for Ebola, listens to the Partridge Family, watches Full House and is perfect in every way, except in those pesky playoffs.

John Steigerwald, who writes a weekly column for the Observer-Reporter, often compares Crosby to any athlete who gets in trouble and tells us how lucky Pittsburgh is to have such an upstanding citizen. I know. I edit his columns most Saturdays.

Granted, Pittsburgh is lucky to have Crosby playing hockey there. He deserves some credit for saving the franchise.

But, does anyone truly believe Crosby is as squeaky clean as he’s portrayed?

It’s why the swift, yet understandable, backlash from local media via social media to the Ottawa Sun’s ridiculous excuse for reporting was so humorous. Sometimes, it’s hard deciphering who loves Saint Sid more – fans or some who cover the Pens.

Maybe there’s no distinction, but thank goodness no local outlet ran with the Crosby arrest story.