Tag Archives: Post-Gazette

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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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.

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.