500-game winner Dana Petruska retires as Mars basketball coach, cites ‘some parent situations’

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Saturday, April 15, 2023 | 2:09 PM


Mars girls basketball coach Dana Petruska is retiring after 37 years and more than 500 wins, in part because there were too many wannabe coaches in the stands.

Petruska said this was a frustrating winter for various reasons, some being nobody’s fault. The team lost a top player to a knee injury early in the season, and another was ineligible for the playoffs under PIAA transfer rules.

In retirement, she looks forward to spending more time with her husband, Jim, and their five grandkids. She might help her son, Jimmy, coach the Saint Vincent women’s team. But it was “some parent situations” that convinced her to go.

She retired with a career record of 518-325, including a state championship in 2018.

“It was a little bit of everything,” Petruska said, “but I had parents screaming at me from the bleachers this year. Usually I’m pretty thick-skinned, but I’m thinking to myself, ‘I bust my (butt) every single day to have this team be successful — including your daughters — and you sit up there and don’t see what I see every day in practice.’

“A parent screaming at me from the bleachers? I said, ‘I’m done with this.’ ”

She was one of only three active WPIAL girls coaches with more than 500 wins. The others are Neshannock’s Luann Grybowski and North Catholic’s Molly Rottmann.

Petruska, 66, coached at Mars for 27 seasons in two stints, the latest starting in 2015. She also spent eight seasons coaching her alma mater, Deer Lakes, where she won 111 games. She won 407 at Mars.

Her milestone 500th victory came two winters ago.

Petruska said her days of coaching high school basketball are over, but the game will always be part of her life. A multi-sport athlete in high school, she played college basketball at Pitt.

She said her son, Jimmy, who coaches at Saint Vincent, was excited to hear she had retired.

“He already reached out to me and said, ‘OK. Are you going to come up and help me then?’ ” Petruska said, laughing. “I’m sure there’s something to do. I love the game. It’s like my drug.”

Her first stint as Mars’ coach lasted from 1985-2005, but she was ousted when some parents complained about her coaching style. This time, she retired on her own terms.

“I’ve been accused of showing favoritism toward certain kids,” she said. “I do, because those are the kids who bust their (butts) every day. Some of the kids, especially lately, just feel so entitled to playing time. It wears you down, and I’m getting old.”

Petruska said she submitted her resignation last week.

Mars went 18-9 this season and tied for the section title. The Planets reached the WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals and the second round of states despite losing a three-year starter to injury in the third game of the year.

She said she made her decision to retire soon after a season-ending loss to Erie’s Cathedral Prep. The PIAA’s unresolved public vs. private debate only added to her frustration, she said. Oakland Catholic was the team that eliminated Mars from the WPIAL playoffs.

She said private schools clearly have an advantage.

“In my 37 years that I’ve coached, I’ve had four Division I players,” Petruska said. “There are some private schools that have three or four every year.”

Two of her Division I players, Lauren Wasylson and Tai Johnson, combined to help Mars win a state championship in 2018. The Planets went 24-6 that season and knocked off Philadelphia powers Archbishop Carroll and Archbishop Wood in the state semifinals and finals.

In all-state voting, Petruska was named the 2018 Pennsylvania Sports Writers Coach of the Year for Class 5A girls. She was inducted later that year into the Mars Athletic Hall of Fame and the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame.

Her ties to Mars include 21 years as a health and physical education teacher. She retired from teaching five years ago.

She said athletic director Zach Matusak encouraged her to take a couple of weeks this spring to reconsider her coaching retirement, but she was convinced it was time.

Her advice to young coaches would be to develop thick skin. But she said the best part of coaching is hearing from your former players years later.

“I have a Facebook account, and ex-players have contacted me with kind words,” she said. “When I get a message from a kid who tells me, ‘I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now without your toughness, without your discipline,’ that means a lot to me.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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