Hampton players recall ‘incredible’ run to ‘84 state basketball finals

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Saturday, January 27, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Many of the memories have faded into time over the past four decades.

The players and coaches for Hampton’s 1984 PIAA runner-up boys basketball team have gaps in their recollection of the winningest season in program history.

But one memory endures — the overwhelming support of the Talbots fans and the Hampton community.

“It was incredible,” said 56-year-old Brian Shanahan, a 6-foot-2 junior wing during the remarkable run. “It was just great.”

“The fans were always there,” added Mike Pschirer, a 6-1 senior forward on the 27-4 team. “They were enjoying it, and they definitely made us feel special.”

The fans will get one more chance to cheer when Hampton’s 1984 boys basketball team, 40 years after making its improbable march to the PIAA championship game, is honored at the Talbots’ Feb. 2 game against visiting Freeport.

The ‘84 Talbots, who lost to Allentown Central Catholic, 72-53, in the finals, earned a program-best 27 wins and remain the only basketball team in school history to reach the PIAA title game.

Along the way, there was a last-minute victory over the reigning WPIAL champion, a stunning comeback to stay alive, a shower of Hershey’s Kisses from their rabid fan base after beating the “Goliath” of WPIAL Class 3A basketball in front of an overflow crowd, a police and fire truck escort and countless other memories.

“It was really surreal,” said Tom Jewart, 79, who coached the Talbots from 1978-96. “It was kind of hard to believe that it was happening.”

Hampton entered the ‘83-84 season with lofty expectations. The Talbots had most of their players returning from an ‘83 team that reached the PIAA playoffs for the first time in program history, advancing to the state quarterfinals.

The Shananan brothers, senior forward Jerry and Brian, were joined by Pschirer and senior guards Tom Lah and Rich Kolkman in the starting lineup. Brian Shanahan (Duquesne), Jerry Shanahan (IUP) and Pschirer (LaRoche) would go on to play in college.

Others included guard John Ward, who was the Talbots’ sixth man; Matt Mignonga, who married the Shanahans’ sister, Shiela, and whose son, Liam, is a 6-foot-9 senior center for Hampton; and Kevin Cherilla, a world-renowned international mountain climber who has summited Mount Everest. On the bench, longtime assistant Dave Kuniak joined Jewart.

Survive and advance

The ‘84 team lived up to its billing early on. The Talbots completed the regular season with a 21-2 record, losing only to North Hills in mid-December and Knoch in late January on their way to the section title.

Making the playoffs was never in question. The WPIAL, in its first year with four enrollment-based classifications, held an open tournament for the first time. It wouldn’t happen again until the covid-prompted open tournament in ‘20-21.

Hampton defeated South Park and Ellwood City to reach the ‘84 WPIAL quarterfinals but was edged by eventual champion Beaver Falls, a third-place team that only reached the playoffs because of the open format.

Hampton entered the PIAA playoffs as the No. 5 seed out of the WPIAL and dispatched District 10 runner-up Erie Strong Vincent to earn a rematch with Beaver Falls. Pschirer, a 6-foot-3 forward, converted a late three-point play — there was still no 3-point line in high school basketball — in a 56-53 victory over the Tigers.

As usual, the Talbots fans had arrived in great numbers.

“I never saw anything like it in my life,” Kuniak said. “They came in busses, cars, parents. It was like the whole town was there. It had to be. … They followed us everywhere. Everywhere we went, they went.”

Hampton’s season appeared to be over in its PIAA quarterfinal game against Grove City.

The Talbots were in such a bad spot against the District 10 Greyhounds — trailing 55-47 with two minutes to play — that Jewart admitted he thought the magical run had reached its end.

“To be honest, I was sitting on the bench thinking about what I was going to say to the team about the season and how great it had been,” Jewart said. “It certainly didn’t look good.”

But the Talbots, who had trailed by as many as 12 in the fourth quarter, escaped with a 60-56 victory behind Pschirer’s 20 points and a “terrific game” by Ward off the bench.

‘It was craziness’

Standing between Hampton and its first trip to the PIAA finals was defending state champion Sto-Rox, which was 59-3 in its past 62 games, including a 32-0 record in ‘83.

In front of a standing-room-only crowd at Chartiers Valley in the Western Region finals, Hampton sprinted to an 18-4 lead en route to a 59-51 victory. Playoff hero Pschirer had a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds as the Talbots avenged their PIAA playoff loss from the previous year and were showered with Hershey’s Kisses from their adoring, court-storming fans.

“I never heard a crowd that loud in my life,” said Pschirer, 58, who lives in South Fayette and works as a senior account executive in advertising. “Both sides. Sto-Rox and ours. It was craziness.”

Added Brian Shanahan, “It was a crazy game. I remember the Hershey’s Kisses coming down on the floor and I remember the locker room being just a crazy atmosphere.”

The Hampton students and community were fully behind the team. Classes were canceled on Friday, the day of the PIAA finals, and about 600 Hampton fans made the 3 1/2-hour trip to Hershey.

“Our fanbase and support that year was unbelievable,” said Jerry Shanahan, 58, who lives in West Chester and sells electrical products to the utility market. “I remember the bus rides. We would all load up on the bus and the driver would drive around the school a couple of times and there would be people out on the sidewalks, cheering and showing their support.”

Said Pschirer, “Our school had never really had anything like that before. Our fans and our student body supported us tremendously. After each game, our crowd would almost always storm the court. They really embraced us.”

Bringing home silver

The remarkable run ended with the loss to District 11 Allentown Central Catholic on March 30, 1984, at Hersheypark Arena. Pschirer scored 14 points and had 10 rebounds, and Brian Shanahan added 13 points and seven rebounds but Hampton had no answer for Allentown Central Catholic’s Mike Peapos. The 6-foot-8 Penn State-bound senior center finished with 27 points and 17 rebounds. The Vikings’ roster also included Ed McCaffrey, who would become an NFL Pro Bowl wide receiver and is the father of 49ers star running back Christian McCaffrey.

It also didn’t help that Jerry Shanahan and others were fighting an illness the day of the game.

“I had the flu or something,” Jerry Shanahan said. “There was a bug going through the team. I’m not sure it would have changed the outcome, but we were a little sick that week.”

The disappointment after the loss subsided on the bus ride back to Hampton, as their amazing season began to set in. Then, as they neared home, the Talbots were met by a motorcade of fire trucks and police cars, which escorted them to the high school where throngs of fans and supporters awaited to greet them.

“It was just so special to see how the student body and the community got behind us,” Jewart said. “It was very surprising and unexpected.”

No other Hampton boys basketball team has done what the ‘84 team accomplished. The Talbots reached PIAA semifinals in ‘09, ‘10 and ‘12 but they have never returned to the title game.

This season’s Talbots might have a shot. They were 13-2 as of Jan. 23, highlighted by a 53-52 win over WPIAL Class 5A No. 1 Moon, and were ranked No. 3 in the WPIAL Class 4A.

Brian Shanahan, who lives in Wexford and works as an office furniture salesman, is looking forward to watching the current Talbots while reuniting with some of his former teammates at the Feb. 2 event. They will have a chance to reminisce about many memories.

“It was a special season for us,” he said. “Things happened like it was almost destiny. It was really an incredible year.”

Road to Hershey

Here is the path to the 1984 PIAA Class 3A title game for the Hampton boys basketball team:

WPIAL playoffs

Opponent, score, result

South Park, 79-58, W

Ellwood City, 57-48, W

Beaver Falls, 52-48, L

PIAA playoffs

Opponent Score, result

Erie Strong Vincent, 63-50, W

Beaver Falls, 56-53, W

Grove City, 60-56, W

Sto-Rox, 59-51, W

Allentown Central Catholic, 72-53, L

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