Nurkic joins Baldwin Athletics Hall of Fame
By: Ray Fisher
Friday, November 3, 2017 | 11:00 PM
She was a four-year basketball standout at Baldwin, and one of the WPIAL's leading players during her junior and senior seasons.
She ended her stellar high school career with 1,796 points — one of the highest point-totals in school history — and was a first-team all-state selection.
Belma Nurkic, a 2011 Baldwin graduate, is one of three individuals voted this year into the Baldwin High School Athletics Hall of Fame.
The induction ceremony took place Sept. 29 at Baldwin Stadium during the Fighting Highlanders' varsity football game against North Hills.
Nurkic, Brittney Edwards and David Adley make up the 2017 hall-of-fame class.
Edwards was a WPIAL long jump champion in 2009, and won both WPIAL long jump and triple jump titles in 2010. Adley was a WPIAL cross country champion in 2007.
The 25-year-old Nurkic was both humbled and thankful for her hall-of-fame induction.
“I did not expect it. When I received the call about it, I was super excited, humbled,” she said. “It was an honor, and I'm so very thankful and grateful to be a part of the Baldwin community. I'm thankful for those who chose me to be inducted.
“I want to thank my parents for always supporting me in everything I put my mind to; my younger brother for always encouraging me to do my best; as well as all the people that helped me get where I am today with my basketball career — from being there when I first started, to supporting me when I was going overseas. I am very thankful for everyone in my life.”
As a sharp-shooting 5-foot-8 guard/forward, Nurkic led Baldwin to the WPIAL finals and PIAA quarterfinals as a junior in 2009-10, averaging 19.5 points that season. She also led the Highlanders to consecutive records of 15-8, 17-8, 22-6 and 17-6 (71-28 overall), and to three WPIAL and two PIAA playoff appearances.
Nurkic was an MSA Sports Network Player of the Year and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Terrific 10 selection in high school.
“I think the things that stand out the most about my high school career were hitting the game-winner my junior year against Mt. Lebo at their place, or beating Bethel Park in the semifinal game at Chartiers Valley to make it to the WPIAL championship,” she said.
To be considered for Baldwin's athletics hall of fame, a candidate must meet one of the following criteria: He or she must be either a WPIAL champion, PIAA champion, Big 33 Classic football selection, first-team all-state honoree, high school All-American, NCAA or NAIA championship team member, Olympic participant or a professional athlete for a minimum of one year (in the highest recognized league in his or her sport).
Other individuals, including community members who have made significant contributions to Baldwin-Whitehall athletics, also may be eligible; and WPIAL and PIAA championship teams are considered.
Nurkic's high school coach was Dan Thayer, a math and business/computer teacher at Baldwin who now coaches the boys basketball team at Brentwood.
“What a great and well-deserved honor for Belma,” Thayer said. “Belma was a popular student at the school. She always had a smile on her face. The students seemed to really like and respect her, both as a student and an athlete.
“When Belma arrived (at Baldwin), we had started to build the team back up. Baldwin had been suffering through some tough seasons. Belma gave us a player we could go to when we needed a play. We were building a team with some very good players on it, but she gave us a dependable player that always could make a big play on offense or defense. Her main strength was her versatility. She was a great scorer, but she had the ability to take on the role we needed on that particular night. It was also nice to know when things were going wrong, she could and would make a big play for us.”
Following high school, Nurkic continued her career as a four-year member of the Duquesne women's basketball program. She graduated in December of 2014.
She was one of only 12 players in Duquesne women's basketball history (at that time) to net more than 100 3-pointers, and she set a team record her senior season when she converted 93.8 percent of her free throws.
Nurkic, who earned a degree in sociology, also finished her college career with 131 games played, another team record.
“I enjoyed both my high school and college basketball careers,” she said. “You learn so many different things as the years go on. Everything I learned wasn't always basketball-related; I learned so many things that I could use off the court where it made me into a better person.
“Basketball will always be more than a game to me. The level of competition from high school to college is tremendously different. That takes some adjustment, but at the end of the day you're doing what you love so the game just comes to you naturally.”
Nurkic played basketball professionally overseas in Ostersund, Sweden for one year in 2015-16.
“I loved it,” she said. “I had a great time and wonderful experience.”
She signed with KFUM Östersund Basket, a team that plays in the Swedish D-3 league. Östersund is a city located 346 miles northwest of Stockholm.
Nurkic currently is employed as a drug and alcohol counselor for juveniles at New Outlook Academy in North Baldwin.
“It's a placement center for young girls,” she said. “I always wanted to find a job where I can possibly have an impact on people and help them.
“I actually also do a yearly shoe drive. Every summer, I collect new or gently worn shoes that I donate to the less fortunate. I love it. I enjoy seeing people smile, especially kids.”
The hall-of-fame inductee's parents are Rifet and Enisa Nurkic of Whitehall. Her younger brother, Belmedin, is a 20-year-old junior at Penn State Greater Allegheny. He is a business management/marketing major and competes in soccer.
Nurkic, who was born in Bosnia and moved to the U.S. in the first grade with her parents, offered a few words of wisdom for today's high school student-athletes.
“Don't don't ever give up on your dreams,” she said. “You will always reach roadblocks and have obstacles you have to go through to get where you want. Don't let them stop you.
“Always work hard and reach for the stars. Always keep your feet firmly on the ground and don't forget where you came from. You can do anything you put your mind to; just work for it.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.