WPIAL Hall of Fame Class of 2012

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Friday, April 13, 2012 | 2:02 PM


Neil Walker is known for his baseball talent. The current Pirates second baseman had an unforgettable baseball career at Pine-Richland High School and was a first-round draft pick.

But it is what Walker also did in other sports that helped earn him a spot in the WPIAL Hall of Fame.

The WPIAL Hall of Fame class for 2012 was announced Thursday at a news conference, and Walker was one of the selections. Walker was in Los Angeles with the Pirates, but his father was at the news conference at the Heinz History Center in the Strip District.

Walker had a terrific baseball career at Pine-Richland, starting four seasons and batting .504 for his career. He hit .657 as a senior with 13 home runs, 42 RBIs and a 1.403 slugging percentage for a WPIAL championship team.

But when an athlete makes it on the professional level, sometimes people forget what they did in other sports. Walker also played football and basketball at Pine-Richland. In football, he was a two-time member of the MSA Sports Elite Eleven and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Fabulous 22. He was an outstanding receiver and defensive back and won a WPIAL title as a senior. He played in the famous “snow game” in the PIAA championship against Manheim Central.

Walker was such a gifted athlete that he was playing quarterback for the Rams in the preseason, but was eventually switched back to receiver. Some Division I colleges liked Walker for football. He originally signed with Clemson to play baseball, but ended up signing with the Pirates after being a first-round draft pick.

Walker didn’t play basketball as a senior, but was an all-section pick as a junior in basketball.

Walker will be honored at the WPIAL Hall of Fame banquet June 1 at the Doubletree Hotel in Green Tree. He will be playing a game that night and his father will accept on his behalf. The banquet is open to the public and tickets can be ordered through the WPIAL at www.wpial.org or by calling the WPIAL at 412-921-7181.

The WPIAL selects Hall of Fame members in different categories – athletes, coaches, teams, contributor and official. Also inducted into the Hall are winners of two awards – Heritage Award and Courage Award. The Heritage Award is for someone who made an impact in the WPIAL decades ago. The Courage Award is named after John Challis, the former Freedom High School athlete who had a courageous battle with cancer a few years ago.

Here is a look at the 2012 Hall of Fame class.

ATHLETES:

SEAN MILLER, BLACKHAWK CLASS OF 1987
A terrific point guard who led Blackhawk to its first WPIAL championship in 1987. Scored more than 1,700 career points – before the 3-point line was instituted. Scored 51 points in one game. He went on to a fine career at the University of Pittsburgh and is now head coach at the University of Arizona.

FRANK FUHRER III, FOX CHAPEL – CLASS OF 1976
Fuhrer is one of only two individuals to win three WPIAL golf championships. Fuhrer won gold in 1974, ’75 and ’76 and also won a state championship in 1976. After high school, Fuhrer had a distinguished career for the North Carolina Tar Heels. At one time was ranked No. 2 amateur player in the country.

KELLY KOVACH, BALDWIN – CLASS OF 1991
What didn’t she do at Baldwin? A four-year starter in softball and basketball, and a three-year starter in volleyball. Her best sport was softball, where she was a dominating pitcher, going 53-5 in her career. Became an All-American pitcher at the University of Michigan.

NEIL WALKER, PINE-RICHLAND – CLASS OF 2004
See above. In 2004, he was the first WPIAL player to be taken in the first round of the Major League Baseball in 26 years.

RON SEPIC, UNIONTOWN – CLASS OF 1963
How many kids make all-state in two different sports? Sepic did as a football and basketball player. He was a Parade All-American basketball player in 1963 and appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” with Lew Alcindor. He is one of only 12 players from the WPIAL or Pittsburgh City League to ever be named to the prestigious Parade All-American basketball team. Went on to play basketball at Ohio State. Although he didn’t play football at Ohio State, the NFL’s Washington Redskins drafted him. The NBA’s Cincinnati Royals also drafted him.

MEL NASH, GATEWAY – CLASS OF 1972
In 1972, he was named the national high school swimmer of the year by Swimming World Magazine. At Gateway, he set numerous state and WPIAL records and never lost a race from his sophomore year on. He went on to become an All-American for the Indiana Hoosiers and also placed fifth in the 100-meter backstroke at the 1976 Olympic Trials, missing a spot on the U.S. team by .16 second. He went on to coach the Texas A & M mens and womens teams.

DEREK BOCHNA, MAPLETOWN – CLASS OF 1990
When he graduated from Mapletown, he was the WPIAL career leading rusher with 4,793 yards. He also was an outstanding baseball player at Mapletown and a talented basketball player. He went on to become a four-year letterman at Penn State as a defensive back, and finished his career fourth on the school’s all-time list for interceptions. But Bochna also played four seasons of baseball at Penn State and was the school’s all-time leader in home runs with 28 when he graduated.

JESS STROM, STEEL VALLEY – CLASS OF 2001
Strom was superb at putting the ball in the net in two different sports. She finished her career at Steel Valley as one of the top scorers in WPIAL history with 2,840 points. She scored 46 in one game. Her career mark of 205 goals is still a WPIAL record today. Strom went on to have a terrific basketball career at Penn State, where she was a three-time all-Big Ten Conference selection. She is one of only four players in Penn State history to have 1,000 career points and 750 career assists. She is now coaching womens basketball at California University of Pa.

COACHES:

JOHN MILLER, BASKETBALL
With his son, Sean, they are the first father-son team in the WPIAL Hall of Fame. John Miller turned Blackhawk High School into a Pennsylvania power. In 29 seasons at Blackhawk, he won eight WPIAL titles, second only to the great Ed McCluskey of Farrell. Miller also won four state championships, which ties him for second-most among WPIAL coaches, and his 1992 team is considered one of the WPIAL’s best in recent history. Had 583-222 record at Blackhawk and also guided the team to a WPIAL record 111 consecutive section wins from 1990-99. Also coached Riverside for six seasons before coming to Blackhawk, and his all-time record is 657-280.

CHUCK WAGNER, FOOTBALL
Was a head coach in the WPIAL for 47 seasons before retiring after this past season. He coached Oakmont (his alma mater) for 10 seasons (1961-70), Riverview for 15 (1971-85) and Fox Chapel for three (1988-90). He finished his career with 19 seasons at Springdale (1993-2011), where he took the WPIAL’s worst program and turned it into a WPIAL champion in 2003. Springdale also qualified for the playoffs in each of his final 10 seasons. Wagner finished his career fourth on the WPIAL all-time list for victories with a record of 270-202-11.

ANDY URBANIC, FOOTBALL
In the 1970s, Penn Hills was considered among the top programs in the country – mainly because of Urbanic. From 1973 through 1980, Urbanic’s Penn Hills teams had an 84-8-1 record and he won four consecutive WPIAL championships at one point (including one co-championship). He coached great players like Bill Fralic and Tom Flynn. He coached at Penn Hills from 1968-80 and had an impressive 110-30-2 record. Before Penn Hills, he also coached out of state and his 21-year record was 164-53-4. He went on to be an assistant coach at Pitt and Akron.

TEAMS:

1989 UPPER ST. CLAIR FOOTBALL
This team finished ranked No. 4 in the country in USA Today, after becoming the first team from the WPIAL to go 15-0 and win the state Quad-A title. The Panthers had a legendary coach in Jim Render and standout players like Doug Whaley, Pete Habib, Phill Dun and Kevin Orie, who eventually played Major League Baseball. Orie and Render both attended the Hall of Fame news conference Thursday. In the state title game, the Panthers defense was superb in beating Wilson, 12-7. Wilson featured future NFL quarterback Kerry Collins.

1960 FARRELL BASKETBALL
How many high school teams can say they had three players eventually drafted into the NBA? This Farrell team had that distinction. This team featured some all-time greats from the WPIAL, including Willie Somerset and Brian Generalovich. Jack Marin was a sophomore reserve. Those three all were drafted into the NBA in the future. Legendary coach Ed McCluskey guided Farrell to a 30-1 record this season, and the Steelers won WPIAL and state championships. Their average margin of victory for the season was 19 points.

OFFICIAL:

ZIGMUND “RED” MIHALIK
A former player at Ford City High School, Mihalik became a nationally-recognized basketball official and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1986. He worked six NCAA championships, two NIT finals and three NAIA finals. He also officiated in two Olympic Games. He got his start by officiating in high school, and worked nine WPIAL finals and five state championships. In 1951, one publication named him the best official in the country. Ford City’s gym is named “Red Mihalik Gym.”

CONTRIBUTOR:

BOB BLEGGI
Bleggi has been an active member of the WPIAL track and field steering committee for more than 40 years. He also was a longtime football coach, track and field coach and athletic director at Neshannock High School. The stadium at Neshannock bears his name.

HERITAGE AWARD:

ROBERT “RED” WORRELL
Was a four-year starter in football, basketball, baseball and track at Centerville High School (now part of Beth-Center). He graduated from Centerville in 1957 and went to Penn State, where he was a star running back on the freshman team (freshmen weren’t eligible for the varsity back then). He died tragically at the age of 19 in an accident at his home. Every spring at Penn State’s Blue-White game, one player receives the “Red Worrell Award” for exemplary conduct, loyalty, interest, attitude and improvement.

COURAGE AWARD
MARK AND SARA PILARSKI, HAMPTON

Mark and Sara are brother and sister at Hampton. Mark has overcome a potentially deadly skin disease to become an all-section player in basketball. He is a senior. Sara is a junior who has a benign brain tumor that sometimes causes severe headaches and even loss of vision. She also made all-section this year.

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