A Friend, Confidant and a Damn Great Coach

A few years back I wrote a very detailed three article piece on high school football recruiting and how it works behind the scenes – things that casual fans never really saw or knew about. With those articles and other writings on recruiting I got some blow back along the lines of “How would you know those details if you weren’t in the business?

Well, the way I did know the backstory on the ins and outs of HS to college football recruiting was through my friendship, and many, many conversations, with Coach Roger Wrenn. We knew each other since 2009 and he was a pleasure to talk with – but mostly to just listen to and learn:

T. Roger Wrenn, a legendary football and baseball coach in Baltimore City at both Patterson High School and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, who retired in 2011, passed away Monday at the age of 76 after a two year battle with cancer.

Wrenn spent the bulk of his career at Patterson High School, from 1974-2005 before moving to Poly for his final six seasons. During that time he posted a career record of 284-113-2 on the football field and won eight Baltimore City championships and three Maryland Scholastic Association (MSA) titles.

He also spent 29 years as the head coach of the Patterson baseball team where he posted an incredible record of 431-69-2. That was good for the second most wins in Maryland high school baseball history at the time of his retirement.

During his tenure he produced one of the most accomplished coaching trees in the Baltimore area. At one point as many as nine former assistants of Wrenn had coaching jobs in the Baltimore area at the same time.

In April, Wrenn was presented with the John Harvill Lifetime Achievement Award by the Maryland State Football Coaches Association (MSFCA), becoming only the eighth individual to be given the honor. He is also a member of the MSFCA Hall of Fame and the Maryland State Baseball Hall of Fame.

Current Fallston head coach Keith Robison, who began his coaching career under Wrenn at Patterson, before stints as head coach at Overlea and Perry Hall, said Wrenn was tough on young coaches for a reason.

We are all saddened by the loss of our coach, our mentor and the single greatest influence on our careers as teachers and coaches,” said Robinson. “I say we, because Roger’s coaching tree is vast, and it includes those who once played for him and those who were fortunate enough to teach and coach alongside him.

As you can see Roger was like a football god here in Maryland (an over 70% win rate and 11 championships will do that) and his players had many visits from college head coaches and recruiters over the years. He told me some interesting stories about Pitt’s trying to recruit his players from the early 1970s on to the end of the Wannstedt regime.

Most of his players went to Maryland and other ACC schools, some to WVU with others going to universities across the country. He was a real pleasure to know and I respected his humble approach to his describing, really downplaying, his influence on both HS and college athletics. I will miss him.

But, boy, some of those stories…

81 thoughts on “A Friend, Confidant and a Damn Great Coach

  1. Many thanks for the article. With all the garbage going on in sports today, it’s good to know that there are still some fine coaches that are in the game for the right reasons.

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  2. High school coaches are the most under appreciated. Most of them don’t recruit but do the best with what they have. They teach fundamentals and discipline

    They are not in it for the fame and certainly not the money but for the love of the game and the kids

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  3. Thanks for the story. Just think how many lives your friend influenced during his life. What a legacy!

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  4. I think the road today for a high school coach differs much from the past. In my area there are plenty of former high profile athletes jumping in. Coaches that didn’t necessarily earn it through coming up through the ranks, hard work, ethics and proven ability to motivate and mentor young men. And don’t forget strong ties to the community. These carpet baggers get these gigs based on name recognition these days. I mean Fraud Graham came from my area. Successful high school coach who knew how to charm and found fools (like Pitt) to buy his snake oil. I wonder where Penny has relatives now.

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  5. Reed your heartfelt tribute to your friend is one of the most moving pieces I have read on the POV. I will always remember my high school track coach because of the positive influence that he had on me. My coach gave me the confidence to work on my skills to become a better than average sprinter in the highly competitive Noo Yawk sports arena. A great coach at the high school level has the opportunity to mold young athletes in a way that will lead them on a path to maturity and responsibility. High school coaches receive minimal pay, however, they have a maximum effect on young adults.

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  6. Reed – really good article.

    HC Pat recruited a good one from Texas –

    Che Nwabuko 📍
    @CheNwabuko1
    I’m grateful for being recognized by @hssportsawards tonight as boys track & field athlete of the year & boys athlete of the year.
    #CNtime | #H2P

    @ChuxSpeed @statesman @Rickyprep @thomasjhenrylaw @Whataburger @ManorISD #WAMM

    Watch on Twitter
    11:13 PM · Jun 6, 2022 from Michael & Susan Dell Hall

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  7. Great coaches are very rare. It takes a special type of dedication and a special skill set.
    Thanks for sharing Reed

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I attended a sports medical symposium headed by Dr. James McMasters during my final year of PT school. He made a statement that stuck in my brain over all these years, “Great athletes are born and the unmade!” Of course he was referring to “ coaches “ who have no business interacting with developing youngsters. Reed, your pal is a legend and all who knew this coach took something positive away from the relationship that could be applied to life.

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  9. May Coach Wrenn Rest In Peace.

    My HS baseball coach’s day job was being a mailman. He wasn’t big on developing individual talent but he worked us long hours on team activities like hitting the cut-off man, defending the double steal, bunt defense, etc. We played like a well oiled machine because of his work…. We were happy for him when as seniors we won the championship.

    Course my best coach was my Dad, who spent countless hours molding me into a decent baseball player.

    Go Pitt.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Something tells me that your Dad was an enormous factor in “molding” you into a very thoughtful and caring human being.

      Liked by 5 people

  10. OT – Some excellent BB stats posted on the Lair by DC Area Panther. Show the need for Pitt to find better shooters….

    “Shooting is where the biggest problem lies statistically:

    Two point shots
    Pitt = 503/1082 = 0.465
    Opp = 493/995 = 0.495

    Three point shots
    Pitt = 172/548 = 0.314
    Opp = 276/749 = 0.368

    All shots
    Pitt = 675/1630 = 0.414
    Opp = 769/1744 = 0.441

    The number of threes we gave up, versus made, is certainly telling…

    Go Pitt.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Part of the problem with shooters is they aren’t always the best athletes. There is a reason that there are so many mid level teams that peak with a bunch of 5th year seniors that can shoot. They take time to catch up physically. Every class should have a red shirt kid that can shoot lights out, who you can develop … the catch now is that the transfer portal could negate the returns you expect to get later. You need shooters on your team, though. Have to have them in this era. And if the NCAA ever goes to a 24 sec close like the rest of the world, shooting will be even more paramount.

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  12. The Athletic (paysite) has a good, in-depth review of Tennessee’s 2021 season and a look ahead to this year’s campaign that complements the fine work by Pitt-cocks. If you subscribe, I encourage you to check it out. Has me concerned about this game as Tennessee is returning more firepower than Pitt and their offensive line should be a bit stronger than last year. Pitt will probably need to score 40 to win. Slovis’ performance against WVU should indicate whether Pitt is capable of that.

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  13. Thanks Reed.

    Down here in the Richmond area, we had a similar guy named Al Rinaldi. I got to know him after his career (his daughter is a friend) and he was quite the character. It should come as no surprise that his roots are in SW PA…. in fact, he’s an Apollo native and spent some time coaching Highlands HS in NAY-trona Heights.

    His obit from 2016 is a reminder that the folks who served in WWII really were “The Greatest Generation”. I’ve copied it below for anyone looking for an interesting read:

    Whether he was helping a community cope with the effects of integration, teaching social studies, coaching high school football or broadcasting the game he loved on the radio, Al Rinaldi went about it with passion. Mr. Rinaldi died Wednesday morning at the age of 90, after a long period of declining health, his wife Nancy Rinaldi said.

    A man of boundless energy and theatrical flair, Mr. Rinaldi was born in Apollo, Pa., and gained legendary status as Mr. High School Football in the Richmond area. His coaching career began in Virginia in 1951 at Warrenton High after graduating from the University of Richmond, where he played basketball for four years.

    He said in a Times-Dispatch article in 1995 that “I went to UR because they let me play football, too. But I wasn’t much good. I played in 1946 on the ‘B’ varsity team, got hurt the next year and that was it for football.”

    Mr. Rinaldi moved to Highland Springs in 1954, and his 1961 Springers squad won the state championship.
    He left in 1962 to coach in New Jersey, then returned to Highland Springs in 1973 to guide the Springers for six more years. Those teams went 10-2, 9-1, 11-1, 12-1, 9-1 and 13-1. The 1978 team lost 14-13 to Annandale, his last loss as a Springer.

    “Al came in at a time when the school was changing. He was such an innovator, (and) he made the changes easy,” said Rudy Ward, Highland Springs’ former athletics director. “He was a great social leader, and we had few problems at Highland Springs because of that. For him, the color of the jersey and helmet was more important than the color of the kid.”

    Mr. Rinaldi left Virginia again to coach at Highlands High School near his home area of Pittsburgh in 1979. He came back to Richmond in 1980 to coach at J.R. Tucker. He retired from coaching in 1982 and from teaching in 1988.

    His career record was 196-76-14. His win total was the best of any area coach until Patrick Henry coach Ray Long Jr. surpassed him in the 2004 season.

    “One of the greatest things about his coaching was how he positioned his best player,” Ward said.

    A veteran of the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, Mr. Rinaldi was inducted in the Virginia High School League Hall of Fame in 1992. He was a member of the first class of inductees on the Highland Springs Wall of Fame in 1995.

    After retiring from everyday life in the classroom, Mr. Rinaldi served as a substitute teacher.
    He noted in a 1995 T-D article that, “We all have our addictions. Mine is in the classroom.”

    Mr. Rinaldi was the driving force behind a retired group of former high school coaches, athletics directors, principals, officials and media members known as the WARTS (Worn Out Affiliated Retired Taskmasters Society). His friend, Sattler Anderson, came up with the idea, but Anderson died before the group could get going. Mr. Rinaldi made it happen, came up with the name and usually called the group’s monthly breakfast meetings to order with a blast on his coach’s whistle.

    The WARTS kept tabs on what each member was doing, who was sick and who had died.

    Mr. Rinaldi also was on the ground floor when AM radio station WRNL began broadcasting local high school football games in 1993. He teamed with play-by-play man Gary Hess a couple years later.

    “Whenever I talked to other coaches and I mentioned Coach, they would talk about his passion for high school football,” Hess said. “He was a great champion for local high school football. Being around him at the games, (the passion) was infectious. He was in his element.

    “We’d argue, disagree, agree, get in trouble for fussing about the officiating, but tapping into his knowledge never got old. I continued to do (the broadcasts) because Al made it fun.”

    Mr. Rinaldi said in a 2000 column by former Richmond News Leader sports editor Jennings Culley, “I found it fun to be critical after being criticized for 30 years.”

    There will be a players’ tribute memorial service Sunday in the auditorium at Highland Springs High School from 6-8 p.m. Rev. Louis Collins and Rev. Joe Ellison, Jr., former Springers’ players, will preside. There will be a memorial service Sunday at 6 p.m. in the Highland Springs auditorium. Former players are asked to wear black suits, white shirts and gold ties.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I saw Dimperio coach a couple of times. He squared off against another WPa (italian) legend, Lindy Lauro. In the first meeting, Westinghouse’s single wing ran all over New Castle. In 2nd meeting, NC was able to hold off the House. Mid 60s

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  15. OT – noticed the last couple times I listened to the FAN that there has been a brief ad for the Pitt Panther Club.

    It’s just a “Fan headlines brought to you by the Panther Club…”. And saying to visit the web site to help Panther athletes.

    Don’t remember hearing an ad like this before…

    Go Pitt.

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  16. The thing that tees me off about Tennessee is how many ill-gotten recruits they might have. After the 21 season, Tennessee reported themselves into the NCAA and fired Coach Pruitt and the AD for illegal recruiting practices. A few years back, they had a top 10 class. Not sure if they have been sanctioned

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  17. The Vols were 6th in Rivals rankings in 2020 and 12th in 2021

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    1. The Vols will be hands full for this Pitt squad. Their O will go at an extremely fast pace and gas our D. But our D is deep on the line and seem to have a formidably six players at LB. The Pitt O will have an inexperienced QB.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Reed, you were truly blessed to know that coach! Dittos JoeL and Major Majors.

    My wife watched Varsity Blues for the first time with me over the weekend and was stunned at John Voight’s performance as an egomaniacal coach only interested in his own record at the expense of his team.

    I told her back in the day 6os and 70s most coaches were like that. Ours was at Baldwin! From eating popsicles in front of our team in 99 degree weather while denying us water to Pooh poohing injuries, he was like John Voight. I was personally terrified of him.

    I was good enough to make the team in my junior year. In our first halftime, we gathered in the gym and he asked us if anyone was hurt. He did not wait for an answer as I looked around and four players were badly injured ! In fact our starting center had broke his ankle running thru a paper hoop, “Go Baldwin, “made by the cheerleaders as we ran onto the field.

    Coaches like the ones Joel and Reed knew were a rarity back in my day. It’s good to know they are truly appreciated!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Agree Dan, I had some horrible head coaches, lucky I had a few assistants that were pretty good.

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  19. Danh72, if that Baldwin coach was coaching in 70, one of his players was Wanny

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    1. Both my brother Doug and Wanny played for Jim Gillooly HC. Former Duquesne HB during their glory years.

      Coach hloved Wanny and there is a steep hill on the Baldwin practice field where coach had the team do suicide sprints named for him. I will say this….Baldwin has had a lot of nice guy coaches since with only one or two winning season in 42 years.

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  20. Heard two rumors yesterday that FB transfers were visiting Pitt in the coming days – one a grad transfer QB and the other a portal WR.

    The QB rumor was confirmed by several sports related reporting tied to the Pittsburgh area – a Dartmouth starter for the past several years – 17 TD’s and 1 INT last season in an Ivy League championship year. Two parts to the rumor – Patti is leaving or need for a good 3rd string back-up. I’m sure there could be other reasons – nothing concluded when I read the related sports articles.

    The portal WR rumor is centered around two thoughts – 1. Bub Means won’t be eligible in 2022 (2nd transfer to Pitt and must sit one year). 2. While Wayne and Mumpfield are really good, the 3rd option if Means is not eligible has not clearly emerged and the level of college game day experience on the current roster is severally lacking.

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    1. Means already sat out the first time he transferred, so he can use the free transfer this time around unless I’m missing something, which I don’t think I am.

      A Notre Dame transfer running back also visited yesterday. I hope he put his name in the portal before May 1st. That makes sense bringing someone in another running back with the Tampa kid not making the grades.

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      1. Nate – your explanation on WR Means makes sense to me. I too hope you are right.

        I was not aware of the RB visit.

        Thanks

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  21. A few notes

    I do not see RB as a position of immediate need. Izzy, Carter, Hammond, Davis all return. Yes, all but Hammond may be gone after the year, but Che Nabuka is listed as a RB in this year’s commit class. And of course, there is always the portal

    This new Pitt team will rely less on WR this year, and it is not a position that particularly worries me. Of course, some injuries can change that

    Oklahoma made the final 4 playoffs four times ever since it was implemented in 2014. Yet Lincoln Riley indicated in an interview that the Sooner roster was not competitive with the other teams that were selected. Think about that

    Same thing can be said of ND .. as well as OSU two years ago and UM last year

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  22. In Pitt related volleyball news: “The United States overpowered Costa Rica 3-0 (25-8, 25-4, 25-8) on Tuesday in their first match at the sixth edition of the Women’s U21 Pan American Cup at the Arena La Paz in Baja California Sur.” The U.S. hitting percentage was 0.712. Pitt’s Rachel Fairbanks was the starting setter and played a major part in the victory. She scored five points on a match-high 4 aces and one block. Coach Fisher started the other setter in the third set out of mercy. All the U.S. players played in the match.

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    1. Fisher is gaining cred and recognition. He’s also gaining experience. He’s going to be a well sought after coach. I hope Pitt can keep him. These opportunities only make coaches far better. For his sake I hope he parlays it. Like I’ve said he’s the best or second best HC at Pitt. Nobody is a close third. Sorry Ike. Your prince will become a pauper this year.

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    2. Update on USA U21 Pan Am American Cup: U.S.A. swept Canada 3-0 on Wednesday and yesterday beat a very good Argentinian team 3-1. In the fourth set the U.S. team fought off two set points to win the match. The U.S. was undefeated in the pool play and advanced directly into the semi-finals. They will play next on Saturday. Rachel Fairbanks continues to be the starting setter.

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  23. Will kids who work under NILs be allowed to compete in the Olympics? Are they now semi-pros? The IRS knows the answer to the last question. The IRS now has a new limit on GIG income that I believe is $600 dollars. How will they monitor that? The IRS Schedules C and SE will be very popular.

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    1. @frankmd – the GIG limit of $600 is for when the payee has to send the recipient a Form 1099 not for what is subject to tax.

      As for Schedule C, most tax advisors suggest clients stay away from it by forming an entity to receive income so it can be reported on Schedule E. Much less likely to be audited. Question – are student athletes allowed to form LLCs or S Corporations to receive NIL income? The LLC would have to have two members. Who would be eligible to be the second member? Lots of interesting questions.

      H2P!!!

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    1. As a Penn graduate, I often watch Ivy League Football. Obviously, the talent level is much lower than what we are accustomed to viewing, however, the games can be entertaining if the scheduling God gets lucky. Kyler may surprise many of you if he ever sees the field….it will be interesting to hear how well he does in pre-season practice against P5 athletes. “Fight On Penn”

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        1. I posted an answer and it never showed up////George Munger was one of the great football coaches in America and his Quaker teams were often outstanding. The on-campus GREAT Franklin Field was often packed to see his teams play. The one Quaker who stands above all was Chuck Bednarik who played 60 minutes a game and after Penn a fantastic star for The Eagles.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I treated John Holland a “Mungerman” who passed away in his mid-80’s a few years back. They racked up quite a record during that period when scholar athletes played at that level.

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  24. Dartmouth Football trivia……former Miami Dolphins QB, Jay Fiedler was a star Ivy League QB for The Big Green. Kyler will NOT be a Fiedler.

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      1. I lived in Oceanside and Fiedler was a star QB for the Oceanside Sailors. Brilliant student ….majored in mechanical engineering at Dartmouth.

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  25. Reed: Your tribute to a great coach and man was appreciated. Coaches are often as important in developing character as parents and teachers.

    I unfortunately have spent the last 3 years watching my son’s bullying high school baseball coach destroy the confidence and love for the game of at least half of the members of the team. I’m actually debating writing a letter to the school board, and that’s not typically my style.

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    1. Write the letter! One thing my bullying HS Football coach taught me was to never coach in that fashion!

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  26. while these great coaches are prized and valued, obviously the most important coach is the dad and/or mom delivering lessons before, during and after that person

    my kids have had some good, some great and a couple not so… but I(and wife) have tried to have our kids gain something valuable from every one of them

    it’s been fun having now 2 kids achieve state championships in different sports with 2 years of potential ahead for another but the very best coaches and coaching for us has been when losing has happened imo

    not teaching anyone here anything but facing adversity, learning to compete, figuring out how to work hard and smart to overcome your own limitations all while having some fun throughout is what great coaches do and it’s tough enough with you own kids let alone a whole team of them

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Edit : “is what great coaches(teach individuals and their teams to) do and it’s….”

      there’s other edits needed but 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “there’s” other edits…

        omfg, I need to quit while I’m behind,,,, but not yet buried 🙂

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  27. I got full custody of my daughter at age 15. She smoked, drank and had drug issues and I was stunned to find this out. She was also failing HS. She would tell you that if it wasn’t for playing basketball, she’d be dead.

    I yanked her out of that HS and put her in a very disciplined HS which just happened to have a very good basketball team. Her teachers challenged her greatly and her basketball team went on to win the Maryland State Championship. Learning what it took to be a champion changed her life! She went from Ds to straight A’s.

    She went on to Carlow then with great grades transferred to Goucher. She became the youngest Asst Principal in MD and now thrives in Education Based private business in Florida. Being challenged and winning that State Championship changed her life.
    Hope that happens to all your kids!

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    1. Dan,

      I am so very proud of your daughter . And I am so proud of you. My gut and my Pitt Mechanical Engineering elective Psychology 101 (which involved the reading in 1070-1971 of Freud’s “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.”) course tells me that her achievements don’t happen without her father’s wise guidance.

      Reed- Dan’s blog above is what you should be most proud of in starting this madness
      … and joy.

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      1. It wasn’t guidance, it was desperation and the toughest of “tough love”! It affected our relationship to this day.

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    1. AS per recent PG article none of WPIAL”s football players are interested in Pitt. What is the problem?

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    2. Finalist for 3*** possible///HUGE problem with the 4**** athletes who can choose going to NIL Tech….
      why not be an 18-year-old with a flashy BMW??

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  28. Very little star talent in the 2023 wpial class but it does have both the number one and two players in the state. Neither of which are going to Pitt. Most of the high three and four star talent is from the eastern part of the state. And I don’t think Pitt has a good pipeline and relationships with any major Philly school. That’s a problem.

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  29. Okay, not to brag, but 55 years ago today I pitched St. Mary of the Mount High School to the Class B championship and an undefeated season. We won 2-1. I shut them out after giving up a run in the first. I only know this because my son sent me a press article…

    Yeah, it was only Class B, but undefeated is pretty good. Can’t believe it was 55 years ago!

    Go Mounties!

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Great job John, I believe you are a lefty? I imagine you were just as crafty and wily back then as you are today. 😉 Give up your nickname as everyone had one back in the day.

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    1. Ike’s right, I’m a southpaw. I had a good down-breaking curveball, and I could hit the corners pretty consistently. My idol, besides Roberto, was Sandy Koufax. Pitching was such great fun.

      No nickname, ike, the nuns wouldn’t have approved. 😊

      55 years ago!

      Liked by 2 people

  30. Major – since the like button is on vacation, I’ll tell you in written word.

    I other baseball news:

    #1 seeded Tennessee loses in the Super Regional to ND in game 1 (8-6).

    Texas falls to East Carolina in game 1 of their Super Regional.

    Lastly, Florida State fires their head coach Martin Jr. his dad was the all time winningest baseball coach at FL St.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. A note about my high school baseball coach. If you’ve ever seen the original “Angels in the Outfield” movie, shot in 1951, my Coach played the Pirates’ second baseman. The movie was shot at Forbes Field and there are a couple scenes with an awesome looking Cathedral of Learning in the background.

    In an early scene, the dreadful Pirates just lost yet another game and as the team is walking into the dressing room, my coach trips and falls. The Pirates’ manager sees this and makes some remark about “no wonder we can’t win any baseball games…”

    My coach is in some later scenes and when the Pirates, with some help from above, start to win, he turns a double play…

    The good old days of movies…

    Liked by 2 people

  32. So Pitt just offered an 8th grade QB from South Carolina. Yikes.

    Quite an emphasis on QB recruiting since Coach Cignetti arrived. And graduate assistant DiBasio seems to be playing a big role. He worked with Coach Cignetti at BC.

    Here’s a bit of info: DiBiaso was a quarterback at Dartmouth (2015-17) before completing his undergraduate career at Tufts University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in child development from Tufts in 2018 and completed a master’s degree in sports administration from Boston College in 2020.“

    Go Pitt.

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