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Mike Rendos: Baker’s philosophy was consistency and teaching game

Central Mountain’s Scott Baker recently announced he is stepping down as the Wildcats girls basketball coach. His departure comes on the heels of resurrecting the program from the depths of an 0-22 record two years ago, to 17-4 and a spot in the District 6 Class 5A championship game this recently completed season.

His resume contains 16 years coaching the Central Mountain boys program and the past three years leading the girls. I believe the hallmarks of Baker’s coaching philosophy were consistency and teaching the game. Consistency in that he believed in his players and taught them to believe in themselves. Teaching in that he believed coaching basketball was simply an extension of classroom teaching to the gymnasium, the only differences being the gymnasium was a larger classroom and on game day there were people sitting in the stands watching him teach the class.

His calm demeanor and understanding presence were terrific examples for the young men and women he influenced on the court through the years. An avid baseball fan, Baker now has some time to root his beloved Philadelphia Phillies to the top of the NL East standings.

Despite being the only franchise in the four American professional sports without a nickname, the NFL’s Washington Football Team moniker seems to be warming up to fans in the DC area. Team president Jason Wright believes that there is sentiment within management to retain the name WFT since it ties into the team’s history. Whether there is a nickname change or not, the team’s colors will remain burgundy and gold.

Speaking of the WFT, former Ohio State QB record setter and 2019 NFL first-round pick Dwayne Haskins was released by Washington after only two seasons with the club due to inefficient play and poor off-field behavior. The Steelers picked him up in January, hoping the talented QB’s problems are behind him.

The way Ben Roethlisberger got knocked around last season made it imperative that the Steelers have a quality backup at QB. While on the Steelers, free-agent running back James Conner is taking his wares to the Arizona desert next season, as he recently signed with the Cardinals. The Erie McDowell and Pitt graduate overcame significant adversity during his eight-year run in Pittsburgh and was a Steelers fan favorite.

NCAA leaders had to endure a firestorm of criticism during the recent March Madness tournaments, as stark differences in conditioning facilities, food, publicity, marketing and even the use of less accurate COVID tests for the women athletes as compared to the men came to light. Former Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw wasn’t surprised by the disparity of treatment saying, “The disparity has been going on for years and women athletes have had to be happy with the crumbs falling from the table.”

Continuing, McGraw said, “What bothers me most, however, is not the inequity in facilities, food and gifts, but the fact that no one on the NCAA leadership team even noticed.”

While the NCAA leaders quickly went into damage control, the issue even gained the attention of Washington. Thirty-six members of Congress sent a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert demanding answers to the unequal treatment of women’s teams at the outset of the tournament. I am sure that letter sparked some attention at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis.

The spate of college basketball coaches being fired at the end of the recent season hit especially hard on the Miller family from western Pennsylvania’s Beaver Falls as brothers Sean and Archie Miller were dismissed from Arizona and Indiana, respectively. Sean, a former Pitt guard, got caught up in alleged NCAA recruiting irregularities that led to his demise out in the Arizona desert. NC State grad Archie simply did not win enough games to satisfy Hoosier Nation.

Both Miller brothers played high school basketball for their father, John, at Blackhawk High in the Beaver Valley above Pittsburgh. Interestingly, there is some connection between Blackhawk and Lock Haven, as Lock Haven High School played Blackhawk in the state playoffs in both football and basketball in the mid-1990s. In fact, former LHHS hoops coach Steve Turchetta developed a coaching relationship with Blackhawk coach John Miller, and even invited him to a basketball clinic that Turchetta held at the former LHHS gymnasium.

The night before the clinic, Turchetta hosted a little gathering for his coaching staff and coach Miller at a downtown Lock Haven restaurant and Steve asked me to stop by and meet the highly successful Blackhawk coach. I can remember Miller saying that, “Sean and Archie can handle the ball just as well as the legendary ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich,” and he felt both of them possessed the basketball IQ and intense drive to someday be Division I basketball coaches.

Long-time Pittsburgh Pirate usher Phil Coyne passed on from this life last week at the age of 102. Born and raised in the shadows of old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh’s Oakland section, he started his Pirate ushering career in 1936 and, with the exception of being overseas in the Army for four years during World War II, ushered at Forbes Field, Three Rivers Stadium and PNC Park for 82 seasons and more than 6,000 home games. Talk about Gehrig or Ripken, how do you top 82 years?

Coyne’s two greatest memories both occurred at Forbes Field. The year before he became an usher he witnessed Babe Ruth’s 714th and final home run. In 1960, he was along the third-base rail when Bill Mazeroski drove a ball over the left center field wall to win the seventh game of the World Series.

The former long-time usher once remarked that, “The main rule of being an usher is to never allow a fan to jump over the rail onto the field, and that during my 82 years as an usher I only broke that rule one time.”

That one time was when Maz hit the walk-off home run to win the 1960 World Series. As the ball sailed over the wall a mass of fans rushed toward the field in celebration. Coyne recalled, “There was no way I was going to stop them, so I just ducked down and got out of their way.”

Until next time, be a sport!

Mike Rendos is a former Keystone Central School District counselor, a current Central Mountain High School assistant athletic director and a longtime PIAA sports official.

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