Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Players and heroes

If Everything’s Coming Your Way, You’re in the Wrong Lane!

Third Annual Golf Outing: One of my proudest moments came recently when I saw the readers of this blog and Facebook gather together to lend their support to help CHS State Champs get their richly-deserved rings. The Bears Athletic Club has purchased capes for the players as they stand on the sidelines during freezing PA winters, uniforms to replace torn, tattered, and repaired ones that have long outlived their newness, food during road trips, and many other ways of helping. The Bears responded not only on the field but in the classroom where a third carry grade point averages of 3.5 or better. That is a testament to the players, their parents who encourage them, their coaches who monitor them, and the faculty who teach them as well as the administration and school board.

Now it is time to step up again. The annual fundraiser for the past few years has been a golf outing. This year it will take place July 9 at the 7 Springs Golf Course in Elizabeth. With the economy struggling the numbers of participants has also been down and there is still room for golfers and duffers. Money raised helps continue the proud CHS tradition of athletic and academic excellence that has been in place for more than a century.

If you are local and participate, sign up now. If you are not a golfer but would like to help, you may sponsor a hole, contribute items to be raffled, or send a check to help the program. All donors will be recognized during the buffet and prize raffle. Please contact CHS Athletic Director Anthony R. Ferrare at ferrarea@clairton.k12.pa.us or phone him at 412.233.9200 ext. 1116.

Clairton superstars continue to shine:
Several members of the Bears State Championship team entered a seven-on-seven contest. Other schools participated and CHS beat some of the best talent from the biggest schools in the area. They dropped a game to TJ but were not eliminated and went on to win the tourney. The winner (CHS) of the tournament was beaten by their neighbor it was TJ who received an invitation to a seven-on-seven competition at the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas. A recent article in the local newspaper suggested that if TJ declined the offer, the Bears would be invited but there would be no money to send them. No invitation has been issued as of this writing.

Three standout Clairton players, however, were invited at the behest of the Gateway coach to attend an IMF John Madden all star game in Florida. This was an exciting honor as the trip would also serve as a college campus tour. The bus would stop at several campuses including Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, West Virginia and others. The local group of fundraisers provided the players with food and spending money and they took of earlt Thursday morning. By Thursday night they had seen U VA and were near the Duke campus when a tragedy occurred. On the way back to their hotel from dinner they crossed paths with some idiot hothead who was packing heat. He pulled the gun and fired blindly at the group, wounding two Gateway players, one fatally. Our boys were traumatized but not otherwise injured. What a sick tragedy.

Tragic gunplay victim a winner: Soldiers, fire fighters and police officers deserve special consideration. Jim Kuzak, Clairton police officer was rushing to the aid of a crime victim when he was shot. The 15-year police veteran who served in Peteers Township, Homestead, and Clairton was shot five times last April. He was shot twice in the bulletproof vest, once in his forearm, once in the side and once just above the vest, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Prior to the shooting Kuzak had planned to participate in a torch run with other law enforcement officers in an effort to raise money for the Special Olympics. Officer Kuzak didn’t let a little thing like getting shot deter him.

The shooting happened in April and Officer Kuzak has been wheelchair bound since. His goal was to hold the torch and travel 2.5 miles . His efforts have already helped raise a sizable sum. The full journey course goes from the PNC Park to State College, a 150 mile journey which takes three days. Participantsl carry the Special Olympic torch over the distance in an effort to shine light on the Special Olympics and to raise funds.

As the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run began on Route 22 Officer Kuzak was pushed in his wheelchair by his fellow Clairton officers, Chief Rob Hoffman, Sgt. Jim Corozza, Sgt. Joe Giles, Sgt. Keith Zenkovich, officer Dan Eberman, officer Brennan Jackson, officer Robert Pugar and officer John Skrip, along with runner John Dunlap.

The Law Enforcement Torch Run is Special Olympics' largest grassroots fund-raiser and public awareness vehicle in Pennsylvania. Thanks to the run, which brings donations through sponsorship of running departments, and other fund-raising events throughout the year, Special Olympics is free to participants.

The day of the run heat was oppressive, but the runners kept in their minds the Special Olympians, some of whom live in the city. The Clairton officers raised about $1,500 for the organization, a portion of the more than $57,000 generated by the torch run, which involves law enforcement from around the region and will end Thursday night in State College when thousands of athletes start the Summer Games.

And what of Officer Kuzak whose injuries could leave him permanently paralyzed? He and his family are encouraged by what he described as "walking sessions" in the past few days with the aid of braces. Although the road ahead remains full of uncertainties he returned home last month and requires regular physical therapy to build his upper body strength.

A not so stupid 68-year old: After being married fo 50 years, a fellow we know took a careful look at his wife one day and said to her, "Fifty years ago we had a cheap house, a junk car, slept on a sofa bed and watched a 10-inch black and white TV. But I got to sleep every night with a gorgeous, hot 18-year-old girl.“

“Now ... I have a $500,000.00 home, a $35,000.00 car, a nice big bed and a large screen TV, but I'm sleeping with a 68-year-old woman. It seems to me that you're not holding up your side of things."

The wife is a very reasonable woman. She told him to go out and find a hot 18-year-old girl and she would make sure that he would once again be living in a cheap house, driving a junk car, sleeping on a sofa bed and watching a 10-inch black and white TV.

A little blogging music Maestro... “The Way We Were," By Barbara Streisand.

Dr. Forgot


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Clairton loses a gem

Clairton Boy Lost

The father: Mike Vucin was born Milan Vucinovich to Eastern European immigrant parents. His parents lived in a duplex on Arch Street overlooking the Coke Works. His first name soon became Mike to his Anglo school mates and his last name proved to be cumbersome especially while he served in the Coast Guard during World War II. After he returned home from the war Mike shortened his last name to Vucin. Mike Vucin was a shy, quiet man beloved by all who knew him.

When Mike returned from the war he purchased a home in Malmady Village, located on the edge of Keenan Field. Malmady was named after the site of a battle in Europe and its homes were built quickly and cheaply for the onslaught of returning servicemen. He and his wife moved into the small home with their son, Milan, Jr. and daughter, Kathleen.

Mike worked hard in the mill, lived frugally, and saved as much money as he was able. Finally, as the children were moving toward adolescence Mike bought a beautiful home on Route 885. The move meant that his children would not attend Clairton High School, but the newly CHS-spawned Thomas Jefferson.

The Son: Milan, Jr. began to grow into manhood even before he hit adolescence. He was shaving before he was a teen and muscles bulged in his arms and shoulders. He was musically inclined and played clarinet in the TJ school band. But when the football coach saw him marching in the band he convinced Milan to march to the beat of a different drummer and thus, Milan the clarinet player became a football star. At first he continued to play clarinet in the band and refused to let his band teacher down, so the junior varsity coach agreed to allow Milan to play football during the first half of the game, then march with the band during halftime before returning to the game.

By his sophomore year Milan, often called Sonny, was a starter on the team and was such an outstanding player that he would eventually be named as one of the top 50 players in TJ’s first half-century of football.

But while Milan was enjoying accolades on the football field and being active in school politics, Clairton and U.S. Steel were having their first big recession since the Great Depression. Men, including Mike Vucin were being laid off in the local mill. After many months of not working, U.S. Steel offered several men, including Mike Vucin, an opportunity to work in their Morrisville plant, several hundred miles away - near Philadelphia. Six men, including Mike, took the offer and carpooled between Clairton and Morrisville, living there during the week and returning home on weekends. The work was filthy and difficult and as the half-dead men drove home each weekend to be with their families they would switch drivers every hour to keep from falling asleep.

One by one the men gave up on working across the state. Each one dropped out except Mike who continued to work in the mill and eventually was given a promotion into management and increase in salary. Thus, he moved his family to Levittown, sold the house on 885, and began the fourth and final phase of his life. He had gone from Arch Street to war to working in the Clairton mill and now he and his family would settle in the other end of the state.

The TJ football coach was devastated. His top defensive player was leaving. The only solace he took was that Sonny would be far enough away so as not to play against the team he’d left behind.

The Vucin family bought a home in Levittown and Milan enrolled in Pennsbury High School which he immediately took by storm. He was an excellent student and planned to become a dentist. He took several leadership positions in the student body and soon became one of the most popular boys in the school. By this time he and the most popular girl in the school became sweethearts. He shined on the football field too. The Pennsbury coach switched him from defense to fullback and Milan proceeded to set record after record. Soon scholarship offers began rolling in from every major football program in the country.

Milan chose the University of Maryland; far enough to be away from home but near enough for his dad to drive down on weekends to watch him play against the likes of Roger Staubach and other big time players of the day. But college coaches were not as tolerant as his junior varsity coach who let him play both in the band and on the field. When Milan began to miss practice because of the chemistry lab classes and other pre-med obligations, the coach told him to make a decision – play football or lose his scholarship. So Milan changed his major to Psychology.

By the time his college career was over his high school sweetheart had become a “stewardess,” as they were called in those days. Milan took a job with U.S. Steel so he could work with his dad. When his dad retired Milan went into business nad once again was a star at everything he tried. A few years ago he retired but to keep busy took a job as a limousine driver. Ever the charmer he loved his clients and they appreciated his adroitness as a driver and conversationalist.

Eventually the pounding his body had taken as an athlete and the routine part of his limousine job that included lifting heavy bags began to take their toll. It started as lower back pain then moved up to his shoulders and neck. The pain was so excruciating that he became housebound. It happened so quickly – just a couple of months. Last weekend Milan Vucin, Jr. passed away. One of the best to ever come out of Clairton is gone. Milan Vucin, Clairton boy.

A little blogging music Maestro... “As Time Goes By” by Billie Holliday

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Winners and Winners

More Clairton Stars

“Hot Coles burns competition: Clairton High School has always had successful extra-curricular activities. The band, the majorettes (Honeybears), the athletic teams, and other representatives of activities from the student newspaper to the school yearbook have won awards. Athletics have played a large part in molding young leaders and athletes. Today we feature CHS sophomore sprinter Trenton Coles who has been winning races and being named the MVP at various meets all school year. He has running in his blood. Not only was his mother, the late Marla Puryear Smith one of the greatest sprinters in WPIAL history, his grandfather and part time coach Norman Jones was the 1971 PIAA champion of the 100 year dash at Clairton. Trent Coles was also the field goal kicker on the football team whose toe helped the Bears to the state championship. Thanks to blog reader and CHS Alumni Tom Nixon for the tip about Coles.”

One year later several tips poured regarding the performance of sprinter Coles. Thanks to Tom as well as Bob White, Don Taylor and the others who sent information about our hometown. So what has happened with Mr. Coles since last year?

First, he helped the Bears win a second state football championship and earned himself another state championship ring. As a sophomore he was the kicker, but as a junior Trenton played wide receiver and defensive back. That combination, combined with his speed, has Division I schools, salivating over the possibility of landing him as a recruit next year. Once football season was over Trenton started running – not for office, but for the finish line on the track. Of course, there is no track in to run on in Clairton so his practice time was limited. The CHS junior is still being coached by his grandfather, Norman Jones who won the PIAA gold 40 years ago. Young Trenton Coles is less than half the age of his Grandpa, but he won twice the gold – two gold medals in the 100 and 200 meter dashes. The state competition was held at Shippensburg University. Last week, while running the same event at the WPIAL championship, Coles won more gold as he set a record for the 200 meter event, running it in 21.69.

How rare is it for a PIAA gold medal to be awarded to a Clairton runner? The last one, before Coles, was his grandfather’s gold in 1971. The medals were awarded to Coles by his grandfather, making the event even more special. Trenton and his two brothers live with their grandpa and his wife, Shirley. Their mother passed away two years ago. She ran for Thomas Jefferson and won six gold medals during her reign in the 1980s. Trenton’s mom. Marla, is considered by many to be the best track athlete in the history of Western Pennsylvania. Three generations of gold medal winners! Imagine! What makes this story even more amazing is that Trenton Coles only practices 1-2 days per week. It is not because he is lazy or unmotivated, but because Clairton does not have a track so he must drive to TJ to practice on their track.

What does the future hold for Trenton Coles? Well first, of course, he has to finish high school. He is an excellent student and an outstanding football player. That combination has brought scholarship offers from Pitt and Big 10 powerhouse Wisconsin. Does his speed as a trackster help him as a football player? As mentioned above, his record setting win at the WPIAL finals broke a record that was set in 2005 by Tommie Campbell of Aliquippa. Campbell played for Pitt and was recently drafted by the Tennessee Titans. Yes, speed matters if you’re a wide receiver. At 6’3” and 173 lbs. Coles is the ideal size for a wide receiver. Coles-Puryear-Jones; a Clairton family.

Another kind of family running competition: The Coles-Puryear-Jones family has been running for four decades. The Tachoir-Grisnik family has run together only once – during the recent elections. Kathy Grisnik Tachoir came from the family whose business was baking. Grisniks served bread, cakes, pastries and other baked goods to generations of Clairton residents from their bakery on St. Clair Avenue. She married Roger Tachoir and they operate a successful auto body shop business on Twelfth Street in Clairton.

Community service is in the blood of this couple. Kathy’s father, the late Frank Grisnik, Jr. served on the Clairton School Board for more than two and a half decades. Kathy and Roger have spent 38 years in the auto business together. Kathy is an Accredited Auto Manager as well as a Licensed Automotive Appraiser. She has also served five terms as president of Clairton’s Chamber of Commerce and is the recipient of the All Star Award from the Regional Business Alliance. Kathy is a Clairton gal born and bred.

Roger Tachoir is a retired Clairton school teacher who has served on the school board for eight years. His public service also includes serving as president and vice president of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit Board, Steel Center Vo-Tech School Board, and Director of the Allegheny Health Consortium.

With 40 years of marriage and nearly that many of business and community service under their belts, Roger and Kathy decided to offer their expertise to the City of Clairton at the same time. During the recent elections Kathy ran for Ward 4 City Council and Roger ran for the Clairton School Board. Both were elected. We thank them for their contributions to the City of Clairton. Roger and Kathy Tachoir, a Clairton family.

A little blogging music Maestro: “Be Somebody,” by Paula Cole.

Dr. Forgot