New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
For the first time all year, it rained on the Red Hurricane’s parade.
But just as they did during a 31-0 season that included a third straight WPIAL title and a first-ever state championship, the ’Canes and their fans weren’t about to let a little adversity stop them.
Despite an early-evening spring shower, hundreds of residents gathered downtown last night to watch the New Castle High boys basketball team — accompanied by the school’s band and cheerleaders, as well as city police and fire units — parade down East Washington Street to Kennedy Square.
The ’Canes, who were tossing Hershey Kisses to the crowd from the back of a Castle Towing flatbed, then joined head coach Ralph Blundo up on stage to officially celebrate their PIAA Class AAAA crown with the community that they say helped them win it.
“You see these guys up here?” Blundo asked. “Yeah, they won a state title, there’s no question. But the reality is that we — WE, the city of New Castle — won the state championship this weekend. All of you won the state championship this weekend, and it was unbelievably special to be out there.
“This does not happen anywhere else. We are the absolute envy of every other school in the state of Pennsylvania because of you guys; not because we’re really good at basketball. It’s because nobody during that state championship walked out onto that floor and saw a sea of black. Five thousand people — are you kidding me? — driving that far to Hershey to watch this team play? It was just an unbelievable experience for all of us.”
Attorney Larry Kelly, master of ceremonies, echoed those feelings, asking, “How many people would stand in the rain in 40 degrees to come and celebrate this wonderful event?”
New Castle Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo also spoke briefly, thanking the team for a great season, which he called “an accomplishment that will stand for a long time.”
It also was, as some fans who have followed the ’Canes for years attested, a long time in coming.
Norm Jones said he’s been a season ticket holder since the late 1950s except for two years that he had to leave town for work. “I never thought I’d see a state championship,” he declared. “My oldest son said, ‘Dad, we can die now that we got that state championship.’
“I actually thought I was going to die after that Hershey game. They had to carry me out of that arena with one guy under each arm.”
Dewey Lutz, meanwhile, has been watching New Castle High basketball for about 70 years.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of good games, but never this far. I wondered how long we had to wait.
“I really thought last year we might have a chance, but sometimes it’s who you’re playing against or the way the breaks go. Every team has to have a few breaks here and there to get through. But this is a great team, a well-coached team. That’s a very big part of it.”
Unlike Jones’ oldest son, though, Lutz is not quite ready to cash in his chips over one state crown.
“I’d kind of like to see another one,” he said, “but at my age, I’d have to say they better hurry.”
Marie Lutton is another longtime ’Canes supporter. She and her family have been following the team for nearly 40 years, and she was in Hershey in 1982 when New Castle dropped the state championship game to Whitehall.
“It was great,” she said of this year’s long-awaited PIAA title, “but it was nerve-wracking. It got tougher as it went along, but it was great.
“I actually thought that last year it was going to happen. This year was kind of a surprise, but I’m glad because we waited so long for it. These kids were fantastic.”
NEW TO THE GAME
Lutton arrived in town early for the Red Hurricane’s meet-and-greet and autograph session at the New Castle News. She was accompanied by a relative newcomer to ’Canes basketball, her 6-year-old grandson, Lucas.
Lucas brought a basketball to be autographed by the team, including his favorite players, Anthony Richards and Malik Hooker. “Anthony Richards is a sharpshooter, and Malik Hooker does dunks,” the West Side Primary Center student explained.
Angelo Monaco, 9, also came down to The News with his grandmother, Rosemary Channing. Channing noted that Angelo followed New Castle on the radio and watched the title game on TV, but now that the title’s in hand, “Malik’s going to Ohio State; that’s what I’m really looking forward to,” the youngster said.
Oh, a Buckeyes fan, huh?
“No. I’m just excited to see him play.”
Brayden Cartwright, a Ne-Ca-Hi student, and his sister, Kiera, who attends George Washington, also stopped in for the session. Brayden identified “Malik, Jake (McPhatter) and the Allen boys as his favorite players.” Kiera didn’t know the names, but after meeting the ’Canes inside, she decided, “They were nice.”
Another recent addition to the legion of New Castle fans is 78-year-old Vern Schleich, who said he’s gotten hooked within the last four or five years.
“I’ve been really wrapped up in it,” he said. “We went to all the playoff games. It’s unbelievable how a bunch of kids can get together like those kids. It’s all up to the coach. That’s where it starts.”
‘WE ARE NC’
Blundo explained that he could see the emotion of the longtime New Castle faithful when he and his teamed walked into the Hershey Lodge after Saturday night’s win.
“There was an entire community crying happy tears and hugging each other,” he said. “I’m not convinced it was just because of a state championship. Yeah, we’ve been chasing it a long time, I get that.
“But I think a lot of it was that this town identified with these young men. These young men are a reflection of these fans, and these fans are a reflection of these young men.”
At that, he had his team applaud the crowd, an act that was followed by a chant of “We are NC.”
And in the end, perhaps the latter was really what the celebration was all about.