New Castle News

New Castle

March 1, 2012

The Class of ’82: Current ’Canes following script of title team 30 years ago

NEW CASTLE — Those who followed New Castle High School boys basketball 30 years ago must feel like they’re watching a rerun.

“It’s like glancing in a rear-view mirror,” said former coach Don Ross, an avid follower of the 2012 team.

“I see a lot of what we did,” said Ross, 77, whose 1982 ’Canes won the WPIAL title and reached the PIAA final before falling to Whitehall, 42-38.

He said the similarities between past and present are striking.

Both were undersized teams that relied on court sense, heart, hard work and hustle.

“Like us, this year’s team is not physically imposing, but they are unselfish and play well together,” Ross said.

Frank Bongivengo Jr., a guard on the 1982 team and now a teacher at the high school, understands the comparisons. “They play like they practice — hard, just like we did,” he said.

Ross said Ralph Blundo, whom he coached, has done a wonderful job, getting everyone on the same page. “Ralph always gave 100 percent, and now he has his players doing that. It’s one thing to have material, but its another thing to win with it.”

Blundo said, “There’s no greater compliment for our team than to be compared to 1982.”

Ross said the 2012 Canes are difficult to defend because they have so many weapons. “Whoever has the ball is a threat,” he said. “One time, it’s one guy and then it’s somebody else.”

The 1982 ’Canes also presented a challenge for opponents.

“We could play any style, run or slow it down, it didn’t make any difference,” said Ross, whose club topped out at 101 points, but also won many games while scoring in the 40s and 50s.

But Ross said defense is the key today just as it was 30 years ago.

“Our defense created a lot of offense, and that’s what this team does.”

Ross said the 2012 team has what it takes to match and surpass the accomplishments of 1982.

“Ralph’s team ought to make a movie on guarding people because they are so good at it,” Ross said.

“And I love the way they compete,” he added. “The kids who come off the bench play hard, too.”

Depth is probably the biggest difference between the teams.

The 1982 ’Canes often played just six. Starters Barry Whetzel, Bob Natale, Jimmy Brown, Russell Bruce and Bongivengo seldom left the floor. And when any of them did, Paul Schweikert was often the only substitute. Ross had counted on using Richard Uram, but the senior tore up his knee during football season.

Had the three-point line been in existence in 1982, Natale thinks the ’Canes would have been even more dangerous. “We had some guys who could shoot it.”

“We didn’t trap or play a lot of man-to-man because we couldn’t take too many chances of getting into foul trouble,” Ross said.

Before 1982, it had been 46 years since New Castle brought home a WPIAL basketball trophy.

“There wasn’t much pressure because we weren’t expected to win,” Ross remembered.

But with point guard Barry Whetzel leading the fast break, the ’Canes became a force. “You couldn’t trap Barry and he would always get the ball to the right person,” Ross said.

New Castle beat perennial power Farrell twice in 1982 . “We knew the road (to the title) went through Farrell,” Ross reflected. “When we beat them, we started to believe we might have something special.”

“It seems a lot bigger now than when we actually did it,” Bruce said.

When the WPIAL playoffs began, New Castle fans turned out in such large numbers that tournament directors had to alter their scheduling format. People wearing red and black regularly arrived early for doubleheaders even when the ’Canes were playing the second game. Those coming to the opener had no place to sit. Consequently, New Castle was scheduled in the first game of all doubleheaders so Red Hurricane fans would depart and create space for those hoping to see the second game.

It was the work ethic of the 1982 team that was embraced and celebrated by the city. The 1982 team became so popular that a local band rewrote the lyrics of an Oak Ridge Boys’ song, “Elvira,” and recorded it to feature names of Red Hurricane players.

Ross wonders what might happen if the ’Canes of yesteryear and today were able to meet on the hardwood.

“Who knows how that would play out?” he said. “But it’s great to think about.”

Soon there could be another similarity between the teams. The 1982 WPIAL trophy sits behind glass at New Castle High School. The 2012 ’Canes will go after another one tomorrow night at the Palumbo Center.

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