NEW CASTLE —
Mendall Altman dropped out of New Castle High School.
He had no other choice.
The Great Depression ended about seven years before he became a sophomore at New Castle, and times were tough for most of America — and they were even worse for someone with 13 siblings.
“I quit school because my dad couldn’t support the whole family — we had 14 kids — so my sister and I kind of ran the family,” Altman said. “So, I quit school and in ’48 I joined the Army.”
Altman bounced around from Texas to Germany to New Jersey over the next 10 years, but he always knew his final destination.
“Oh, I knew I’d always end up back in New Castle,” he said. “This is my home. I couldn’t even think of any other place to live.”
It’s a place Altman has called home ever since.
Altman has coached and umpired in New Castle for more than 50 years. He started off coaching the 13-14-year-old Croton Pony League team in 1959, just a few months after he returned from the Army. He then coached sports at St. Vitus Church for 28 years and worked as an assistant coach for the New Castle High basketball team from 1993 to 2007, a span in which the Red Hurricane won four WPIAL titles.
He hasn’t slowed down even now at age 82. He umpired 61 games in 2010 — more than any other umpire in the Tri-County Umpires Association. He umpired 60 last year and is back at it again this season. He dabbles into a little coaching as well. One of his three sons, Paul, called him just last week to help with a 9-10 year-old baseball team in Bessemer.
“He called me last week and said, ‘How would you like to come out of retirement?,’ ” Altman said. “I said, ‘What?’ But I went over and helped him a couple times already.”
It’s that everlasting spirit that has led Altman to receive the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Honor award April 29 at the New Englander. His brother, Gerald “Cowboy” Altman, was a Hall of Fame inductee in 2009.
“I was shocked,” he said of the announcement. “It’s a great honor — a great honor.”
While Altman is being lauded mainly for his coaching and umpiring, he was quite the player as well.
During his 10-year stint in the service, Altman played for the Army at a time when numerous big-league players were participating in such a league because of World War II. In fact, Altman hit leadoff for his team and scored quite a few runs because of the big bat that followed him in the lineup: future hall of fame shortstop Ernie Banks. They also turned quite a few double plays together with Banks at shortstop and Altman at second base.
Banks, who Altman said was about 19 at the time, hadn’t yet burst onto the scene. The two ended up becoming close friends and still talk on a monthly basis.
“He was in our organization and he went out (for the team) the same time I did,” said Altman, who played a one season with Banks. “I made the statement when he left, because his time was up, I said, ‘He’ll be in the majors this year.’ And he was. He made it with the Chicago Cubs.
“You couldn’t ask for a better guy at short. He was something else. Man, he could hit the ball, too.”
Banks thought pretty highly of Altman, too. In a previous interview with the New Castle News, Banks said, “He was a good ballplayer. He had good speed, a good fielder, a great leader — he was a really fine ballplayer. I’m surprised he didn’t make it to the majors after he got out (of the Army).”
Altman said that was a difficult task at 5-2 and 105 pounds, but he found other ways of impacting the world of sports. He was scheduled to play baseball in Colorado, joining a team with future New York Yankee great Phil Rizzuto, but he was held in New Jersey, and it was there that he began coaching. He was discharged about a year after and returned to his roots in New Castle.
Altman said he never cared to try his hand in high school baseball coaching, mainly because he enjoyed shaping the way kids play, a trait that begins in youth league.
“They’re learning and that’s what it’s all about, teaching them how to play and the fundamentals,” he said. “I never considered myself a coach. I considered myself a teacher.
“We had some good teams, we had some bad ones. We had some good times. But you know what, at that age group, it’s not win or lose. It’s to teach the kids to play the game and sportsmanship.”
He seems to have succeeded in that area.
NEW CASTLE —
Mendall Altman dropped out of New Castle High School.
- New Castle
New Castle hires information technology director
The New Castle school district has a new information technology director. At its meeting this week the board hired Emily Sanders of Cranberry Township to fill the position, left vacant by the retirement of Beth Barber.
Former Lady 'Canes stars reunite for tour of Europe
Ryenn Micaletti and Abby Allen are headed to Europe. Micaletti and Allen — both members of the 2007 WPIAL Class AAAA girls basketball championship team — have joined forces with News Release Basketball to spend nearly three weeks in Germany and Belgium later this summer playing basketball and helping run clinics.
High school registration scheduled at New Castle
Registration has been set for new students in grades seven through 12 moving into the New Castle school district.
Couple accused of contacting rape victim
A man accused of raping a woman at gunpoint allegedly tried to get her to drop the charges.
Break out the bubbly
New Castle may be the Fireworks Capital of America, but Friday night bubbles filled the air.
State title ties: Wampum, New Castle teams celebrate incredible success
Their spectaular success stories are separated by more than a half century. But they sat side-by-side Thursday morning, sharing more than just breakfast at Jata’s Diner, a familiar meeting spot for former Wampum High School players.
Male Athlete of the Year: New Castle's Malik Hooker
Once in a while, an athlete comes along who redefines the very word. Then, there’s Malik Hooker. The New Castle High graduate took athleticism to a level rarely seen before in the area on the basketball court and on the football turf.
New Castle board adopts budget despite uncertainty
The New Castle school board adopted its 2014-15 budget Monday but may have to re-open it next week. The $5.4 million budget, introduced in May, has no tax increase and will not tap into the fund balance. Taxes remain at 17.72 mills.
District to sell closed schools, contents
The New Castle school district will advertise for proposals to buy its three just-closed elementary schools.
Photo Gallery, Story: New Castle native competes on ‘The Price is Right’
New Caste native Jeff Feola got his chance to “come on down” during an episode of “The Price is Right” that aired Thursday.
- More New Castle Headlines
- New Castle hires information technology director