New Castle News

March 1, 2013

WPIAL Championship Game: We’ve got questions, and Blundo, Lafko have the answers

Andrew Petyak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — It’s a hectic time for WPIAL Quad-A championship game coaches Ralph Blundo and Joe Lafko.

Still, sports writer Andrew “Skippy” Petyak asked the two to take some time out for a little fun before Saturday night’s big game at the A.J. Palumbo Center.

So here are some things you may — or may not — have known about these bright young coaching minds and former Westminster College basketball standouts.




AGE: 40

EDUCATION: 1991 graduate of  New Castle High School, where he starred on the basketball team and was named the MVP of the WPIAL vs. City/West Penn all-stars at the 1991 Dapper Dan Roundball Classic in Pittsburgh. Spent 1 1/2 years at Monmouth University in New Jersey, then attended Westminster College for his last 2 1/2, where he starred on the basketball team. He was a public relations major and history minor and later returned to Westminster for his post-graduate degree.

MARRIED: Wife is Kate Blundo

HOW DID YOU MEET YOUR WIFE?: “I met my wife at a Steelers game in 1997. The Steelers got drilled by Dallas the first game of the year. I met her at a tailgate party. She was friends with my cousin, Kelly, they went to IUP together. I was more than interested the second I met her. I told my cousin to get her up here in New Castle so I could see her again. We started dating in 1998, and I’ve been with her since.”

IS YOUR WIFE A FORMER ATHLETE?: Kate has 12 varsity letters. She won a WPIAL basketball championship and was the MVP for the girls team at Avonworth High School and also played soccer and softball.

“She played nothing in college,” Blundo said. “I’ve never seen a person leave sports behind like she did. She immediately became a wife and a mother. That’s her focus and has been from the time we got married. She’s currently a special education teacher at New Castle.”

CHILDREN: Hannah (9), Ally (8), Ralphie (6) and Geno (2).

ARE YOUR KIDS FOLLOWING IN YOUR ATHLETIC FOOTSTEPS? “I don’t know. What I do know is they’re going to commit themselves to something and work hard at something. That’s how we’ll channel their efforts.”

OCCUPATION: Assistant principal at New Castle High School the last six years.

WHAT MADE YOU GET INTO COACHING?: “I wanted to help kids. That’s why I went back to school (a second time to Westminster) for education. I wanted to help kids, in particular ones at New Castle.”

HOBBIES: “There was a time I was an avid golfer. I think with four kids, obviously that had to give. I don’t play as much as I used to. I can’t play basketball anymore and golf filled that competitive void.”

BEST SCORE ON THE GOLF COURSE: A 2-over-par 73 at Sylvan Heights Golf Course in New Castle.

FAVORITE FOOD: “My mom, Linda’s, sauce. She makes it the old-fashioned way with the tomatoes and breaks them down and puts it on some macaroni, chicken parmesan or sausage. It’s just really good. Everything she makes is good.”

ROLE MODEL: “My father, Ralph. Nobody made a bigger impact on me than my dad growing up. He forced me to do things right as a kid. When I didn’t, he let me know. He owned a sporting goods store in downtown New Castle. He spent a lot of time talking to me and showing me how to be a man.”

PET PEEVE: “You know, I am pretty easygoing, but I guess I’d say my pet peeve is a lack of effort or apathy. As a player, I always wanted guys next to me to really, really care. As a coach, you want the same thing. It’s tough to watch any young man or woman be apathetic because they’re not giving themselves a chance.”

WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO TO WIN SATURDAY: “We’ve got to play good, hard, New Castle basketball. Going into each game, our goals stay the same. We want to play hard, play great defensively and do a great job on the boards.”


AGE: 47

EDUCATION: 1984 graduate of Frazier High School in Fayette County, starring in basketball and baseball. He remains the all-time leading basketball scorer there with 1,763 points. Went on to star in basketball at Westminster College, graduating in 1988 with a major in social studies and a minor in secondary education. He scored 1,239 points for the Titans.

MARRIED: Wife is Shannon Lafko

HOW DID YOU MEET YOUR WIFE?: “At Westminster College. It was actually a Sigma Nu fraternity house gathering.”

IS YOUR WIFE A FORMER ATHLETE? “She never played any sports. She owns a bakery, Perfect Pastry, in Allison Park.”

CHILDREN: Joey (15) and Jenna (13).

ARE YOUR KIDS FOLLOWING IN YOUR ATHLETIC FOOTSTEPS?: “Joey is a sophomore guard for Hampton and will be in the starting lineup Saturday against New Castle. Jenna’s also a basketball player. We have her in the Hampton basketball program, as well as AAU teams. I’m just happy for Joey. I’m happy for the success the team has had and him being able to be part of that team’s success.

 “I have to take the blame. They were both introduced to basketball at an early age. Both have traveled with me to practices and to summer league games from the time they were in diapers. Sometimes it wasn’t their choice, but they both have been around a gymnasium and basketball games since the time they were born.”

OCCUPATION: “When I’m not coaching, I’m a ninth- and 10th-grade social studies teacher. This is my 17th year at Hampton, and I’ve been a teacher for 23 years.

“Currently, we are studying world history, in the years between World War I and World War II. We just had a lesson on Gandhi and nonviolent civil disobedience.”

WHAT MADE YOU GET INTO COACHING?: “My father was a good influence. He was an assistant basketball coach for 23 years at Frazier High School then took over as head basketball coach the last 15 years. Like my kids, I was exposed to basketball at a very young age.”

HOBBIES: “My favorite hobby is trout fishing. I enjoy the spring-stocked trout season. Before basketball season, I fish for steelhead in the Erie tributaries. This started ever since I ended my basketball playing career. Playing three sports in high school (football, basketball and baseball) and playing college basketball and baseball, it didn’t provide me a lot of down time. When I ended my playing days, I really took a liking to the trout fishing with my brother, Matt.”

FAVORITE FOOD: Pizza. “I love to find the traditional pizza shops. In the Hampton area, my favorite is Milano’s Pizza. They have one down the street from the Palumbo Center. I really like to support the local and private businesses. There are too many to name.”

ON WHETHER HE’LL GO TO MILANO’S BEFORE THE GAME SATURDAY: “I don’t think so. I’ll be too busy and won’t have the time to do that.”

ROLE MODEL: “One of the guys who has made a substantial impact on my life is (former Westminster basketball coach) Ron Galbreath, in both the professions I have chosen, teaching as well as coaching. I’m very fortunate to play four years at Westminster for him. I can’t say enough about him as a man and as a person.”

PET PEEVE: “Students who do not come prepared for class. That’s a long-term pet peeve, having been involved in education for 22 years.

“My new one is students who try to use their cell phones during the school day for activities not involved in the educational process. Students are permitted to carry cell phones at Hampton, but for academic purposes only. It’s a big challenge because of social media.”


WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO TO WIN SATURDAY: “We have to make more baskets and defend against their ability to score. We need to limit their second and third opportunities to score by rebounding. We have to make some shots ourselves and make good decisions against their pressure.”