Ralph Blundo had a dream as a young child.
He wanted to be a Red Hurricane.
“Growing up, being able to put on a jersey that said ‘New Castle’ was the ultimate goal,” the 1991 New Castle High and 1995 Westminster College graduate said. “It meant everything to me and it meant everything to the guys I grew up with. I still remember the first time I stepped out on that floor. It was an honor to run out of the locker room. I tease my wife that when I got my letterman’s jacket in the 11th grade that it was one of the top three days of my life.”
There’s truth in that statement, Blundo’s long-time friend Steve Antuono said.
“We always had a belief that if you were wearing the red and black letterman’s jacket — I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way — that we were a little bit better than everybody else,” Antuono said. “Basketball is all we thought about. It was our focus. We used to look at that WPIAL championship ring that they won in ’82. That’s all we wanted.”
ENTERING THE HALL
Blundo, 41, will join 11 other inductees on May 4 when they enter the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame. The ceremony will be held at the New Englander.
“It wasn’t anything that I thought about,” said Blundo, who with his wife Kate are the parents of four children. “I don’t mean that with any disrespect to the hall of fame. When you’re playing, you never think about if you meet the standard of a hall of fame. When they call you and tell you that you have, it’s obviously a great, great honor.”
A DREAM REALIZED
Blundo eventually earned a spot on coach Don Ross’ varsity squad and went from a role player as a junior to star status as a senior.
He ended his senior campaign with by averaging 20.1 points a game and his career with 825 points.
“In the summer of his 10th grade year, Ralph started to develop into a really good basketball player,” Antuono said. “He became our go-to guy. We ran multiple plays for Ralph and he’d get others involved.
“He developed a little mid-range 10-footer. It’s kind of a lost art. He’d dribble drive and then pull up to hit that 10-, 11-footer pretty consistently. That mid-range jumper was his bread and butter.”
OFF TO COLLEGE
Fresh off a Section 3 Most Valuable Player of the Year effort in his final year with the ’Canes, Blundo was selected to play in the preliminary game of the Dapper Dan Classic in Pittsburgh. He was named MVP of the game.
His performance led to a Division I scholarship from Monmouth.
“It was the only Division I offer I received,” Blundo said. “I think my performance that week and in that game helped me secure that offer. It was something that was exciting to me. I’m happy that I took it.”
But it became apparent that he had bitten off more than he could chew.
“My time there was tremendous, but in terms of basketball, it was probably a bit above my talent level,” Blundo said. “All of that was tough to acknowledge as a kid. Sitting the bench is even more difficult to handle when you know you only have four years to play college basketball.”
Blundo decided to transfer to Westminster College and play for coach Ron Galbreath.
“I wanted to go somewhere I could play basketball those last two years and coach Galbreath gave me that opportunity at Westminster,” Blundo said. “I also wanted to go somewhere where I’d win and Westminster offered me both of those things. It turned out to be a great decision.”
The Titans advanced to the NAIA Sweet 16 his junior year and battled through an injury-marred senior season.
“I think we were a team that was capable of winning a national championship,” he said of his junior campaign. “I really do. We had won like 21 in a row and were playing great basketball.
“The next year, we had all five starters returning, but we were injury-plagued. We never got it going. It was one of those years. I believe anything was possible that year if we had stayed healthy. It was a really, really good basketball team that I was proud to be a part of.”
Blundo was able to learn from a pair of future hall of famers in Ross at New Castle and Galbreath at Westminster.
“I was fortunate to play for two great coaches,” Blundo said. “They both taught me different things. They were pretty different in their approach. They both taught me how to approach my craft and how to organize myself. I reflect back on lessons I learned from my high school coach and my college coach time after time.”
HIS LIFE’S WORK
Blundo knew he wanted to coach from day one.
The only question was where.
“When I graduated, I was hired as a seventh-grade coach right away,” he said. “My first day of practice, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. It was obvious to me. I had a decision to make. Did I want to go back and be a graduate assistant to get into college coaching? Or, did I want to get into high school coaching? It really came down to the quality of life and if I ever had a family, what kind of life did I want them to have. Certainly, popping all over the country wasn’t real appealing to me in terms of having a family, so I decided that the high school route was the one I’d take.”
PERFECTING HIS CRAFT
After serving as a junior high coach at New Castle, Blundo got his first head coaching job at George Junior Republic, a school of court-adjudicated youths in Grove City, in 1998 as a 25-year-old.
The Tigers were the defending PIAA Class AA champions and featured a pair of potential Division I players in B.J. Grove and Gerome Ruff. Grove eventually ended up playing at Cincinnati for Bob Huggins and Ruff left GJR after completing the program before the end of the season.
Without Ruff, George Junior failed to win another state title, losing to Windber in the PIAA quarterfinals and finishing with a 26-2 record.
“Looking back, that was a great, great learning year for me,” Blundo said. “I didn’t have the greatest perspective back then. Nothing else mattered when I was coaching at George Junior except coaching George Junior, which wasn’t good. I met my wife that year and she gave me the balance I needed.”
Blundo, who currently is an assistant principal at New Castle High School, returned to his hometown after that single season with George Junior to be an assistant under John Sarandrea and eventually Mark Stanley.
When Stanley stepped down in 2010, Blundo assumed the reigns of his alma mater and has led the team to a 107-10 record in four seasons. The ’Canes have claimed three straight WPIAL championships and this year’s PIAA Class AAAA crown under his guidance.
“He never talked about coaching at New Castle, but you knew he was going to end up there eventually,” Antuono said. “He’s a staple there and his family is a staple there. No one is more deserving of what’s happened over the past three years than Ralph himself.”
Following the state championship run, demands on Blundo’s time are slowing down.
“Things are just now starting to settle down,” he said. “We’re getting more time to sit with each other and reflect on what a great time it was. I’m looking forward to watching these guys enjoy the end of their senior years.”
TOMORROW: Hall of Honor honoree Anthony “Bucky” Richards.