Locals share the impact that legendary New Castle High basketball coach had on them

New Castle coach Don Ross with his top returnees heading into the 1986-87 season. Front from left are Bob Kerr and Phillip Macri. In back are Brian Rice and Corey Eggleston. Macri suffered an injury in a diving accident that summer that left him paralyzed, but remained close with Ross until the coach died Dec. 21 at the age of 85.

Beloved New Castle High basketball coaching legend Don Ross died Dec. 21 at the age of 85.

An estimated 800 former players, coaches and fans came through the Ed & Don DeCarbo Funeral Home to pay their respects last week to the man who put Red Hurricane basketball on the map with a WPIAL championship and PIAA runner-up finish in 1982.

Here are the comments of a few who reached out to The News wishing to share a memory:

Dom Mioni, former local coach

 I have two memories and the first is a humorous one when I took over as the new young coach at Wilmington High. I was coaching a summer league game at the outdoor court at Shenango and we were playing New Castle. I didn’t know him at the time but Fuzzy Fazzone was with Don. I kept hearing someone calling my name. It was a strange-sounding voice, kind of high pitched and not real loud. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out who it was. Here I am trying to get to know and coach a group of fellas — meanwhile I’m trying to figure out who the heck was calling my name. I must have been looking around a half hour or more. Sure enough — it was Donnie! His talent for ventriloquism struck again. We had a good laugh later with that one!

My second memory is more sentimental but I think it helps define the kind of man Donnie was. A few years after stepping into the coaching position at Mohawk High School, we were looking for a junior high assistant to take over our ninth-grade team.

My friend and top assistant Kevin Wrona recommended a fella by the name of Dale Ross. I didn’t think we would be fortunate enough to be able to get Dale to join us but that’s how it worked out.

He, of course, was an exceptional addition to our program. Interestingly, though, and unbeknownst to us, we were also the recipients of another volunteer assistant coach by the name of Don Ross. The memories of those years where we all pitched in and worked together will always be special.

My best memory, though, was when Donnie and I sat together and talked in our coach’s office (sometimes for hours) after the sting of a tough loss.

Anyone can back- slap and hang around for laughs after a win, but Donnie was humble enough to be a part of our outfit and gracious enough to be there when the chips were down.

That is a memory of Don Ross that will always stick with me. It was a privilege to be his friend.

John Quahliero,  New Castle player, 1988-1990

In a 1990 rivalry game with Butler at the Ne-Ca-High Field House, coach Ross ordered me to not let Butler’s leading scorer, Dan Heiman, out of my reach.

So when Butler’s coach, Mark Jula, called a timeout, as ordered, I didn’t let Heiman out of my reach — I followed him into Butler’s huddle. To say the least, coach Jula wasn’t thrilled...

Coach Ross enjoyed sharing that story. Coach will be sadly missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family. Rest in peace, coach.

Samuel M. Bernstine

As a former basketball player at Union High School, I sometimes scrimmaged against the Red Hurricane and coach Ross. One time I stood my ground and took an offensive charge from Bruce Clark who ran me over by accident on a 3 on 2 fast break. Donnie was the first person to run out onto the court to make sure I was OK as they were digging me out of the hardwood. 

Don Ross was a great coach, but an even better person. A true personal friend who I greatly admired and always respected who served as a positive role model for New Castle and all of Lawrence County.

May Donnie Rest In Peace.

Joseph E. Ross, D.M.D.

Don Ross, or Cousin Donnie, is a first cousin of mine.

My first basketball memory of Donnie occurred at my First Communion party. The year was 1965 and Cousin Donnie came to the party and we played basketball in my driveway. I felt so honored to have the New Castle High School assistant basketball coach on my court playing with his 8-year-old cousin.

Starting the following year, my Dad and I went to every New Castle basketball game, home and away; a tradition I still do today even though my Dad is now deceased.

My Dad and all of his friends, including Donnie’s brother Arsen, really enjoyed that 1981-82 season, from the WPIAL championship, to that shootout in the PIAA semifinals, and finally that memorable trip to Hershey.

Speaking of trips to Hershey, I was there when New Castle finally did win a PIAA title and Cousin Donnie of course was there to exorcise his demons. He was an avid supporter of the program long after his coaching tenure ended.

Don Ross certainly was the genesis of putting New Castle basketball on the map, a place where it remains today many years later. My dad was so excited when his nephew was named the head basketball coach and I was the recipient of many memorable trips to so many great games.

Thanks for the memories and rest in peace, Cousin Donnie.

Phillip Macri, former player

I can remember like it was yesterday, Coach Ross and I had a very long conversation at the start of the basketball season of my sophomore year.

I was the starting point guard on the JV team, but was a backup on the varsity. At that time, I was frustrated because I felt that I should have been starting varsity.

In that conversation, we not only talked about basketball, we talked about life in general.

He made me realize that when you want something, it just isn’t given to you. Sometimes you have to have patience, sometimes you have to work harder — but most importantly make sure you’re prepared when you get your chance.

Our relationship became much stronger and closer after my swimming accident that left me paralyzed. Coach was one of the first people to visit me at Allegheny General Hospital. It was that conversation that he and I had two years prior that helped me get through the tough times.

As coach Ross battled through various illnesses, I visited him several times. Again, it was that same conversation about life that he and I talked about. Not only was he a great coach, he was a better person. RIP coach!

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