(This is the third in a series of nine feature stories on the inductees into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame.)
David Kwiat always was a success on the court.
Whether it was as a member of the Neshannock High or Westminster College basketball teams, Kwiat always made scoring the basket look easy.
Yet his toughest battle, and most recent one, has occurred off of the court.
Kwiat, 41, was diagnosed with colon cancer in October 2013, had surgery the next month and went through chemotherapy until May 2014.
He was clear of the cancer after then until, after a checkup late in 2014, the cancer returned to his liver. He had surgery almost a year to the date of his first surgery and finished his last round of chemo last month and now is considered to be in remission.
“It’s one thing to handle the treatment, but to handle your lifestyle around it was hard,” Kwiat said. “You still have a business to run, you still have a family to take care of. Taking it head on is one thing, but balancing everything around it was difficult.
“You appreciate everything. You don’t realize how important your health is until you have a serious problem with it. When you go back to all of that, it’s crazy.”
Kwiat, a 1993 Neshannock High graduate and a four-year letterman with the boys basketball team, garnered plenty of awards during his tenure on the court with the Lancers.
His scoring average steadily increased, going from 17.4 points in his sophomore year to 23.1 in his junior campaign to 26.4 in his final season. Those seasons helped him earn three first-team All-Section 12 selections, as well as section MVP and a second-team all-state selection his senior year.
He is one of five local players, along with Neshannock’s Kevin Covert, Shenango’s Bill McNees, Union/New Castle’s David Young and Wilmington’s Warren Sallade, to eclipse the 2,000-point mark in a boys basketball career.
Overall, Kwiat ended his scholastic career with 2,085 points. When he graduated, he was ranked second in Lawrence County and sixth in the WPIAL in career scoring.
His scoring totals are what made him a recognizable name throughout Lawrence County and beyond. But his former high school coach, Jim Smiley, remembers him as an even better person.
“I’ll say he’ll never be as good a player as he is a person and he was an exceptional player,” Smiley said. “He was talented but humble. He was successful but a good teammate. He’s the kind of kid where any person that played or coached with him became a better coach or teammate.
“In my eyes, he’s in a class by himself.”
Kwiat once again was a four-year letter-winner, this time as a member of the Westminster College men’s basketball team. During his time with the Titans, which included the likes of New Castle’s Ralph Blundo and Union’s Rob Nogay, he was a key contributor for a team that won the KECC regular season title all four years and made two trips to the NAIA Division I basketball tournament following two KECC conference championships.
The Titans posted a .759 winning percentage in the four years with Kwiat in blue and white.
“We all had a pretty good relationship coming in together so the transition was just about fighting for a spot,” Kwiat said. “We all had our own role on that team, so I don’t think it was a hard transition because the players and coaches made everything easy. You’re playing with a lot of great talent, so you have to change your game a little bit going from high school to college.”
Kwiat, who also has served as a volunteer coach for the Neshannock boys basketball team, works as a State Farm insurance agent. He and is wife, Bethany, have three children in David, Julianne and Alexandra.
TOMORROW: Tom Tony