(This is the fifth in a series of feature stories on the 2007 inductees into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame).





BY JOE SAGER NCSPORTS@NCNEWSONLINE.COM





Four WPIAL titles and two PIAA championships. That's a lot for any coach to win in a career. But Gene Matsook had those numbers in just seven seasons as head coach of the Rochester High football team. So, it's no shock that the former three-sport Shenango High star will be one of 13 notable inductees into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame on April 29 at the New Englander. "I was a really a surprised when they told me. To be inducted really puts an exclamation point on the chapter I've had in Lawrence County," he said. "It's a great honor that people perceived you as good athletically and good character-wise. I am very honored about this." Matsook first made his mark with the Wildcats' football, basketball and baseball teams in the late 1970s and early 1980s. "I was a busy guy. Sports kept me active and that's what I liked," he said. "I was lucky because the people who coached me were great coaches and helped me along the way. We had some successes. It was great to be around teammates and great coaches, that's what it was all about. "There's no doubt -- the people at Shenango have been great," he continued. "Everybody treated me well. It wasn't just the people inside the school, but the entire community." One memory sticks out in Matsook's mind -- when he quarterbacked the Wildcats to a league title. "My senior year, we got to the WPIAL semifinals and won the section, but the fondest memory was playing at Laurel for the section title," he said. "Laurel ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. We were shocked, but we came back and scored 32 straight points and won 32-6." It was a special moment for Matsook, since it came in such an important game against a big rival. "Back then, it was really unique, in a sense. We had the Tri-County and you develop those good rivalries in football, basketball and baseball," he said. "The playoffs are great, no doubt, but when creating a memory in the Tri-County, it really sticks out, no doubt." It was during his high school career that Matsook was inspired to pursue a coaching career. "When coach Frank Bongivengo Sr. coached me in high school, I looked up to him," he said. "I had a lot of good coaches and they did inspire me to become a coach." Matsook played football at Thiel College and later transferred to Slippery Rock University to complete his degree in education. Prior to taking the job at Rochester from his brother, Dan, in 2000, Matsook served as the Rams' offensive coordinator for 14 years. During that time, Matsook helped Rochester earn three WPIAL titles and a state crown in 1991. Since taking over head coaching responsibilities, Rochester has won four WPIAL titles and two state crowns. The Rams finished as PIAA runners-up twice. "We're very proud of what he has accomplished," Dan Matsook said. "He took it (the program) to the next level. When you're a hard worker like he is, that type of success usually follows." Gene felt fortunate to continue the Rams' tradition of success. "I have been blessed over the years, no doubt. If you told me I would have this success as a coach seven years ago, I would have thought you were crazy," he said. "I have a great coaching staff. "A lot of that stems back to my days at Shenango. I can really relate to that. Coach Bongivengo motivated people; I coached with (fellow Hall of Fame inductee) Billy McNees as an assistant in basketball. So, I took a lot of intangibles from the people from Shenango and brought that with me. I tell people all the time I am proud to say I am from Shenango. I still wear the blue and gold and always keep my eye on them because there are so many good people in the school district." Matsook, 44, and his wife, Bernadette, live in Rochester. He is a teacher at Freedom Middle School.





Four WPIAL titles and two PIAA championships. That's a lot for any coach to win in a career. But Gene Matsook had those numbers in just seven seasons as head coach of the Rochester High football team. So, it's no shock that the former three-sport Shenango High star will be one of 13 notable inductees into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame on April 29 at the New Englander. "I was a really a surprised when they told me. To be inducted really puts an exclamation point on the chapter I've had in Lawrence County," he said. "It's a great honor that people perceived you as good athletically and good character-wise. I am very honored about this." Matsook first made his mark with the Wildcats' football, basketball and baseball teams in the late 1970s and early 1980s. "I was a busy guy. Sports kept me active and that's what I liked," he said. "I was lucky because the people who coached me were great coaches and helped me along the way. We had some successes. It was great to be around teammates and great coaches, that's what it was all about. "There's no doubt -- the people at Shenango have been great," he continued. "Everybody treated me well. It wasn't just the people inside the school, but the entire community." One memory sticks out in Matsook's mind -- when he quarterbacked the Wildcats to a league title. "My senior year, we got to the WPIAL semifinals and won the section, but the fondest memory was playing at Laurel for the section title," he said. "Laurel ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. We were shocked, but we came back and scored 32 straight points and won 32-6." It was a special moment for Matsook, since it came in such an important game against a big rival. "Back then, it was really unique, in a sense. We had the Tri-County and you develop those good rivalries in football, basketball and baseball," he said. "The playoffs are great, no doubt, but when creating a memory in the Tri-County, it really sticks out, no doubt." It was during his high school career that Matsook was inspired to pursue a coaching career. "When coach Frank Bongivengo Sr. coached me in high school, I looked up to him," he said. "I had a lot of good coaches and they did inspire me to become a coach." Matsook played football at Thiel College and later transferred to Slippery Rock University to complete his degree in education. Prior to taking the job at Rochester from his brother, Dan, in 2000, Matsook served as the Rams' offensive coordinator for 14 years. During that time, Matsook helped Rochester earn three WPIAL titles and a state crown in 1991. Since taking over head coaching responsibilities, Rochester has won four WPIAL titles and two state crowns. The Rams finished as PIAA runners-up twice. "We're very proud of what he has accomplished," Dan Matsook said. "He took it (the program) to the next level. When you're a hard worker like he is, that type of success usually follows." Gene felt fortunate to continue the Rams' tradition of success. "I have been blessed over the years, no doubt. If you told me I would have this success as a coach seven years ago, I would have thought you were crazy," he said. "I have a great coaching staff. "A lot of that stems back to my days at Shenango. I can really relate to that. Coach Bongivengo motivated people; I coached with (fellow Hall of Fame inductee) Billy McNees as an assistant in basketball. So, I took a lot of intangibles from the people from Shenango and brought that with me. I tell people all the time I am proud to say I am from Shenango. I still wear the blue and gold and always keep my eye on them because there are so many good people in the school district." Matsook, 44, and his wife, Bernadette, live in Rochester. He is a teacher at Freedom Middle School.

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Joe Sager is a former full-time sports writer for the New Castle News and currently freelances for the News and other Western Pennsylvania newspapers.

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