The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local Sports

July 12, 2014

MIKE MASTOVICH | Hidden gems fill CCSHOF

We reside in a region rich in sports tradition and history, a fact reinforced each time the Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame inducts another class.

Super Bowl champions. Cy Young Award winner. National champions. Elite coaches.

The Cambria Hall has them all, and more.

Tonight, five new inductees will join the Class of 2014. The Hall will bestow individual and team honors throughout the program at the Pasquerilla Conference Center.

“I didn’t know that,” or “Did you realize...” are two phrases often heard during past banquets as people glance through the Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame program or are mesmerized by the larger-than-life slide show on the wall behind the head table.

Some of my favorite nuggets?

n Bill Hartack (Class of 1971) won the Kentucky Derby five times, one of only two jockeys to do so.

n Conemaugh Valley’s Pete Vuckovich (Class of 1981) won the 1982 AL Cy Young Award while helping the Milwaukee Brewers reach the World Series.

n Bishop McCort’s Jack Ham (Class of 1973) won four Super Bowls with the Steel Curtain Pittsburgh Steelers and has a bust in Canton.

n Conemaugh Township’s Jeff Hostetler (Class of 1990) went from back-up quarterback to Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants.

n Maurice Stokes (Class of 1965) starred at St. Francis and in the NBA, but made a much greater impact through his display of courage and perseverance after a debilitating injury left him paralyzed.

n Likewise, Pete Duranko (Class of 1973) made his mark at Notre Dame and with the Denver Broncos, but touched so many more lives while battling ALS and other ailments.

n Pat Cummings (Class of 1984) went from Johnstown High to the University of Cincinnati to the NBA.

n Tom Walter (Class of 2012) coached at some of the top teams in Division I baseball, but made his greatest contribution by donating one of his kidneys to an ailing player.

So many great athletes. So many great stories.

The Class of 2014 is the latest in a long line of worthy inductees.

Class reunion: Leah Hollis will join her coach, Class of 2002 inductee Linda Renzi, in the Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame.

Hollis was part of two state championship teams as an underclassman at Richland, but said the manner in which Renzi helped the top-ranked squad cope with an upset loss during her senior season had an even greater impact on her future than the previous successes.

Hollis and Renzi will be joined by a group of players from the state championship teams in the spring and fall of 1984 at tonight’s event.

Those teams will be recognized as well as the 1994 Forest Hills state runner-up football squad and the 1994 Bishop McCort state hockey championship team as well as the Crushers gold medal winners in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999.

Eddie and the Jets: How good were the 1959-60 EHL champion Johnstown Jets? Inductee Ed Johnston was the goaltender in 62 of 64 regular-season games and posted a 45-18-1 record for coach Steve Brklacich’s team.

Johnston then led the Jets through a playoff championship run.

“Montreal sent him down to get him some experience,” said Hall of Famer Don Hall, a teammate of Johnston’s on the 1959-60 team. “He was the only guy that I remember, when guys would cut across in front of the net to deke him or stick-handle by him, he would just reach down and take the puck off their stick.

“We had some great goaltenders over the years that I played,” added Hall, who scored 393 goals and 979 points in 11 seasons with Johnstown. “But he was by far the guy that could keep you in the game if things were going bad.”

Johnston won two Stanley Cups as a Boston Bruins goalie and one more as a senior advisor to the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins. He served as a coach and GM of the Pens, and drafted Mario Lemieux in 1984.

Randy and the Jets?: Randy Mazey soaked up the region’s baseball tradition and the knowledge of many baseball coaches here, including his late father, Forrest, who was part of a number of great area amateur squads.

In a icy twist, Mazey also was impacted by his father’s love of hockey. Randy Mazey eventually encouraged his own son to play the sport.

“My background in Johnstown has led me to putting my son into hockey,” Mazey said. “I grew up watching the Johnstown Jets.

“Every time we’d go to a Johnstown Jets game, my dad would carry us through the turnstiles,” he said, also referring to his brother Brian. “Every time there was a fight, my mom would jump on the seat with the super 8 (mm) video camera. I’ve had them all transferred to DVDs.

“I’ve got the Carlsons and Dave Hanson. We’ll pop that DVD in and watch those things.”

Hall connections: Members of this year’s class are linked through college programs and professional teams, decades apart.

Both Tom McGough (fourth round, 1973) and Mazey (28th round, 1988) were drafted by the Cleveland Indians.

Mazey served as an assistant baseball coach at the University of Georgia in 1997. John Kasay was a starting offensive guard for the Bulldogs’ powerhouse 1966 team and eventually spent more than four decades as an assistant football coach at Georgia.

McGough, Kasay and Carlton Haselrig all are Greater Johnstown High School graduates.

Turning 70: The AAABA Tournament will receive special recognition as the milestone 70th annual event approaches next month.

Cambria County Sports Hall of Famers who played in AAABA Tournament: Ernie Oravetz (Class of 1975); Vuckovich (Class of 1981), Gene Pentz (Class of 1984), Shawn Hillegas (Class of 1990); Frank Kostro (Class of 2004); and Mike Holtz (Class of 2010).

Tommy Yewcic (Class of 1965) is known for his football career at Michigan State and with the AFL’s Boston Patriots, but Yewcic also was standout baseball player who advanced to the major leagues and played one game at catcher for the Detroit Tigers.

Super Bowl winner Jeff Hostetler (Class of 1990) also made an impact on the baseball diamond and played in the Johnstown Junior League. George Azar (Class of 1998) played football at Michigan State and became a NFL administrator with the Philadelphia Eagles. But Azar also held the Johnstown Junior League home run record for 30 years and played in the AAABA Tournament.

Mazey and Walter (Class of 2012) starred at the college level and each became Division I college coaches after standout AAABA Tournament showings.

The Rig: Haselrig’s 1990 Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame induction seemed like ideal timing. After all, Haselrig had recently concluded an incredible college career at Pitt-Johnstown, where he won six NCAA national championships in wrestling.

Turns out, the honor was just a tad too early to include football. The Steelers selected Haselrig in the 12th round of the 1989 NFL Draft. He went from the practice squad to status as a Pro Bowl offensive guard in 1992.

Football officially will be added to Haselrig’s hall of fame credentials tonight.

Extra Popp: Montreal Alouettes General Manager Jim Popp attended the 2010 Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame banquet to honor his father, inductee Joe Popp.

Joe Popp was among the most entertaining speakers of the 2010 event, as the Franklin Borough native used a straightforward, often humorous approach.

This week, Jim Popp was in the news. Montreal extended the GM’s contract through the 2017 season on Thursday. The 49-year-old Popp has been the only general manager the Canadian Football League club has had since it returned to Montreal in 1996 following a 10-year hiatus. Popp won the Grey Cup with the Alouettes in 2002, 2009 and 2010 to go with one CFL title his Baltimore Stallions won in 1995. Montreal hasn’t missed the playoffs under Popp, who is 233-129-1 as GM.

Joe Popp coached under Bud Carson with the Cleveland Browns in the NFL as well as holding coaching positions with college programs such as Georgia Tech, University of North Carolina and Wake Forest. He died in July 2012.

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