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Midland Hall of Fame set to induct 11

Special to the Review

MIDLAND, Pa. — The Midland Sports Hall of Fame will hold its annual induction ceremony and luncheon on July 7 at Alumni Hall of the campus of the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland. Doors open at noon with the program and luncheon beginning at 1 p.m.

Included in the class of 2019 are Ellis Cannon, Janet DeCostro, Gene Lake, Coach Ed McCluskey, Brian Stewart, William “Butch” Vinovich, Sr., Billy Vinovich, Jr., Bill Vinovich III, Mike Vranich, Rudy Yovich, and Ken Wright.

Tickets are on sale now at Lincoln Park’s JR Advertising Specialties Box Office during regular business hours, by phone at 724-576-4644 option 2, or on-line at www.lincolnparkarts.org/events. Tickets will remain on sale through June 28th at 4 p.m. No tickets will be sold at the door.

Biographies of the inductees are as follows:

ELLIS CANNON — Ellis Cannon served as the stadium announcer and team scorekeeper and statistician for Midland football and basketball while in high school in the 1970s. He has since enjoyed successful careers in law and media. Ellis was a civil litigation attorney and partner in a Pittsburgh law firm with extensive experience in Pennsylvania state and federal courts. In 1996, he and his brother, Henry, co-founded Pittsburgh Sports Report, the longest-running sports publication in Pittsburgh history, which earned five Golden Quill Awards for excellence in journalism. Over nearly 25 years, Ellis also developed an extensive presence in numerous local and national media across sports, law and news/talk spectrums as a host, analyst, contributor and/or anchor, including Pittsburgh-based television stations along with Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC, CNN, ESPN Radio, Pittsburgh’s ESPN Radio 1250, Fox Sports Radio 970, WDVE, KDKA Radio and more. He was honored with multiple Pittsburgh A.I.R. Awards for Achievement in Radio. Between 2004 and 2010, he hosted “Ellis Cannon’s Sportsline Pittsburgh” on WPGB-FM and was an on-air member of the Pittsburgh Steelers Football Network, serving as the game day anchor of all pre-game, halftime, in-game, and post-game coverage, including multiple Super Bowls. Additionally, “The Ellis Cannon Academy of Sports Media and Broadcasting” was commenced at the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in 2010 and was considered the first of its kind in the United States. In July 2011, Ellis narrated Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. The June 2015 “Gridiron Gold” gala honoring the six Western PA Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks culminated Ellis’ multi-year role in its creation. Today, Cannon hosts NightTalk on PCNC weeknights, featuring analysis and interviews on local, national and international topics; he also is a color analyst for NCAA college football and basketball games on ESPN3/AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh. Ellis, who received his B.A. / J.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, is a member of multiple halls of fame.

JANET DeCOSTRO — Janet DeCostro originally made her mark on the tennis court and, to this day, is a star at pickleball. Starting at age 11, she competed in tennis throughout the eastern U.S. and was consistently ranked in the top 5 in western Pennsylvania and in the top 10 in the middle states region in both singles and doubles. As an adult, she was twice crowned the West Virginia Open singles champion. As a collegian, DeCostro played No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles and went 10-0 at Edinboro.

She transferred to the University of Pittsburgh and played No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles, went 11-0, and was named team MVP in her first season. She completed in the ECAC Championships and finished No. 7 in singles and in the top 4 in women’s doubles in the eastern United States. She is the third ranked Panther all-time in career singles winning percentage and in the top 13 all-time in singles wins despite having only three years of eligibility at Pitt.

Over a 25 year period, DeCostro played on a number of competitive United States Tennis Association teams that won on both the local and middle states levels. Two of her teams competed in the national championships. She played in one professional tournament and dropped a tight match to the No. 2 female from Australia, but still earned the right to represent Western PA in the National Collegiate Championship Tournament in the early 1980s.

Now, Janet is excelling in the new sport of pickleball and regularly competes at the highest level. She’s won gold and silver in both women’s and mixed doubles, and captured silver at the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships. In 2019, Janet qualified to represent both Pennsylvania and Florida at the National Senior Games. In the 1970s, after starring on the tennis court at 13th Street, girls basketball was reinstated at Midland High School after a decades-long hiatus. DeCostro led the team in points and assists per game and was an outstanding defender.

GENE LAKE — Gene Lake played in several landmark games during his outstanding high school and college career. A stellar wide receiver, he caught six passes, scored a touchdown, and pulled in two interceptions in the Leopards’ 26-7 win over Freedom; the last game in Coach John Petchel’s storied football career. Gene’s 1959 team won their second consecutive Beaver County Class A title and fell just once to powerhouse Braddock which had not dropped a game in five seasons prior to that meeting.

On the court, Lake helped Midland to the 1958-59 Section 8 Championship and to the semifinals of the WPIAL playoffs. Then, he and his 1959-60 club became the first to play in Midland High School’s new $587,614 state-of-the art 1,800 seat gymnasium, hosting Wellsville in the inaugural game. After missing several games because of a bad bout with the flu, Lake had 11 points in a lopsided first round playoff win over South Union. The Leopards eventually fell to Uniontown 60-56 in an overtime thriller in the 1960 tournament. Gene scored 16 points before 4,520 screaming fans at the Pitt Fieldhouse including a jumper that tied the game at 54. The Leopards finished 23-3 with Lake averaging 14 points per game.

After graduating, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served in Hawaii aboard the submarine Pacific. It afforded him the opportunity to play basketball there, in Japan, and throughout Europe for Team Sub Pac. His stellar ball handling and shooting drew the eye of a college scout, so after his honorable discharge in 1964, Gene accepted a scholarship to play on one of the greatest basketball teams in the history of the University of Utah.

In one of his best games, he tallied 11 of his 13 points in the first half against Centenary. Utah won the Western Athletic Conference title and advanced to the NCAA tournament semifinals storming past the University of the Pacific and Oregon State. Utah made it to the Final Four but lost 85-78 in the semis to the fabled Texas Western College Miners, the first team to start five African-American players, and the subject of the movie Glory Road. The Utes met Duke in the national consolation game and fell 79-77 to finish fourth in the country at 23-8.

Lake played in 29 games in his lone season at Utah and averaged 4.5 points and 1.2 rebounds. Graduating in 1970, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology. He was retired after a successful career with both Delta Airlines and Federal Express when he passed unexpectedly at age 62 in Los Angeles in 2004.

ED McCLUSKEY — Ed McCluskey is best known as the head basketball coach at Farrell High School, but before he led the Steelers to seven PIAA state championships, he spent several years as a teacher and basketball and football coach at Midland High School. Legend has it that McCluskey left Midland so that he would only have to coach one sport.

As a youth, he attended Pittsburgh’s South High School. He went to college at Washington and Jefferson, where he was a three-year starter on the basketball team. After his graduation in 1939, McCluskey played independent professional basketball for the East Liverpool Collegians, Detroit Eagles and Pittsburgh Corbetts.

He began his coaching career in the early 1940s at Burgettstown High School. After that, he taught and coached in Midland. In 1948 McCluskey, was hired as basketball coach at Farrell High School. During his 28-year career there, he finished with 590 wins and 153 losses and captured seven state titles.

Combined, Eddie McCluskey’s overall scholastic coaching record at Burgettstown, Midland, Farrell, and later at Kennedy Catholic was 687-233. He also coached at California University of Pennsylvania.

After a 6-16 season in his first year at Farrell in 1948-49, McCluskey’s teams went a remarkable 181-17 in the next seven seasons, culminating in three state championships and a handful of near-misses. Of McCluskey’s 29 seasons at the helm, his Steelers won at least 20 games in 16 of those campaigns, and a career high of 30 in the 1959-60 season. While Farrell never went undefeated under Eddie, his teams lost one game in each of three seasons — 1951-52, 1959-60 and 1968-69.

During a stretch of five seasons from 1967 through 1972, McCluskey’s teams lost only 18 games while winning 113 games and two PIAA state crowns in 1969 and 1972. He was born in Pittsburgh on January 21, 1914 and died on January 11, 1987. Ed McCluskey was named one of Western Pennsylvania’s Top 100 Sports Figures of the 20th Century by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and was the recipient of the prestigious Coach of the Year Award from the National High School Coaches Association.

BRIAN STEWART — Brian Stewart played four years of varsity basketball, three years of varsity football and two seasons of varsity baseball for the Midland Leopards. He was named All-WPIAL in both basketball and football and played in the annual Penn-Ohio All-Star Football game. He was the valedictorian of the MHS Class of 1983, a three-year member and senior president of Student Council, treasurer of the French Club, vice president of the public relations committee and two-year member of both the Biology Club and Student Forum.

In football, Brian was a three-year two-way starter at quarterback and safety and was named First Team All-Section at QB and All-WPIAL at defensive back in 1982. He was named First Team Evening Review All-Area Team as a defensive back as a senior and to the Pittsburgh Press High School Football Brains Team during his senior year at quarterback.

In basketball, Stewart was also a three-year starter at guard, was First Team All-Section as a senior and All-WPIAL Class A as a junior. He was named to the Aliquippa Holiday All-Tournament team, and played in both the Quigley and Colt Classics after his final season at Midland. A torn ACL in the Penn-Ohio Football Classic prevented him from walking onto the football and basketball teams at North Carolina State University from which he graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science. Today, he is a successful business owner in South Florida.

WILLIAM (BUTCH) VINOVICH, SR. — Beaver County has produced many fine sports officials who were active in the tri state area, but few have been as versatile as Bill Vinovich. Most local fans above a certain age remember him well as a football, basketball, and baseball official, but few know that he was a licensed Amateur Athletic Union boxing judge for several years, an activity that was a result of participation in the ring as an amateur boxer in his youth. Butch was a familiar figure as a basketball official of both high school and college games for the 44 years from 1936 to 1980 and as a football official for 40 years from 1941 to 1981. For many years he was both football and basketball rules interpreter for the Beaver Valley’s Officials Groups. His career as a baseball umpire spanned 17 years from 1937 to 1954. Butch began his sports career at Midland High School, where he participated in football, basketball, baseball, and track and field. He was a boxer in the early 1930s. Butch worked at Crucible Steel Company in Midland for 45 years until his retirement in 1979 and was active in Midland municipal government, serving as tax collector from 1954 to 1958 and as a member of borough council from 1958 to 1986. He was council president for his last 24 years of service.

BILLY VINOVICH, JR. — Billy Vinovich Jr. has officiated basketball, football, softball and volleyball for over 60 years, starting with intramural basketball as a Midland High School sophomore in 1952. From 1971 to 1994, Billy refereed NCAA Division I basketball in the PAC 8/10, Big West, Big Sky and West Coast Conferences, making 11 appearances each in the NCAA and NAIA Tournaments. Billy refereed the Big West and Big Sky Tournaments from 1980 to 1990, the AAU National Tournament from 1983 to 1987, the Armed Forces Basketball Championships from 1981 to 1987, the Olympic Trials in 1982, and the World Games in Denmark in 1985. Billy was also the director for two basketball officials’ camps at the University of Nevada and Pacific University from 1980 to 1992.

Billy was offered an invitation to conduct basketball clinics and referee games in Serbia in 1993, but declined on the advice of the U.S. State Department because of the war there. Billy refereed NCAA Division I Football in the Big West Conference from 1986 to 2000 and the Great Plains Athletic Conference in Nebraska from 2006 to 2012, and he worked three bowl games. Billy umpired NCAA Division I Softball in the PAC-10, Big West, Mountain West, Big Ten, Mid-American, and Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conferences from 1990 to 2012.

Billy also umpired the NAIA World Series in Alabama in 2001, and he made 10 appearances each in the NCAA and NAIA Tournaments from 1993 to 2002. Billy was the first Assigner of Softball Umpires for the Big West Conference from 1998 to 2004, and he assigned umpires for 49 additional Southern California colleges from 1989 to 2005. Billy officiated volleyball in PAVO and the NCAA from 2000 to 2015 and is currently a USA Junior National Referee, officiating USA Volleyball Regional and National Tournaments across the United States. Billy retired in 1993 as a Watch Commander after 33 years in law enforcement.

BILL VINOVICH III — Bill Vinovich III moved with his family from Midland to California at an early age. He played football through four years of college, transitioning to officiating upon his magna cum laude graduation in 1983 from the University of San Diego with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in accounting. While pursuing a full-time career as a certified public accountant at the international accounting firm KPMG, Bill began officiating high school football and basketball. After several years of high school and small college officiating, Bill was hired by the Canadian Football League in 1994. He worked in the CFL for five years and was privileged to work the playoffs in each of those five years. During his time with the CFL, he also officiated in the Arena Football League from 1995, culminating with Arena Bowl XIV in 2000. After three years of officiating NCAA Division I football in the Mountain West Conference, Bill was hired by the National Football League in 2001. Bill started his NFL career as a side judge, working the AFC Championship Game after his second season. Bill was promoted to referee in 2004, and worked as a referee until 2007, working playoff games in 2004 and 2007. In April, 2007, Bill suffered a descending aortic dissection which took him off the field and into the League Office as Western Regional Supervisor for four years. After successful open-heart surgery, Bill was cleared to return to the field in 2012. In 2013, Bill worked the Baltimore at Denver Divisional Playoff Game, which went into overtime and was the fourth-longest game in NFL history. Bill also worked playoff games in 2014 and 2015, culminating with Super Bowl XLIX in 2015. Bill has worked NCAA Division I basketball from 1992 to present, including ten consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament from 1998 to 2007.

MIKE VRANICH — Mike Vranich is the first graduate of Quigley Catholic High School to be inducted into the Midland Sports Hall of Fame. He was an outstanding wrestler on Coach Ed Driscoll’s squads of the 1970’s and competed in the 105 pound weight class. After claiming both the regional and diocesan championships, Mike made it to the finals of the Pennsylvania Catholic State High School Wrestling Tournament in two consecutive years, finishing as the runner-up twice.

Vranich won a wrestling scholarship to attend the University of Nebraska and competed at the 114 pound level. During his sophomore season, he dropped a 3-2 decision to the eventual NCAA individual champion in his weight class. He was one of the top performers in the Big 8 Conference and was selected to represent the Cornhuskers and the United States as a member of the Olympic Cultural Exchange Team. The experience took him on a three-week tour to Romania, Russia, Germany, Italy, and Poland. Vranich was a four-year letterman with the Cornhuskers competing from 1974 through 1977.

RUDY YOVICH — During his four year baseball career at Midland, Rudy Yovich was one of the most feared hitters in the WPIAL. He was a two-time member of the .500 club, batting a staggering .548 in 1980 as a junior and a whopping .513 in 1981 as a senior. He played two years of basketball for the Leopards, but joined the tennis team while attending Edinboro University. After college, he became the sports anchor at WSEE-TV in Erie before embarking on a career in collegiate athletics administration. Experienced at all three levels of the NCAA, Yovich completed his second year as the Director of Athletics at Wheeling Jesuit University during the 2018-19 academic year. He was named to the post on September 5, 2018 and oversees 20 men’s and women’s sports at WJU. He arrived at Wheeling Jesuit from Defiance College in Ohio, where he served as its Director of Athletics since 2014.

At Defiance, Yovich was responsible for overall leadership of the school’s 18 intercollegiate programs and over 300 student-athletes. During his time there, significant initiatives included a departmental apparel deal with Nike, and the development of a multi-million dollar athletic facility improvement project. Also, Yellow Jacket student-athletes continuously achieved a departmental grade point average (GPA) of more than 3.0. Prior to his post at Defiance, Yovich was Director of Athletics at Owens Community College in Toledo and Assistant Athletic Director at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. At Edinboro, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in communications studies. He also earned an MBA in sports management from Columbia Southern University.

KEN WRIGHT — Ken Wright started on three section, two WPIAL and one state championship basketball teams during his brilliant career at Midland High School. As a sophomore, he helped lead the Leopards to the 1976 Pennsylvania state title, the last in school history. His 1976 and 1977 squads each won WPIAL championships, and all three varsity teams on which he played won section crowns.

The 1977-78 club was perfect in the regular season, the fourth team all-time in Midland to go unbeaten, at 24-0 before falling. At 6-4 210, Ken was a powerful inside force who had a smooth shooting touch and the ability to handle the ball. His career average was just 18 points per game, but there were games when Wright would explode and score in the 20’s and 30’s. He was a two-time First Team All-Section, All-State, and Street & Smith’s Honorable Mention All-American. Wright was the 1977 East Liverpool Review Tri-State Player of the Year and was awarded a full scholarship to play basketball for the Catamounts at the University of Vermont. As a senior at Midland, Wright also played one season of football. He scored two touchdowns in the Leopards’ 62-0 rout of Frew Mill and was named All-Conference at tight end. He earned both his Bachelor of Science and Masters in Education degrees at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Today, Ken is one of the top producing realtors in the D.C, Virginia, and Maryland region.