Guy is at it again.
Still the premier sportswriter and historian of northeastern Pennsylvania, Guy Valvano is hard at work putting the finishing touch on the latest of his 12 books, this one about the 48-year-old University of Scranton soccer program that he’s titled, “Turning 50.’’
Back when the 20th century was still young, northeastern Pennsylvania became a passionate hotbed of amateur sports. Spectators thronged high school gridirons Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons the stage was set for the University of Scranton football Tomcats.
When fall became winter, high school gyms throbbed to the action of basketball players and fans two or more nights a week. Venues like Watres Armory drew large crowds for U of S games, long before the Jesuit landmark grew into the sprawling complex of today from a handful of buildings back then, the main one on the 300 block of Wyoming Avenue, a handful of barrack-like structures on a few acres in the lower Hill Section.
High school and college football and basketball were all the rage. Baseball not so much. Boys competed, girls cheered. That was the way it was for many years.
Time marched on. The world changed. Girls wanted a piece of the action. They found it on the basketball courts and softball diamonds. Their triumphs and defeats gained equal space on the sports pages and TV.
Seated front row center for this cavalcade of sports was one of the finest, most prolific sportswriters this region has ever produced, Guy Valvano, a veritable encyclopedia of sport whose photographic memory and instant recall bring alive fables and foibles of the decades.
Guy first stepped into the journalistic arena when, just out of Dunmore High School, he joined The Tribune-Scrantonian in 1946 in the lowly rank of copy boy, hustling finished stories from the desks of reporters to the editors for final scrutiny, running for coffee and cigarettes, doing all kinds of go-for chores, while learning the newspaper game.
In those days it was a hurly-burly, dog-eat-dog world of fierce competition between The Tribune-Scrantonian and its rival, The Scranton Times, and bragging rights were up for grabs every day as they battled to give their readers the first and the most in-depth coverage. Nowhere was the rivalry more intense than the sports world. If truth be known, Guy and his cohorts, sports editor Chic Feldman, Jimmy Calpin and Tommy Edwards usually gained the upper hand.
Guy did not remain a copy boy long. Soon his obvious talents for getting and writing stories earned him promotion to correspondent covering different areas of Scranton, then onto a bigger and better world, reporter. His background playing sports at Dunmore High made him a natural for the sports staff.
Over the years he has witnessed and written about hundreds of high school, college and professional ballgames, not to mention countless feature stories about coaches and players. Just about every noteworthy figure who pastimed here in sports is on a first-name basis with Guy, even their families.
In his book, Guy writes it was 1969 when the U of S added soccer, helped by the urging of students coming here from places like Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York, where high school soccer had gained foothold years earlier.
Guy tells about the first coach: “John B. Robertson Jr., a newly-hired employee of the U of S, had the distinction — or unenviable task, as some skeptics might prefer to look upon it — of serving as coach of the first men’s soccer team at the University of Scranton. Like every fledgling program at any level of competition, soccer experienced growing pains. During Robertson’s four-year tenure, the Royals managed to persevere, even though the young coach with no soccer-coaching experience on his resume had to work without the amenities that had been made available to many of his counterparts at the University.”
Robertson resigned from the position after the 1972 season and concentrated on carrying out his duties as the athletic trainer for the U of S athletic teams, a chore in which he eventually would earn plaudits for his meticulous approach to evaluating injuries and recommending possible procedures for treating them, not only U of S athletes, but players from local high schools, even aging weekend warriors.
Perhaps the most remembered of the soccer mentors, Steve Klingman succeeded Robertson and served for 22 seasons before turning the reins over to Paul Payne, who had been an assistant for the U of S women’s soccer program, in 1995. Payne, who coached the Royals for four seasons, was succeeded by Matt Pivirotto in 1999. Pivirotto completed his eighteenth season as Scranton’s head coach in 2016.
In his more than two decades as head coach of the University of Scranton men’s soccer program, Steve Klingman compiled a 324-116-23 record for a. 726 winning percentage. In 1980 and 1981, his Royals advanced to the NCAA Division III Tournament championship game during a string of four straight Final Four berths (1980-1983). The Royals also made additional Elite Eight appearances in 1977, 1978 and 1979.
The University of Scranton also has enjoyed tremendous success in women’s soccer since adding the sport to its intercollegiate athletics program. The Lady Royals made their debut in 1983, becoming one of the first collegiate women’s soccer programs in the country on the varsity level. John Kelly Morahan, a former athletic star at Western Wayne High School in South Canaan, coached the first Scranton women’s soccer team, guiding the Lady Royals to a 10-4-1 record. Morahan said Steve Klingman played an important role in helping get the women’s soccer program off the ground. Morahan resigned after one season because of time constraints.
Joe Bochicchio, who had starred in athletics at West Scranton High School, succeeded Morahan as head coach in 1984 and transformed the program into a national power during his 23 years at the helm. Along the way, Joe turned out seven All-Americans. Bochicchio was preparing for his 24th season at the University when he succumbed to cancer in 2007. During most of his tenure as Scranton’s women’s soccer coach, Joe was a member of the faculty at Scranton Central High School. In 1997, he retired after 30 years in education. Joe Bochicchio first played soccer at Keystone Junior College in La Plume, and then at Cortland State College in Cortland, New York. He excelled in the sport at both institutions.
Bochicchio’s first team at Scranton posted a 15-3 record. The Lady Royals were 297-144-34 overall during his coaching tenure for a .661 winning percentage. Scranton was 115-10-4 in the Middle Atlantic Conference Freedom League. University of Scranton director of athletics Gary Wodder (1974-1997) liked to refer to Steve Klingman and Joe Bochicchio as the “Pied Pipers of Soccer.”
Finding a playing site was one of the first major obstacles. An abandoned driving range, Clover Field, in Scranton’s West Side, would become the first home base. Eventually, most of the practices that first season were conducted at Weston Park in North Scranton.
Student Chuck Shields, who has a passion for soccer, had participated in the sport for the first time as a freshman at Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill. He told Valvano:
“After graduating from high school [in 1967], I enrolled at the University of Scranton, where there was no soccer team. They had recently added wrestling [as a varsity sport]. Some of us students got to talking about how we would like to see soccer added [as an intercollegiate sport] to the athletic program as well. Charlie Ascenzi and I went to see the director of athletics, Dave Ocorr. He listened to us and said, ‘Just show me there’s some interest in soccer and I will look to put it in the budget next year.’ That was in the fall of 1968.”
“With that knowledge,” Shields said, “Charlie and I approached Ocorr and said that we had a number of players who were interested in playing on the varsity level. So we put together times for practices and we contacted local colleges such as Wilkes, King’s, Keystone and anyone who would play us. For the most part, there were some scheduled scrimmages, or we were asked to just show up at a team’s practice and scrimmage them during their practice. There was about a half a dozen of those scrimmages, but we got to play and were able to show David that there was sincere interest.
“With that, David said he would put it in the budget for the following year. It would be submitted as a full varsity sport and not as a JV sport, as I believe wrestling started that way. The following year, we had a team with a full varsity schedule. David had hired John ‘Robbie’ Robertson as coach (David knew him previously), and Charlie and I were the first captains ever of the University of Scranton soccer team. And the rest is history.”
The 1970 University of Scranton yearbook, Windhover, offered this review of the 1969 season:
“Soccer was a new sport at the University of Scranton in 1969, and the rules of the game were foreign to most of the ‘U’ students, who came out to watch the booters perform at Clover Field. But no one could accuse the fans of not displaying enthusiasm for the team, even though they may not have understood the game itself. Most of the team members had never played the sport before Coach John Robertson issued an invitation for tryouts. The highlight of the season was the selection of Gary Green to the MAC All-Conference Team at the goalie position.”
Obviously Guy, who lives in Dunmore with spouse Marie, pours his heart and soul into his work. In the beginning he did his writing on a old typewriter, but instead has since become computer savvy. Every book is an investment of hours upon hours of tedious research, most of it scrutinizing reams of microlfilm and old newspaper clippings at the University of Scranton Weinberg Library and the Albright Memorial Library. Old scrapbooks are another source. All that adds up to countless hours and days of excruciating notetaking, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Then come the interviews, tracking down and harvesting the memories of people still around who were there.
Of his dozen books, three stand out as his favorites. One chronicles the career of legendary Dunmore High football coach Jack Henzes and traces his gridiron glory from the days he played for his equally legendary dad, John “Papa Bear” Henzes, architect of a bygone dynasty at Blakely High School. Another spotlights Blakely’s worthy successor, the Valley View Cougars under Frank Pazzaglia, another one of Papa Bear’s proteges. The third recalls the ascension to basketball prominence of the U of S Royals of coach Bob Bessoir.
His other books include: “The Dream Lives On,” “State Champions,” “A Love Affair With Football,” “Royals of Renown,” “Cougar Pride,” “Winning Ways,” “No Ordinary Joe,” “Thanksgiving Memories,” “Like Father, Like Son,” “The Lynett Legacy” and “Hail, Cesare!”
Is there a 13th in the future?
Guy isn’t saying.
“I do a lot of reading,” he smiled, “and things just pop into my mind.”