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Russell, Manzini and Kingdom honored by state Hall of Fame

 

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By Bruce Wald
FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, November 26, 2006

It was indeed a proud moment for Monongahela Valley's athletic history when two of its own athletic/coaching greats as well as an area collegiate coach were inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame at the 44th Annual Induction Ceremony.

The 2006 statewide event took place Nov. 4 at the Best Western Genetti's Motor Lodge in Hazelton.

The late Jim Russell of Fayette City and Bap Manzini of Belle Vernon, who were respective 1952 and 1979 Mid-Mon Valley All Sports Hall of Fame (MMVASHOF) inductees, joined two-time Olympic gold medalist and California University of Pennsylvania women's and men's track and field head coach Roger Kingdom.

The rest of the 2006 Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame induction class included Robert Bessoir (basketball), Joseph Cesari (wrestling), Mark Duda (football), Pete Duranko (football), Betsy King (golf), Diane Madi (field hockey), Joe Perkowski (football), Paul Stehman (wrestling) and the late Joseph Schaaf (football, basketball, baseball).

Manzini and Kingdom both attended the banquet and induction ceremony while Steve Russell, son of the late Jim Russell, spoke on his father's behalf. Steve Russell is also the author of the Mid Mon Valley All Sports Hall of Fame Biographical Journal (2002), the MMVASHOF's general chairman and program book editor as well as the principal of Bellmar Middle School.

"My dad would have been very pleased with this honor, there's no question about it," Steve Russell said. "I think it's nice to recognize people who have been somewhat forgotten, and I think my dad was forgotten."

An outfielder, the late Jim Russell played for three different teams during a 10-year Major League Baseball career from 1942 through 1951. He played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1942-47, the Boston Braves from 1948-49, and the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1950-51.

Russell, a switch hitter, achieved the distinction of becoming the first player in Major League history to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game, more than once, accomplishing this feat in 1948 and 1950.

His finest year was with Pittsburgh in 1944 when Russell batted a team-best .312 with 181 hits. He was third among all National League players that year in runs scored with 109 and fourth league-wide in triples with 14. On Aug. 20 of that season, Russell became the first Pirate player to ever hit a pinch-hit grand slam.

He owned a career batting average of .267 in 1,035 games with 959 hits, 67 home runs, 175 doubles, 51 triples, 554 runs scored, 59 stolen bases, and 428 runs batted in.

After his playing days he served as a Major League scout, worked in business and was elected to two consecutive terms on Belle Vernon's School Board. He died in 1987 at the age of 70.

During his remarks about his father, Steve Russell mentioned how his father thoroughly enjoyed being inducted into the MMVASHOF in 1952 and the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1976. At that event, both son and father spent a lot of time with the late Art Rooney, Sr., founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"My dad and Mr. Rooney were inducted the same night, and you could not separate those two," Steve Russell said. "That was a night I'll never forget."

According to Steve Russell, more than 20 friends and family members attended the banquet, including his 85-year-old uncle, Carl Russell.

"That's a pretty good haul up to Hazelton, but we had a nice turnout," said Steve Russell, who mentioned several friends, including Joe Lopez, Joe Sarra and John Zunic.

Manzini, a native of Monongahela, was an Associated Press All-State offensive center at St. Vincent College near Latrobe, who went on to play professional football for both the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions in the 1940s. He enjoyed a prolific career as a high school football coach. He coached Bellmar High School's football team for 14 years, compiling an 84-38-7 record with three conference titles, two undefeated seasons and one county crown. He also coached the baseball team for 13 years.

Manzini took over the head football position at Thomas Jefferson High School from 1965 through 1980. His cumulative record at Thomas Jefferson was 119-36-1 for a combined scholastic head coaching football mark of 203-74-8. The 1980 Jaguars won the WPIAL Class AAA championship.

He retired as a driver's education teacher in 1985 but served as an assistant coach for seven different high schools following his head coaching days.

"It's a tremendous honor," Manzini said. "It was a wonderful time and a great affair even though it was very far away."

As for coaching and concluding his head coaching career with that memorable 1980 championship, Manzini remains modest a quarter of a century later.

"Everybody has some idea of what they want to do, and I was fortunate that my first job I was head coach at St. Vincent where I went to school and just kept on coaching. Winning the championship at TJ was a great thing, and coaches certainly look forward to winning a championship, but I was just fortunate to be at the right place at the right time."

Not so surprisingly, Manzini knew the late Jim Russell.

"I umpired some games when he managed the Fayette City Merchants, and his brother Carl I know quite well," Manzini reminisced. "I knew all the family and coached at Bellmar when he was on the school board. I never saw Jim play, but I saw Carl. They are good people."

Reluctant to talk of his own accomplishments, Manzini even praised Steve Russell for his own collection of sports, political and religious memorabilia.

"What you want to do is go to his Bellmar Middle School office," Manzini said. "He has that place so decorated with all kinds of pictures. He has just a tremendous collection of things. It's worthwhile and really amazing to see what's there. He has every picture of all the popes, so many ballplayers and every picture of President Kennedy that you could imagine."

Though Manzini's modesty was obvious even during a telephone interview, others had no problem praising the local icon, including Charleroi native Jeff Petrucci, who was Belle Vernon Area High School's head football coach from 1975-80.

"Bap's a legend and I think coaches from my generation looked at Bap as the standard that you kind of modeled your program after," said Petrucci, who was a college head coach for 12 years and served as Ringgold High School's top football assistant coach this past season under Steve Campos.

"When he was at TJ and I was at Belle Vernon, we had some classic battles. I remember in 1980 we were both 9-0 and played each other, and we were fortunate to win at their place, but then his team went on to win the WPIAL, which says an awful lot about the coach and the man. When you knew that you were going to play against him, you knew you were going to play against the best prepared team in the conference."

Kingdom, who was inducted into the United States Association of Track and Field (USATF) National Track & Field Hall of Fame in the fall of 2005, was nominated for the statewide honor through the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.

A two-time Olympic gold medalist and former world record holder in the 110-meter hurdles, Kingdom was also a five-time USA outdoor champion who won gold medals at the Pan American Games in 1989 and 1995.

Kingdom won the gold medal in the 110-meter high hurdles at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics.

At the University of Pittsburgh, he won the NCAA Division I Outdoor title in 1983 (110 meters) and the NCAA indoor hurdles (55 meters) crown in 1984. Kingdom ended five seasons ranked first in the world by Track & Field News, and won a World University Games gold medal in 1989.

"When you look at how many tremendous athletes there are in this prestigious Hall of Fame, it is certainly a special privilege and honor to be a part of this," Kingdom said. "I'm truly humbled."

Obviously Kingdom's accomplishments have earned him numerous honors, but his boss at California University believes his qualities and contributions far exceed awards and fast times.

"While Roger is certainly one of most recognizable names and distinguished performers in his demanding sport, as a coach he truly serves as a mentor to our student-athletes," said Dr. Angelo Armenti Jr., president of California University. "On a daily basis he directly shapes the character these talented young people will take with them in their career endeavors. Just as his performance on the track, Roger is world class as a person."

Bruce Wald can be reached at .

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