For the last several years, I have been gathering old photographs, uniforms and other classic Farrell basketball memorabilia that has filled the display cases at the renovated and expanded foyer of the E.J. McCluskey Gymnasium at Farrell High School.
We’ve managed to find legend Willie Somerset’s high school basketball uniform of more than 50 years ago along with many other collectibles that have been graciously donated after being prize possessions of some Farrell faithful for many years.
We’ve got remastered video footage of Wilt Chamberlain’s 1954 appearance at Farrell with his Philadelphia Overbrook team in the Lions Club Christmas Tournament, narrated in part by Cecil Mosenson, Wilt’s high school coach. The footage was shot by a Farrell player’s parent from the corner of the south ramp at the gym, and was remastered and audio added only recently. But I have been casually searching for the basketball signed after Farrell’s state championship victory in 1969 at the Harrisburg Farm Show arena by the coaches and players. The ball had special meaning to me, because all of the players were my friends and classmates, especially two of them, the late Barry Canterna and the late All-Stater Dave Johnson.
I remember Coach McCluskey proudly clutching this ball in his office with late Faculty Manager Joe Duich at the high school many years ago, a short time before it was auctioned by a local radio station as part of a fundraiser for the team.
A few weeks ago, I got a surprising voicemail at home from a Hermitage resident who wanted to know if I wanted some old scrapbooks that had belonged to his mother, a 1946 cheerleader at Farrell High, and finished the voicemail by adding that he wanted to know if I would be interested in having the 1969 state championship ball, that had been in the possession of his family all these years.
I couldn’t believe it. He called back a couple of days later and said he could drop them off at my house or that I could go to his house and get them. I told him, “I’ll be right over this afternoon.”
I was curious as he handed me a white plastic bag containing the ball. Before I pulled away to head home, I couldn’t resist pulling the ball out of the bag in the front seat of my car and taking a peek: it indeed was the ball that Coach McCluskey had embraced nearly 50 years ago. It was in pristine condition, the signatures looking as if they were written only days ago. When I got home I put an update on Facebook about this bit of Christmas magic, snapped a photo of the ball, and sent it with text message to longtime friend and fellow Farrell basketball junkie Jerome Nixon in Washington, Pa., a 1970 FHS classmate and a junior starting forward on the team.
Thanks to the generosity of the Wasilewski family, the ball will soon find a permanent home in the FHS foyer.
I’m still hunting for a couple of others.
Jim Raykie is the editor of The Herald and writes this column on Mondays.