RAY SWANSON | Keystoner Hennon, McCluskey styles gone
Except for shooting the ball through the hoop, most other aspects of the game of basketball have gone by the boards, no pun intended.
Even the coaching methods have undergone a dramatic change. For the most part, basketball has become a race-horse type of contest with the team with the most stamina and a strong bench coming up a winner.
Back in the mid-1900s, Wampum High School had a coach by the name of L. Butler Hennon, who had his own ideas on coaching techniques.
He had his players practice in boots and mittens. Not that the gym was cold, rather he believed his methods would pay off in victories. Those that remember Hennon's exploits at Wampum High will agree he was one of the best high school coaches around. He coached a number of PIAA state championship teams at Wampum and put the school on the state basketball map.
Conditioning and fundamentals were Hennon's keys to success and no one could do it better.
McCluskey weave: Then there was Eddie McClusky, the Farrell High mentor, considered by many as one of the greatest high school basketball coaches around. He won seven PIAA championships at Farrell and one of his greatest keys to success was the weave play.
Many coaches have attempted to duplicate that play, but none have succeeded. It had been said that McCluskey practiced more on that weave than he did on offensive and defensive strategies. McCluskey always said his offense would take care of itself and you know that story about his tenacious defense.
One of the greatest changes in the game was the addition of the 3-point field goal. In the mid-1950s if you had a player 6-3, you had height. Such is not the case today with many high schools starting five well over the 6-0 mark. The guards in those days were usually small and quick and they figured more in the play calling than they did in the shooting. Now the shooting guards are usually the sharp-shooters of a team and with the 3-point goal, they figure heavily in a team's offense.
Sharon's Bobby Atterholt was one of the best outside shooters in the game. You can imagine what his point totals would have been had the 3-point goal been in effect then.
Another big change all but eliminated the jump ball, except for the start of the contest. Now, alternating possession is in effect, making for a much faster game.
Swogger's pace: Another Mercer County coach who carved his name in coaching greatness was Mercer High's John Dale Swogger. He used the running game to perfection and not too many teams were able to maintain the pace of Mercer's Mustangs.
It was speed, coupled with some pin-point shooting, that enabled Swogger's teams to capture back-to-back state titles.
It was the efforts of some of these outstanding coaches who paved the way for top-notch basketball in Mercer County down through the years.
There are numerous other changes in the game toady. Hand-checking was a no-no a number of years ago. Even to touch a member of the other team often resulted in a personal foul. Today, hand-checking is permitted to some degree.
The pros get away with plenty today. What we used to refer to as steps and "walking with the ball" is a common occurrence. These guys really get away with it, so much that it appears as if it were a legal part of the game.
One of the toughest calls for a referee to make is the charging call or a moving pick. These calls often go the wrong way and are at the discretion of the ref. The three-second call is another that is often missed. But all in all, the referees turn in outstanding performances and earn their money.
Regardless of the rule changes, basketball remains as one of the greatest attractions in high school sports. And it's still the team that scores the most points that comes away with a victory.