The longtime Boardman coach earned his 500th victory after the Spartans pulled past Fitch, 76-26
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
BOARDMAN -- When Dan Durkin was in eighth grade, he heard a rumor that his friend Ron Moschella was about to get cut from the basketball team. So Durkin, along with one of his friends, visited the coach and pleaded on Moschella's behalf.
"We said, 'Coach, you can't cut him. He's the only one in the neighborhood who has a basketball hoop at his house,'" Durkin recalled, laughing. "And he stayed on the team."
The two went on to Ursuline High where Durkin was a quarterback in football and a standout basketball player. Moschella, a 5-foot-8, 135-pound guard, was neither.
"But to his credit, he worked at it," Durkin said. "He busted his [butt] and ended up starting."
Was he good?
"No, no he wasn't," Durkin said, chuckling. "He always says, 'My job was to pass Durkin the ball.' "
Fast forward a few years. Moschella, who had started at Boardman High School as the girls golf coach, spent a year as an assistant girls basketball coach for Denise Gorski.
Gorski left after the 1979-80 season to focus on track. Moschella took over and went 4-16 his first year.
After losing one game by a score of 80-20, his father asked him, "Do you know what the hell you're doing?"
"I said, 'No Dad, I don't,' " Moschella said.
Twenty-six years later, the 57-year-old short, round Italian man with the big lungs, big mouth -- and even bigger heart -- stood near the center of the court at Boardman High School, clutching a microphone and holding back tears, taking five minutes to thank his players, his assistants, his family, his friends, his co-workers and his bosses, giving credit to everyone but himself for his 500th victory, which came Tuesday night with a 76-26 win over Austintown Fitch.
"This isn't about Ron Moschella," he said. "All the credit goes to the coaches and the players who sacrificed their time and effort for this program."
For the record, Moschella's career mark is 500-118 (a winning percentage of .809). He's the winningest girls coach in the area's history -- by far -- and he's 71 wins short of becoming the winningest basketball coach in the area's history.
But numbers can't tell you what you need to know about Moschella. For that, you need stories.
Ashlee Russo, a four-year starter for Moschella who went on to play at Youngstown State University, remembers that during her freshman year, the Spartans lost to Ursuline for the first time in 10 years. The next day at practice, the coaches took turns reading sentences from that day's newspaper game story.
"Each time they read a sentence, we ran a sprint," she said. "It's funny now, but it wasn't funny then. I wanted to kill him."
Most of his players learn to tune out his constant yelling. (Jessica Moore said that whenever he'd yell at her, he'd add "pumpkin." As in, "Jessie! Box out! Pumpkin!")
Officials, however, aren't always so kind. With 1:56 left in Tuesday's game -- and the Spartans leading by 37 -- one of the officials made a call Moschella didn't agree with, prompting him to get out of his chair and yell, "There is no way!" A split second later, he had a technical.
When asked after the game if he ever thought he would win 500 games, Moschella joked, "I almost got two technicals, so I didn't know if I was going to make it or not."
"He yells like that during the game, but he's not as bad as people think," said one of his three daughters, Nadine. "He gives them hugs just as much. That's one of the things people don't know."
Moschella was a strict father -- Nadine joked that she didn't know people went out on New Year's Eve until she got to college -- but he was also a loving father. Because he didn't want people to think he was showing favoritism as a coach, he expected even more out of his daughters than his other players.
"He'd call me 'No points Nadine,'" she said, laughing. "We'd win by 30 but I wouldn't score in the game, so he'd wake me and Christine up in the middle of the night to watch film."
Through the years, Moschella has alienated a few people -- after Tuesday's game, he took time to thank Boardman's Board of Education for sticking with him even though he "got a lot of heat about his yelling" -- but it doesn't' compare with the number who love him.
"I think it's a real a privilege to be able play for him," said junior Courtney Schiffauer, who scored 32 points in Tuesday's game. "It really means a lot to me and the whole team that we were the team that did it. We love him so much."
Added one of his former athletic directors, Jim Fox, "If he needed a blood transfusion, there's be a line from here to Medina."
We'll leave it to his current athletic director, Dave Smercansky, to have the last word. Smercansky was a freshman football coach in 1989 and his team had a 20-15 lead in the final seconds.
"Mosch kept coming up to me and saying, 'Can I call a play?' So in the final seconds, I said, 'OK, you can either call a quarterback sneak or a quarterback kneel-down,'" Smercansky said. "So he calls a sweep, the quarterback pitches the ball and the kid from the other team picks it up and runs 98 yards and we lose.
"So, to me, this is a tarnished 500. I'm taking one of his wins away."
For everyone else, though, Mosch reached the milestone on Tuesday.
(You know, technically.)