Export Pa Team

Johnny Onder’s Export Panthers Cinderella Team

Photo: Front row: Louie Zaremba, Bobby Cain, Nick Orlic, Nick “Mops” Manovich, John Coffin, Tommy Frescura. Back row: Mr John Onder, Isador Slongo, Pete “Bunny” Fisher, Ronnie Beltz, Eddie Warzitski.

I remember Tommy Lapcevic pouring in many shots from the corner, which would have been 3 pointers today. Export’s tallest player, Billy Stevicks at 6’3″ had a tough night defending Etna’s Center at 6’10”. Even so, the game was tied after regulation, as well as after the first overtime. We lost by 1 point in double overtime after Stevicks was fouled while shooting. He made his first free throw. I can still see the second roll around the rim and fall out. The next morning as I was walking by, there were only two people in the gym. I saw coach Onder under the basket by the stage, and Stevicks at the foul line. He shot two foul shots and swished them both. As the second shot dropped to the floor, Onder was laughing while Stevicks kicked the ball all the way up to the ceiling.
It was an amazing season when you consider that technically our small school should have only been playing in WPIAL Class C or D.  Instead the school’s history and skill levels (Nickie Orlik, Mops Manovich, etc.) put Export up into Class B. That cinderella year, Export could only dress maybe 7 players on the team. If they got into foul trouble, they had to play with 4. As I recall, Onder used “Billo” Gerlosky as an enforcer. When he went in, some of the other teams’ players seemed to experience bad luck.
I wish I could remember the team’s record that season and the actual year. I do remember dark bus rides, singing on the way to places like Apollo, and deafening, screaming home games in our small gym. My ears were still ringing as I tried to sleep those nights. The only smaller gym was Edgewood. It was like playing in a shoebox.
So, Etna made it to the Class B Championship Game instead of Export. I heard that hey were slaughtered. I’m not sure if they lost to Farrell or Midland. I think it was Midland. Any team would have faced the same fate at the hands of the Midland Leopards. Midland was a legendary powerhouse that had an unstoppable fast break offense. Rumor had it that their coach made the team practice with heavy Engineer’s boots (remember that term?) all year, so that those boys would fly during a game.
But what a season, and what a team! Those of us aspiring to play someday on that red composite floor in Export’s gym, idolized those players. I made JV in 9th grade, inheriting Hank Shawley’s uniform #13. The top would flap in the breeze when I tried to run. My mother stitched it up to my armpits on both sides. Probably wouldn’t have to now. Then the unthinkable happened when I went to 10th grade. Export merged with our archrivals, Franklin! We hated Franklin. They were cake eaters from Murrysville. Some thought that both schools, powerhouses individually, would merge to be a contender. Oh Yeah? No varsity player from either former school would pass the ball to the other. Half way through the season, after trying everything including tears, coach Kelly gave up and benched the varsity, playing us JV’s the rest of the year. That decision ensured our perfect record. We went 0 – 22 that year, and the coach was hung in effigy. But that’s another story…
I hope to see you at the Centennial,
-Milo Wuslich
PO Box 152 (when Yolanda Supancic and Bill Gale ran the Post Office)
Phone # 25R3 (on the same party line as the Revolts and Polks)
Posted in Export Stories.