Former South Union High School star Rich Novak is a perfect example. Novak was only 5-9 and 170 pounds, but he was a giant on the football field and the basketball court for the Blue Devils in the late 1950’s.
Novak looks back on his high school days with great pride.
“We were very competitive - in fact my senior year we lost one game,” Novak recalled. “We lost the last game at German - so we were undefeated until then and I don’t recall the records my sophomore and junior years, but we had very good teams. We had a nice grouping of African-American and different kinds of nationalities and ethnic groups. It was a fun time.”
Novak had a good supporting cast on the football field.
“We had Tommy Rae who went on to Maryland with me. I remember Melvin Henderson who was a halfback and Bill Ramsey and Bill Wydo who went on to play for St. Vincent - we had some very good players,” Novak stated.
The head football coach at South Union was Park Glass.
“He was a terrific guy, a great coach and a good motivator, “ Novak said. “ I think he was a military guy from the navy and he had good assistant coaches. I have pleasant memories of Park Glass.”
Novak ranks high on the All-Time basketball-scoring list at South Union. The top five Blue Devil scorers are Chuck Davis, Rip Haley, Novak, Ron Fudala and Fran Boniar.
“I loved the game of basketball,” Novak explained. “I was a little guy and we had a small gymnasium. Chuck Davis was a great athlete - to me he was the absolute best high school basketball player I’d ever seen. I was a sophomore when he was a senior.”
Novak also tallied a school record 54 points in a game.
“That was a home game against Georges,” Novak remembered. “I had 25 field goals and four free throws.”
Novak has fond memories of his high school basketball coach Marty Fagler.
“Marty was a good guy,” Novak laughed. “My favorite story with him was – he would always leave his keys in his car and he had a little sedan. The guys after practice if he was still in the gymnasium, would take the car for a drive around town and bring it back and Marty would get angry and then still leave the keys in the car.
“He was a very good coach and Fudala was his assistant. What a player Fudala was - he played against Bevo Francis.”
Novak also excelled at track and field and at one time he held the school and county record for the broad jump, 21’ 8 and 1/4” and was the WPIAL broad jump champion.
“We called it the broad jump at that time and now it’s called the long jump,” Novak said. “I loved all the sports - in fact a highlight of my high school career was when the coaches scheduled a baseball game and a track meet on the same day and the idea was that a couple of us who played both sports could participate in both. I won the discus in one dual meet and had never picked up a discus before. I enjoyed competing in all sports.”
He said the North Union - South Union rivalry was a great one.
“It was a good rivalry,” Novak said. “I believe it was always the last game of the year and there was a parade and a lot of festivities. It was like Army-Navy - even if you had a bad year if you beat North Union it would make it a good year. They were tough games, but they were not mean spirited.
“I think in those days South Union had the better basketball team - the football games were much more evenly matched.”
Novak was selected to the All-State – All-Class A team and the All-County eleven that claims so many star players. He was honorable mention All-State and honorable mention All-America on the Wigwam-Wiseman selection and was named most valuable football player at South Union. He was voted the most valuable in his basketball section and honorable mention All-State in basketball. Novak was also vice-president of his junior and senior class.
He graduated in 1958 and started sifting through college offers.
“Most of the offers I had were for smaller schools with the exception of Arizona State,” Novak said. “ASU at that time was a fledgling football program and the beginnings of a baseball program. I was headed to Arizona State to play baseball and football. Somewhere early in 1958 one of the South Union coaches told me Maryland was interested in me. I visited and of course Maryland was a powerhouse in 1952, 53 and 54 and the campus was beautiful and I chose Maryland.”
At Maryland Novak split time with Dale Beatty at quarterback, but saved some of his best performances for the West Virginia Mountaineers. He had a fine sophomore year as he hit 32 of 72 passes for 486 yards and four touchdowns. Three were thrown in his first game and the opening game against the Mountaineers. He had a 3.8 rushing mark and a 5.7 total offense average. As a junior Novak hit on 22 of 46 for 289 yards and one touchdown and threw four conversion passes.
“We went 5-5, 6-4 and 7-3 when I played for the Terps,” Novak recalled. “We had really good players and very good teams. I wanted to go to West Virginia, Pitt or Penn State, but all three schools said no – I was too small. Fortunately we played West Virginia three times in my career – and it was Maryland 3 WVU 0. I’m told and I don’t know if it’s true – that Art “Pappy” Lewis who was the West Virginia coach said he made a mistake in not recruiting Novak.”
When he graduated from Maryland, Novak had some football opportunities.
“Again I was too small, but I did have a chance to go to Canada and the CFL was a pretty good league. I didn’t do it and the Wheeling Ironmen called me and I decided against it,” said Novak.
Novak took advantage of his degree in the School of Business and entered the business world.
“I just retired at the end of 2006,” Novak explained. “I spent 45 years in the business career and I worked with four companies - three multi-national corporations and I think I had a pretty good career. It was very rewarding.”
Novak, 66, is married and he and his wife Laura have two children - Emily, the oldest daughter and Ashley. He just moved to Greenwich, CT.
He still gets back to Fayette County for high school reunions and cherishes his time here.
“I have very fond memories,” he stated. “We reconnected my wife and I to Uniontown and it’s nice to catch up with people that through the years you lost touch with. It was a great place to grow up and it was a great era to grow up in. Sports were the big deal and the playgrounds were outstanding. We had fabulous athletes - “Mutt Stephens, Mel Freeman, Ron Sepic, Chuck Davis and guys like Larry Vignali. What a list to come out of a small town like this.