The 1968-69 basketball season was a memorable one for the Frazier High School Commodores.
Winning a section title, a WPIAL crown and making it all the way to the PIAA championship game add up to a magical season.
The Commodores posted a 9-1 record in Section 14 play to advance to the WPIAL playoffs, the lone loss in section play was to runner up West Newton on the road 62-58. Frazier was not a big club size wise, but were a cohesive unit.
The starting five was the late Jerry Boyle, Wes and Charlie Ramsey, Rod King and Jim Davis. The tallest starter was Davis at 5-11.
Season statistics show Boyle was the top scorer for Frazier with 404 total points for an average of 14 a game. Charlie Ramsey tallied 391 points for 13.5 ppg and Wes Ramsey notched 355 points for a 12.7 ppg average.
Frazier finished the campaign with a 25-4 record. The losses were to Serra Catholic in the season opener 63-61, West Newton, Braddock 62-58 and Mansfield in the PIAA Class B title game 65-43.
In the WPIAL playoffs the Commodores downed Mapletown 62-40, Penn 52-51, Knoch 47-41 and captured the WPIAL Class B title with a 69-56 win over Center.
Following the win over Center, Rod King thought the Commodores were a team of destiny.
“This is our year,” King said. “I know we are going all the way.”
The Commodores were coached by the “Silver Fox” Henry DiVirgilio, who passed away on Sept. 3, 2013, at the age of 93.
Looking back DiVirgilio who garnered 457 wins during his career had a soft spot for the1969 team.
“We beat Knoch and that was a great win, and they were big,” DiVirgilio recalled years later. “We had a great bunch of kids and they really loved to play and they practiced hard. We had a good year in the section and then we had some close calls in the playoffs. We were the Cinderella Team.”
In the PIAA playoffs Frazier ran its winning streak to 12 in a row with wins over Conemaugh Township 73-59 and Iroquois 56-52, before falling to Mansfield and 6-11 Tom McMillen.
Frazier hung in with Mansfield until the fourth quarter, before the Tigers pulled away for a 65-43 win. McMillen was too much for the smaller Commodores, scoring 32 points, grabbing 24 rebounds and blocking 12 shots.
In his post game press conference following the loss DiVirgilio praised McMillen.
“I thought he (McMillen) hurt us much more on defense than he did on offense,” DiVirgilio said. “We expected him to score. It was all those blocked shots that hurt our efforts. If we had hit only a few of them it could have changed things around.”
Frazier’s mighty mites had a remarkable run and looking back at that season following the passing of Henry DiVirgilio, the players credited him as the driving force behind that great season.
“For one, he had the intestinal fortitude to use as many as four black kids at a time and that didn’t go over too well back then. It just wasn’t popular in the town,” Wes Ramsey said. “Plus, he instituted the man-to-man defense and we would have never gotten out of the section if we played zone defense back then. We didn’t start anybody over six feet, and he took the same defense that Eddie McCluskey used at Farrell and brought it to Frazier.
“Finally, his training regimen really had us in shape. He made us do things in practice that, in the games, when other teams were dragging in the fourth quarter we were still going at it. He was one heck of a coach. He was an innovator.”
“He was well organized and we had a good bunch of guys who followed his script,” Charlie Ramsey said. “He was a good man, a good coach.
“We won the Class B title, which was the second largest classification then. We were interchangeable players and played a lot of different positions. I think that’s what made us so good together. Those were good times.
“Those were times I would love to relive. It was a really big deal in the community. I thank Coach DiVirgilio for that.”
Years later DiVirgilio offered this about the loss to Mansfield.
“We had a lot of success here at Frazier,” DiVirgilio stated. “The loss in the state championship game to Mansfield, the guy that killed us was big Tom McMillen,” They went into a 1-3-1 zone defense and McMillen was in the middle and he blocked everything that we shot.
“I hadn’t had a chance to see them. In those days you didn’t have the scouting tools that you have today. I didn’t realize he was so good, but we hung in there for awhile with them.”