Bortz cut a wide swath through Fayette County basketball history. He was a legend on the playgrounds and in the summer leagues and then on the semi-pro basketball circuit, but he never played high school basketball at his alma mater Uniontown, and he played one year of college basketball at Waynesburg.
“If you didn’t run cross country at Uniontown you didn’t play basketball,” Bortz explained. “I played at Ben Franklin in eighth and ninth grade. When I got to the high school, you had to run cross country before the basketball season started. I said no I’m not going to do that. Guess what, when I went out for basketball in high school they cut me right away.”
“My coach in junior high was Bill Barron and I was one of only two or three eighth graders on the team, the rest were ninth graders. We had some pretty good teams with Bobby Crawford, Miles Cohen, Basil Popovich, and Pat Britt. BF had good teams the year before I started playing. Champ Howard was starting and he scored a lot of points in junior high.”
Bortz went on to become a sandlot superstar. He was part of some great Church League and summer league basketball championship teams.
“I thought about not playing high school ball, but I didn’t dwell on it,î Bortz stated. ìLater on at a summer league game, Uniontown coach Abe Everhart would be around occasionally and he came to me personally and told me that they made a mistake and they should have never cut me, but I played in the Church League at First Presbyterian and we won a could of Church League championships and that was a very competitive league.”
Back in the day, the Uniontown Summer Adult League was a big deal and drew tremendous crowds to watch the games at the various playgrounds.
“I’ve got a newspaper article about a game between my Downtowners with Stu Lantz and Pope Gregory, they were both juniors in high school and they didn’t start for us,” Bortz recalled. “We played the Hustlers, and the paper said there were about 1,200 fans in attendance at Berkeley playground.”
“Everybody that ever played at Uniontown High School played in that summer league. It was a good time, I played on teams like the Zeppos, Downtowners and Henderson’s All Stars. I won quite a few championships, I missed two years when I was in the Army.”
Bortz went to Waynesburg and started as a freshman in 1959. He joined the Army Reserve and his unit, the 429th engineers, was activated during the Berlin crisis in 1961. Bortz later went to Officer Candidate School and became a second lieutenant. He then went to engineering school in Virginia. He was promoted to first lieutenant and named company commander of the 429th engineers company in Uniontown. Bortz left the Army in 1968.
In the business world, Bortz worked for his father in the coal industry. In 1974 he started a trucking company G-4 Trucking Company. In the late seventies he bought his father out and took over Bortz Coal Company. He stayed in coal and trucking until 1995. Bortz and his wife Debbie owned Deb’s Lounge on Route 40, The Blue Moon Cafe and then the Belmont Inn.
For years Bortz played semi-pro basketball.
“I started playing semi-pro in 1963, Buck Grover recruited me to play for Fayetta’s Bar in Brownsville. They played in the old West Penn League and then I played one year for the Civic Club in Washington, PA in the same league. We had some great games with Club 814 from East Liberty. After that I played with P.I. Drake and the Castle Club from Moundsville, VA. We played everywhere in two or three states. We won a lot of tournaments.”
Another chapter in the Bortz basketball journey started in 1988 when he became an assistant coach at Geibel with head coach Terry Jamison. Bortz took over the Geibel girl’s basketball coaching reins in 1992.
Bortz coached the Geibel Catholic girls team to nine section titles, five WPIAL championships and two WPIAL second-place finishes in 11 years as head coach at the Connellsville Catholic high school.
He won over 250 games as a head coach at Geibel Catholic.
“I’m a firm believer that if you don’t have some great players or kids, you are not going to be successful, I don’t care who you are,” Bortz stated. “We had a pipeline with St. John’s, and we had people coming in from elsewhere too. I still say we had a great bunch of parents that really supported the kids. We had a great run.”
In 2004, Bortz left Geibel to become the boys coach at Brownsville. He coached the Falcons for two seasons.
Bortz was bursting with pride when his four consecutive Geibel WPIAL Championship teams from 1993 to 1996 were inducted as a group into the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame in June of 2015.
“That was a very good moment,” Bortz said. “I couldn’t have been happier. They were more deserving than any girls teams in the area. I was really proud of them.”
Bortz, 74, resides in the Uniontown area with his wife of 24 years Debbie. He has four children: George IV, Shelly, Renee and Lauren and a stepdaughter Roxanne. Bortz is still active as an official for basketball and an umpire for softball.