Hardy excelled at football and shone brightly on the hardwood for the Connellsville Falcons in the 1970ís.
ìBasketball was my first love,î Hardy recalled. ìIt definitely continued throughout high school and college. There was a period where I thought football was more promising from a college prospective because I had the right size for football, and I did fairly well in high school. I actually got some interest from Penn State my junior year at tight end, but there was a coaching change going into my senior year and as changes go for the seniors it was not as good a move as it was for some of the underclassmen.î
Hardy played linebacker and tight end for the Falcons for three seasons. During his sophomore campaign the Falcons posted a record of 2-5-2 under head coach Tom Sankovich. In 1973 his junior season they went 3-7. Connellsville brought Dan Spanish in as head coach in 1974 and in Hardyís senior season the Falcons were 4-6.
ìI played some wide receiver my sophomore year,î Hardy said. ìOne of the thrills for me playing football was my sophomore year when I got a chance to block for my brother Noble who was a senior tailback. He played at IUP and from a high school perspective and Iím a little biased he was one of the best Iíve ever seen at tailback.î
It was on the basketball court that Hardy made the biggest impact, as the cornerstone of some very competitive Connellsville teams.
In Hardyís sophomore season in 1972-73 the Falcons were 8-13 and 2-8 in the section. They improved to 11-11 and 7-5 in the section in Hardyís junior year 1973-74. In Hardyís senior campaign in 1974-75 the Falcons posted their best record since 1961-62 going 17-5 and finishing second in the section behind Uniontown with a 10-2 mark. Their only two section losses were at the hands of the Red Raiders.
ìJim Sherbondy was our coach,î Hardy remembered. ìHe inherited a great team and I liked Coach Sherbondy. What I remember about the team was how close we were and how good our starting five was. We ran up against a great Abe Everhart team at Uniontown in my senior year and itís just a shame that they only took the top team in the section to the WPIAL playoffs back then, because we were really good and the game I will always remember is the triple overtime loss to Uniontown at our gym. It was a great game and I thought we had it won several times; we lost that game and the rematch at Uniontown wasnít that close. I still feel like we could have down some damage in the playoffs, but we couldnít beat the Red Raiders. We did beat Laurel Highlands twice and that was the first time that we had beaten LH.
ìI had great teammates like Greg Pastors, Dan Ferens, Tim Maruca, Guy Ricks and my cousin Bobby Baker, it was a close knit group and we just felt like we had each othersí back.î
Hardy put up some big numbers for the Falcons with 1,209 career points. The 6-4 Hardy had two 41 point outbursts in his senior season against Churchill and Southmoreland. He scored in double figures in every game during his senior season and left Connellsville as the All-Time scoring and rebounding leader at that time. In his senior year, Hardy had six games where he scored 30 or more points and 11 games when he tallied 20 or more points.
ìI had the mentality that I felt all good players do,î Hardy explained. ìI felt that if you let me catch the ball inside that I could score no matter what. I think all good players kind of have that mentality. Those skills were honed on the playgrounds in Connellsville, Uniontown and Scottdale. We used to look for games everywhere, and I just remember playing on the playgrounds against guys like Hawk McCargo and I loved playing against guys like that. Thatís where you really learned the game of basketball and I think unfortunately that playground culture is missing now.î
Hardy graduated from Connellsville in 1975 and had some college offers to sift through.
ìAt 6-4 and my game was primarily near the basket,î Hardy said, ìI was a tweener and think thatís what prevented some of the major colleges from coming after me. I remember playing well at the Colt Classic at Chartiers Valley and some larger schools were starting to show interest. Early on Coach Cliff Wettig recruited me for Slippery Rock and he asked me to remember that he was there first. I remembered that and I decided to go to Slippery Rock and I was disappointed that Coach Wettig left and moved on to Tennessee. It was disappointing that he left because he had recruited some good players like Ron Haten from Belle Vernon and George Clark from Philadelphia and they had some really good young players. He was replaced by Doug Zimmerman who took over as head coach.î
Hardy played 10 games as a freshman during the 1975-76 season at Slippery Rock and scored 36 points and grabbed 20 rebounds as the Rockets went 7-17. In Hardyís sophomore season, the ìRockî was 11-14. As a junior, Hardy was part of a club that posted a 17-10 record and defeated Clarion for the PSAC West championship, then fell to Cheyney State in the PSAC title game 75-72. The Rockets advanced to the NCAA Atlantic regional and defeated Scranton 70-65 before falling to Widener 63-60 in overtime. As a senior Hardy saw the Rockets slip to 6-19 despite his scoring 18.5 ppg and setting a single season rebounding record of 11.3 per game.
ìWhat a great run we had my junior year,î Hardy stated. ìWhat a great player Clarion had in Reggie Wells and I felt like I played my best against the best. Reggie and I had some great battles. Cheyney was coached by John Chaney and that was the most talented team that I personally have ever played against, and we played out of our minds that game to keep it that close. I felt like we should have beaten Widener and it was a tough loss. They called me ìTrainî at the ìRock.î I had a great time, and we had a great fan base and they really supported us.î
Hardy wound up his career with 1,221 points, good for ninth place on the All-Time scoring list at Slippery Rock, and he snatched 833 career rebounds and is sixth on the All-Time rebounding list. Hardy is still tops in shooting percentage for a career with 62.5 %. He was named to the CoSida All America team his senior year with a 3.633 GPA in economics.
ìThe CoSida honor was one of the best,î Hardy opined. ìI took great pride in my academic achievements and I remember being named to that team and that was a great honor. Iím proud of my basketball career, sports really does lay a foundation for you. I think of my family and my parents Noble and Betty who gave me a gift of high expectations and accountability and work ethic.î
Hardy began a 30 plus year career in the insurance operations health care arena following his graduation from Slippery Rock in 1979. Hardy is the Vice President of Support Services at ZOLL Medical, where he has oversight of customer support, technical support and logistics for the company's LifeVest patients.
ìI have been back and working in Pittsburgh,î Hardy said. ìI'm blessed to have my parents still living and they are in their upper 80's now. So, of course, I'm back in Connellsville a lot, still have some family and friends like Greg Pastors, he and I still get together. A couple of months ago we got together, Pastors, Danny Ferens, and Tim Maruca we all got together, but Pastors is the one I stay in touch with the most.î
Hardy, 59, has been married for 29 years to his wife Kathleen and they reside in Murrysville, PA. They have two daughters, Monica and Rachel. He also has two step sons Brian and Shawn Darcy.
He still gets back to Connellsville to visit his parents and has a real soft spot for his hometown.
ìI have no complaints and I feel lucky and blessed,î Hardy said. ìI come from a very athletic family and I love to come back home and tell those stories of years ago.î
George Von Benko's "Memory Lane" columns appear in the Sunday editions of the Herald-Standard. He also hosts a sports talk show on WMBS-AM radio from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.