St. John’s Scripted Rich Athletic Tradition

BELLAIRE — Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019 may not mean much to many people, but it will be a date not soon forgotten by thousands in the Fighting Irish Nation.

That is the day when the Diocese of Steubenville announced its intentions to pull the plug on St. John Central. The high school, established way back in 1857, will no longer come to exist this June.

It is the same heartbreaking hand Bishop Donahue was dealt two years prior. Those priestly decisions yield pain, bitterness and reflection … and no appeals process.

The enrollment at St. John’s currently stands at 43. While low, it is still a bump from last year’s 30. The lack of bodies has resulted in fewer athletic programs at the school and corresponding less success.

But such has not always been the case, far from it. The Fighting Irish athletic tradition stacks up quite nicely amongst the 50 other OVAC schools.

St. John’s has collected 92 OVAC championship pennants, 10th most in conference annals, one behind John Marshall. The Irish have the most OVAC titles in girls basketball (15) and girls track (17).

The remainder of the 92 championship banners are comprised by: football (6), boys cross country (10), girls cross country (6), golf (1), volleyball (4), boys basketball (3), wrestling (5), baseball (10), softball (10), boys track (4) and cheerleading (1).

Quite impressive.

While OVAC titles are sweet, they take a backseat to state championships, especially in Ohio. St. John’s has acquitted itself quite nicely on the highest of athletic prep stages.

The Fighting Irish have collected three state team championships, more than any other school in Belmont County. They were girls track champs in 2007 and 2008 and boys cross country in 2008. Those state championships were preceded by state runnersup team finishes by the girls track teams in 2005 and 2006.

Individually, the school has produced nine state track champions (April Rotilio owning three of the gold medals and Natalie Perzanowski possessing a pair) and four in wrestling (John Ferguson, Eric Anderson, Joe Skoff and Derek Koch). Kenny Howell, state champion in the discus in 1999, still holds the all-time Ohio Valley record in that event with his 180-foot toss.

SJC has produced some legendary performers in basketball.

Allan Hornyak joins Bridgeport’s John Havlicek and Weir’s Ron “Fritz” Williams as one of the three greatest boys hoopsters in OVAC annals. He is legendary for his 86-point explosion against Warren Consolidated while averaging 42 points a game in both his junior and senior seasons. He nixed a scholarship offer to play at UCLA with Bill Walton to stay close to home and earn All-American honors at Ohio State.

Hornyak wasn’t the only Irish hoopster to star at Ohio State. A decade earlier, Dick Reasbeck was the finest player on the Ohio Valley hardwoods, earning him to a chance to sparkle at Ohio State while rooming with Bobby Knight.

Prior to those two phenoms, Fred Burda was a SJC basketball icon. He matriculated to Steubenville College, helping to lead Barons to the small-college national championship.

When the topic of girls’ basketball surfaces in the Ohio Valley, the discussion has to start with Stephanie Petho. The 5-foot-7 guard owns the OVAC record for total points (2,667) and single game (57). She averaged 35.9 as a junior and 37.1 as a senior, earning her Division IV Player of the Year honors. She also finished second to the legendary Katie Smith as Ms. Basketball. Petho went on to be a two-year starter at Pitt.

Irish football enjoyed a 90-year run, spanning 1925 to 2015, producing great players and quality teams. The Irish won OVAC grid championships in 1951, 1956, 1968, 1984, 1999 and 2001. The 1999 team, coached by Mike Rose,qualified for the OHSAA playoffs via its 9-1 mark.

Arguably the three best teams in Irish gridiron history are the 1951 8-0-1 squad which featured future Iowa Hawkeyes star Ed Frohnapfel; the 9-0 1956 team that boasted a bevy of D-I players, highlighted by Joe Maroon and Paul Rose; and the 1968 Hornyak-led 9-1 squad.

St. John’s football also produced a Parade All-American — Rick Boron in 1964. He turned down a scholarship offer from Notre Dame to star for Bo Schembechler at Miami of Ohio.

Six Fighting Irish athletes have been inducted into the OVAC Hall of Fame. Petho and Hornyak were part of the inaugural HOF class followed by Maroon, Boron, Howell and Rotilio. More will follow as Perzanowski and hoop great Kayla Magistro (1,970 points) are deserving candidates.

Not to be overlooked are some of the finest coaches in the history of the OVAC who plied their trades at St. John’s: Dan McGrew and Hen Healy in football; Denny Bowman and Joe Bates in wrestling; Kim Appolloni in girls hoops; Bob Fialkowski and Tom Sliva in baseball; Jerry Magistro in softball as well as Dennis Delbert and Jeremy Midei in cross country. Football coaching legend John Magistro is an SJC grad who cut his coaching teeth at his alma mater.

Although the school appears doomed for closure in the coming months, the rich Irish athletic tradition will live on.


∫ Zac Bruney has added another nugget to his Wheeling Jesuit University football staff. Former Steubenville Catholic and St. John Central head coach Steve Daley is now tutoring the Cardinals’ tight ends and tackles. He is a quality addition to an already strong staff.

∫ Conotton Valley is a small school district about to embark on huge things. The district, located between Cadiz and New Philadelphia, will commence on construction of an $18 million Rocket Center. The 80,000-square-foot facility will house a gymnasium, eight-lane indoor competition pool, six-lane bowling alley, daycare center, senior center, a walking track, fitness equipment, a cafe and health clinic. Funding for the massive project comes via a public utility property tax being levied on the Rover Pipeline, which crosses 15 miles of the Conotton Valley district. In addition, the school will install turf to its football field and has already constructed new softball and baseball fields.

∫ Malone College has announced plans to eliminate its football program. The Canton-based school has experienced a $2.5 million debt due to football.

∫ Super Bowl 53 could be renamed the Boring Bowl. The high-octane Rams laid the ultimate egg while the Patriots exhibited just enough offense to pull out a yawning win. Tom Brady started to show the signs of a 41-year-old QB. Julian Edelman, a former Kent State quarterback, was impressive and deserved the MVP trophy. He also was suspended for the first four games this year by the NFL for using a banned substance.

∫ Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley received a nice salary bump recently. The youthful Sooners boss’ new pact will pay him $25 million over the next five years. He will receive a $700,000 bonus each year for just remaining as the Sooners’ coach. Riley made $3.1 million in 2017.

∫ Nova Southeastern’s men’s hoop squad is 18-2 on the season. Coach Jim Crutchfield’s crew is ranked No. 8 in the latest NCAA D-II poll.

∫ Haley Porter had a superb performance in a losing cause Wednesday for Waynesburg University. The Yellow Jackets fell to W&J, 81-74. The former Union Local all-stater, however, exploded for 27 points, including an 8 of 11 effort from beyond the 3-point line.

∫ Speaking of W&J women’s basketball, former Wheeling Park all-state point guard Kylie McKennen also sparkled against Waynesburg. The 5-6 dynamo tallied 16 points while dishing out 10 assists.

∫ Former River High all-Ohioan Jensen Caretti has played in 17 of Ohio State’s 21 games this winter. The junior guard is averaging 3.4 points and 1.6 rebounds per contest. The Buckeyes are 10-11.

Bubba Kapral can be reached at


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