Dunmorean of the Month: Jeff Mallas

By Steve Svetovich

Dunmore’s Jeff Mallas and Penn State Scranton have gone hand in hand for the past 42 years.

Mallas, a 1971 Dunmore High graduate who lettered in track and football,, has been a major part of the athletic department at the Scranton Penn State campus, located on Ridgeview Drive, Dunmore, since 1979. 

He has served as athletic director since 2000. In 2018, Mallas received the prestigious Robert J. Scannell Roll of Honor Award at University Park. The honor is bestowed upon an athletics administrator, coach, faculty or staff member who has served Penn State Commonwealth Campus athletics, intramurals and recreation programs with distinction.

Below is an excerpt from Mallas’ nomination, submitted by athletic department staff at Scranton:

“If there is one person at Penn State Scranton who truly ‘Bleeds Blue and White’ it’s Athletic Director, Jeff Mallas.  As a 1975 graduate of Penn State University, Jeff has been a strong supporter of Penn State and athletics, serving the university through non-profit work, coaching, teaching, and administration.” 

He was the assistant athletic director under Joe Simoncelli from 1980 through 1999. “I learned a lot under Joe Simoncelli,” he said. “You learn from good people. He was my cross country coach and advisor when I attended Penn State Scranton as a freshman.”

Mallas is married 35 years to the former Karen Phillips. The couple has a son, Doug, a 2012 Penn State graduate who teaches biology at North Pocono High School. 

Mallas is credited with starting the baseball program at Penn State Scranton in 1981. He coached baseball at the Dunmore campus for 25 years. 

Penn State Scranton’s athletic director Jeff Mallas, center, is shown in 2018 receiving the Robert J. Scannell Honor Roll Award at University Park. Shown with him are Maureen Cooper, left, and Ryan Ehrie, right.

He named Dunmore graduate Dave Rubino, Dwayne Broad of Mid Valley and Kevin Yanul and Jerry Calpin of Scranton Tech as a few of his key players on the first Penn State Scranton baseball team in 1981. 

“Our home games were initially played at Schautz Stadium in Dunmore,” he said. “We used to practice at Weston Field. 

“In 1982 and 1983 I helped put our baseball field together at the school. Herb Rogers, the Penn State Scranton maintenance foreman at the time, did most of the work. He was the expert. I helped put the infield in. The Army Corps of Engineers did the landscaping.

“Of course our baseball field was totally renovated a few years ago and was named after Matt McGloin.

“Gino Tempesta of Dunmore, who still coaches baseball at North Pocono, helped me coach baseball for many years. He was great with the kids and a huge asset.” 

Mallas, always enthusiastic and an optimist when it comes to Penn State, also coached soccer for 20 years at the Dunmore campus. He ran a soccer camp at the local college for kids ages 7-13 for 16 years. He credits Dunmore’s Joe Baltrusaitis, who currently coaches soccer at the local campus, for his assistance helping him with the soccer program.

Penn State Scranton won a soccer championship in 1990 with Mallas at the helm.

Mallas has been involved with the Greater Scranton Penn State Alumni Chapter for the past 35 years. He has served as president for seven years, including the past five years.

 “We raise scholarships for students,” he said. “We invite  speakers from the State College main campus and had Joe Paterno five times for the event.”

Mallas played football under coach Lou Costanzo at Dunmore. “He made boys into men. He was tough, but a real gentleman off the field. He played football at Michigan State and was a great running back at Dunmore. What an honor to play for him. Our 1970 team went 7-2 and had some tremendous players.”

Mallas also ran track at Dunmore and played Legion baseball. Dunmore won the Lackawanna League track title in his senior year. 

He graduated from Penn State with a bachelor of science degree. in education in 1975 and went on to receive an M.Ed in Health and Physical Education from East Stroudsburg University in 1984. 

Mallas began coaching tennis and soccer at Penn State Scranton in 1979 and started a lengthy career teaching the physical education activity classes which he continues to do to this day. “I have been teaching activity classes at Penn State for 42 years.”

Well-rounded in  all sports, Mallas coached the Penn State Scranton bowling team, leading it to many championships.

As athletic director, Mallas is responsible for 11 men and women’s sports, including baseball, basketball, cross country, softball, soccer, golf and volleyball. He praised every single coach in all of the programs.

“You are only as good as your coaches and the people who surround you,” he said. “And we have great people. We have the best.”

He is credited with bringing women’s basketball back to the Dunmore campus in 2002.

“We try to get as many kids as possible involved in our sports programs,” he said. “We make sure they have a positive experience and graduate. We try to retain every kid.”

There are a little more than 1,000 students in the local college and 162 are active in sports. “That’s a better than 12 percent rate and that’s pretty good,” he said.

Vito Ruggiero, Dunmore borough manager, was recently named the new baseball coach at Penn State Scranton. 

Mallas said the local campus is looking to add tennis as a future sport.

The sports teams at the Dunmore campus participate in the Penn State University Athletic Conference, with championships played at University Park at State College. Title teams then go on to participate in the United States Athletic Conference playoffs.

Mallas credits Dr. Marwan Waffa, the school chancellor, for doing great things at the local campus. “I cannot say enough for what he has done and is doing,” he said. “He does so much for this community here.”

Well-versed, Mallas has also been a PIAA basketball and soccer official since the early 1990’s. 

He is assisted in his athletic director duties by Sara Rinkunas who coaches men and women’s cross country and serves as sports information director at the local college. 

“My life basically has been Penn State,” Mallas said. “And I love it.” 

Dunmore Scholar-Athlete Lauren Grippi Chasing Star at Penn State

Lauren Grippi icc 2

Dunmore tennis MVP Lauren Grippi, center, is shown with her coaches Jenny Ondeck and Jenna Urban.

By Steve Svetovich

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lauren Grippi had to wait until mid-July to graduate, and saw her graduating senior activities cancelled, but the humble, polite scholar-athlete took it all in stride.

“I felt like we missed out on a lot of fun senior activities like awards and class night,” she said. “but everyone was in the same predicament. We were all in the same boat, so how can you complain?” 

Lauren said she worked out, did school work and prepared for the college application process during her time off due to the pandemic. She will most likely study psychology while attending Penn State in the fall. 

Daughter of Shannon and Rich Grippi, Lauren had an impressive 3.6 academic average at Dunmore High School. She was a member of the National Honor Society and MVP and co-captain of the tennis team. She was Spanish Club recording secretary and a member of show choir, drama club and chorus. She was president of SADD, wrote for the school newspaper and was a football cheerleader for four years. Her favorite academic subject is English. 

Lauren, in her courteous nature, said she was honored to receive the team MVP award for tennis. “I felt honored and very happy when I heard about it,” she said. “Tennis takes a lot of determination and you can’t give up. You have to practice very hard.”

The talented and always busy Dunmore graduate said her parents taught her to work hard to achieve goals in life. “My parents taught me about a good work ethic and to always try my best at anything I do.

“My parents are always there for me. They also taught me to treat people right.”

Lauren said her Dunmore tennis coaches, Jenny Ondeck and Jenna Urban, taught her similar values. “Try my best and never give up. Work hard all the time. Keep your head up.”  

Lauren comes from a very talented and hard working family. Her dad is a retired Pennsylvania State Policeman. Her mom is a local dental hygienist. Her late grandfather Doug Miele was a veteran and Scranton Tribune newspaper editor. Her late great-grandfather Tony Miele played baseball, spent numerous years as a volunteer baseball coach and is a member of the Northeastern Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. Her brother Richie Grippi, 21, was an all-star baseball shortstop at Dunmore and is a junior at Penn State. 

Lauren said her goals in the immediate future are to pursue a psychology degree at Penn State, graduate, get a good job and eventually pursue an advanced degree and become a counselor. 

“I like to help people and listen when someone has a problem,” she said. “I like to help out with a person’s problem. That’s why I think counseling would be a good field for me.”

The soft-spoken tennis stalwart said she enjoys listening to country music in her spare time. Luke Combs is her favorite country artist.

Lauren said she enjoys being involved in a lot of school activities, but still kept her grades in the mid 90s. “I always got my school work done before practice,” she said. “I set time aside to study.” 

Kind, considerate and hard-working, Lauren will now chase her star at Penn State, but she will never forget Dunmore High School.

“I felt a part of a family at Dunmore,” she said. “I was welcomed by teachers and classmates throughout all my years at Dunmore. It is really a very close knit community. It will always be a part of me.” 

Athlete of the Month: Kayleigh Semion

Athlete of the Month Kayleigh SemionBy Steve Svetovich

Dreams come true. This is the case for former Dunmore basketball standout Kayleigh Semion.

Daughter of Sherry Nicolais and step daughter of Mark Nicolais, Kayleigh passed up opportunities to play Division I and II college basketball because she wanted to attend Penn State. It was her dream school. 

Not only did she achieve that, but she dreamed even bigger. As a junior, she tried out for the varsity girls’ basketball team and made it. And after three years on the team, she was named Penn State’s recipient of the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award, a prestigious honor for team play. 

Kayleigh, 23, has proven the value of hard work and dedication throughout her years at Penn State. And no one works harder. During her high school years, she was often seen practicing her shot over and over and over at the Greater Scranton YMCA. 

She began her college career as a club basketball player and team manager before earning a roster spot during the 2017-18 season.

A consummate teammate, she made a huge impact on and off the court for the Lady Lions. Kayleigh was a crucial spark off the bench and always gave her all, the only way she knows.

A genuine scholar-athlete, she is a two-time Academia All-Big Ten selection and will receive her master’s degree this May in Business Management and Organizational Leadership.

Kayleigh was Times-Tribune player of the year in 2015, her senior year with the Dunmore Lady Bucks basketball team.

“I am very honored to receive the Sportsmanship Award,” she said. “It is really humbling. I look at it as a team award. It is awesome, a great ending to my basketball career.”

Named second team All-State after her senior year at Dunmore, the point guard said she wants to secure a management position in the sports industry upon graduation. 

basketballKayleigh was a key member of Penn State’s club basketball team that placed third in the National Intramural Recreational Sports Association Championship Tournament in her sophomore year.

Her team beat Virginia Tech, Ohio University and the University of Connecticut before losing to Air Force at Ohio State. Kayleigh scored 13 points off the bench in the loss.

The former Dunmore standout served as team manager for the Penn State varsity girls’ team for two years.

But in November of her junior year she was invited to tryout for the Penn State varsity team. She worked extremely hard during the two-week tryout and made the team.

For Kayleigh, it was another hard earned dream come true story.

“It was one of the best feelings in my life ever,” she said. “When I was told I made it, it was just awesome. My hard work paid off. I put so much into it.

“I had an extra year of eligibility while going for my master’s degree, so I played three years of Division I basketball at Penn State. My playing time increased during my final two years. I was getting good minutes. 

“Putting that Penn State jersey on was so meaningful to me. Playing in those Big 10 tournaments and facilities was unreal. Playing Division I college basketball at Penn State was so special to me.

“I can now say I played Division I college basketball at Penn State.”

Kayleigh played two years under Coquese Washington and one year under Carolyn Kieger at Penn State.

Kayleigh, All Regional as a high school senior, said she learned a lot from Dunmore basketball coach Ben O’Brien. “He taught me about a strong work ethic. He taught me a lot at Dunmore.”

Her mom, a prominent twirling instructor in Dunmore, and two sisters, Brittany and Meredith, are her role models and mentors. “I learned so much from them my entire life. They gave me my mind set and work ethic and I follow in their footsteps.”

An Ed Sheerin fan, Kayleigh had a 3.8 GPA with a B.S. in Kinesiology before starting graduate studies at Penn State.

She scored over 1,200 career points at Dunmore.