Dunmorean of the Month: John “X.E.” McAndrew

By Steve Svetovich

xeWhen the Holy Cross Crusaders high school softball team lost, 14-6, to Lakeland in the District 2 semifinals last May, many thought legendary coach John “X.E.” McAndrew would be back.

But he didn’t.

And with 501 wins under his belt, the softball legend as both player and coach, died at 70 Saturday, December 26, one day after Christmas in Philadelphia after a brief illness.

He was named a top 100 all-time athlete and top 50 all-time coach in this area.

But to his former teammates and players, he was an all-time human being.

Olivia Golay, a freshman early childhood education major at St. Bonaventure  University, played for coach McAndrew, known as X.E. to everyone, for two softball seasons at Holy Cross.

The former all-star, now on a four-year softball scholarship at St. Bonaventure, remembered her coach as a role model, pillar of strength and most of all a wonderful man.

“He was a very giving person,” she said. “He would give a complete stranger the shirt off his back.

“He was the healthiest guy I knew. He was very strong, always working out. He always kept in top shape.

“As a softball coach, he believed in his players. He had complete confidence in us. He pushed his players because he believed in them. He believed he would get results and gave his players confidence. He always worked us to our full potential. And he got results. He believed in us.

“As a person, he was the best. He always stayed in touch with his players. He treated us like family. He and his wife invited us to his home for cookouts. He was always there for us. He never forgot his former players. He was just a great person.”

Olivia said the number one thing she learned from her former coach was “to never give up.”

Olivia was part of coach McAndrew’s District 2 Class AA title team at Holy Cross in 2014. Holy Cross beat Holy Redeemer May 28, 2014 to claim the district title.

Coach McAndrew, a softball Hall of Famer, earned a state championship as a coach in 2001.

Built solid as a rock, X.E. was known as a gentle giant. He was known as a mentor to not only his players, but to all the youth he came across.

A prolific home run hitter, he was sought after by all the amateur and professional softball teams in the state. His powerful stroke led to a bat-designing deal with Bombat company. He used to sell the XE-44 models out of his car at softball tournaments.

In 1993, he was inducted into the Northeast Chapter of the Pennsylvania State Hall of Fame. Six years ago, while actually playing at 64 in a softball tournament in Virginia, he learned of his induction into the National Senior Softball Hall of Fame.

His 2001 Bishop O’Hara softball team finished 21-1 and win the Class AA title.

He resigned from the Bishop O’Hara coaching job after the 2001 season to watch his triplets, Shane, Courtney and Caitlyn perform in sports at Abington Heights.

He came back four years later to coach again at the school. His teams won 14 Lackawanna League division titles, six District 2 championships and the 501 total wins. No. 500 came as part of a doubleheader sweep over Elk Lake last May.

This season, one of his star players, Gabby Giordano, was named player of the year. He was instrumental in teaching her what became a solid home run stroke.

Many of his former players, including Golay, earned college scholarships. And he went out of his way to help them.

In 2001, the year his team won the state title at Bishop O’Hara, his team went to Disney World for spring training. While other teams were on the practice field, he let his players go to theme parks. He told them to get their practice in on the field at night. He wanted to win, but he also wanted his team to enjoy the whole experience.

That’s what made him a winner on and off the field.

He was known for his penchant of handing out gold coins to players who made a difference in games.

And that tradition is continued by some of his former players who became coaches.

Here is a gold coin for you in Heaven, X.E.

You made a difference.

Local Sports Hall of Fame Inducts New Honorees

By Steve Svetovich

The Northeast Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame inducted 10 local athletes/coaches at its 33rd annual induction ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 4, at the University of Scranton DeNaples Center.

Bob Walsh, president of the Northeastern Chapter, served as chairman and handled arrangements for the event. Jerry Valonis is vice president. Judy Igoe Carr is secretary. Tom “Doc” Dougherty in treasurer.

Gerry Burke and Carr handled the reception. Walsh and Alice Foley handled the tickets for the event. Foley handled the Invocation.

The class of 2015 included Tony Donato, Ed Bugno, Greg Legg, Marty Myers, Heather Raley, James Burock, Wayne Lydon, Cal Urso, Kathleen Klein Prindle and the late Bob Gilbride.

The inductees, including a family member for Gilbride, all made speeches at the podium following a delicious full course prime rib dinner.

Sports Hall of Fame

Well-known local TV sports broadcaster Sid Michaels served as toastmaster for the event.

“Who can ever forget the Scranton Red Sox, the Scranton Baseball Association, Weston Field, the Scranton Miners at the Catholic Youth Center, the Blakely Bears,” Michaels said. “This area gave birth to and nurtured these athletes.”

Cal Urso, inducted as a baseball coach at Mid Valley High School where he notched 321 wins, thanked former Mid Valley baseball star Jerry Valonis for the nomination. He also thanked the entire Mid Valley School District, including teachers, administration, coaches and players, Jerry Dempsey, his former pitching coach, and the Hall of Fame committee.

Ed Bugno, inducted for his football heroics as a receiver at West Scranton High School where he was All State and at Bloomsburg University where he was PSAC All Conference first team, told a story about his former West Scranton High School football coach Joe DeAntona.

He told how, as a player for West, he called a timeout following an interception against North Pocono. It was late in the game and West had the game in hand. DeAntona holding a locker room meeting the following day with the team watching film. DeAntona, he said, stopped the film following the interception, turned out the lights and asked who called the timeout. Bugno admitted it was him.

DeAntona responded, “There is no reason to humiliate an opponent. We don’t do that here at West.” Bugno said it was a lesson he learned and carried with him for the rest of his life. DeAntona was present in the audience during his speech.

“What an honor it is to be mentioned with all these fellow inductees,” Bugno tearfully said. “I want to thank my wife who never missed a game of mine since we began dating in 1975. It is an honor to spend this night with my wife and children and my high school coach Joe DeAntona who is here tonight.”

James Burok, who had a 21-0 pitching record for Valley View High School and was a four-year starter for Old Dominion before being drafted by the Cleveland Indians and Colorado Rockies, was inducted for baseball.

“I lost my grandmother a couple of years ago. She was my biggest fan,” said Burok. “She cut my name out of the newspaper every time my name was in there and she made it to every game I played. I want to thank my dad who never told me no. He worked 2 a.m. to 11 a.m. and was there at noon to pitch to me.”

Anthony Donato, an All-State wide receiver at Dunmore High School who spent five years as an assistant coach at Dunmore and 13 years as an assistant at North Pocono before leading Abington to its first Big 11 title, was selected for football/track/coach.

Donato recognized his wife and mother, high school and college coaches and Ed Bugno who he worked with.

Robert "Coach" Gilbride.

Robert “Coach” Gilbride.

The late Bob Gilbride, who coached basketball at Holy Rosary High School and baseball and basketball at Scranton Central High School and won titles in parts of four decades, was represented by his granddaughter.

“My grandfather said he never expected perfection, but he expected hard work.”

The late Gilbride, who accrued 483 wins before his retirement from Scranton High, refused induction while he was living.

Greg Legg, who has spent 33 years in the Philadelphia Phillies organization as a player, coach and manager, and is the only Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons player to have his number (14) retired, was inducted for baseball.

“I am so honored to be a part of this group,” he said. “Baseball and sports have given me so much. I don’t work for a living. The toughest part is traveling and being away from my family and friends. We were treated like kings in Northeast PA. There are so many in this game who have influenced me.”

Heather Gallagher Raley, a record holder in seven of 10 swimming events at West Scranton High School and an All-American swimmer at Gettysburg, was inducted for swimming. She thanked Frank McGuire, her first swimming coach. She thanked her husband and daughter who she called “my biggest little fan.”

Kathleen Klein Prindle, a four-year swimming letterman at Scranton Prep who assisted in preparing eight athletes in the 2008 Beijing Games resulting in two Olympic medals, was selected for coach/swimming.

Prindle, who has trained elite swimmers from 17 countries for Olympic Games, spoke of being inspired by her grandmother, Hall of Fame inductee Julie Holleran Igoe.

“Tonight is a moment in time. Looking back, it is also important to look forward and keep our focus in the community on sports and youth participation in sports, said Prindle. “I look to the future of this sport as we do everything we can to protect it. I believe we live in a peaceful and better world through the Olympic ideal.”

Wayne Lydon, who was an All State outfielder, defensive player of the year and All State safety and District track winner at Valley View High School, was selected for baseball/football/track.

Lydon, who was drafted by the New York Mets, stole 595 bases in 13 years in the minor leagues and Independent Leagues and was named Baseball America’s best base runner three times, joked that his speech would be as short as his call up to the Mets which lasted but a few hours.

Marty Myers, a sports reporter/editor for the Wayne Independent for 10 years and the Scranton Times for over 20 years, received the Service Award. Myers, the PIAA District 2 McGladrie award winner for contributions to high school athletics through journalism.

“I thank my mom and dad and wife Barbara of 32 years. They were always there to support me,” said Meyers. “When I was two hours away from home covering a very important girls’ softball game, my wife was home taking care of the house and my family. She was always behind me.

“I congratulate this Hall of Fame class.”

Former Dunmore Pitcher Working on His Dream

By Steve Svetovich

Former Dunmore High School All Region pitcher Josh Zilla has a dream—to pitch in the big leagues. And he’s spent most of this summer in Florida working on making that dream a reality.

Son of Robert and Donna Zilla, Dunmore, Josh will be entering his sophomore year later this month as an Information Technology major at Keystone College, where he is a pitcher on the baseball team.

Josh Zilla, a pitcher with a dream of playing in the major leagues, is currently playing at Keystone College.

Josh Zilla, a Dunmore pitcher with a dream of playing in the major leagues, is currently playing at Keystone College.

Josh spent most of this summer pitching in the South Florida Collegiate League. His team played a 32-game schedule while Josh worked on developing a third pitch—a splitter.

The sophomore hurler played three years of varsity baseball at Dunmore High School, where he played four total years of baseball and four years of football. He was an all-star football player as well as a baseball all-star as a junior. He was an All Regional pitcher as a senior when he was named the Lackawanna League Division III Player of the Year. Josh was 7-0 with a minuscule 0.52 earned run average (ERA) as a senior pitcher. He fired a no-hitter and threw 24 consecutive scoreless innings at one point in the season. He struck out 61 batters.

Zilla pitched 14 innings in his freshman season at Keystone. He had a 2-0 record and impressive 1.90 ERA. He has a 3.0 grade point average at Keystone.

His coach at Keystone, Jamie Shevchik, recommended he learn a third pitch, and that is when Josh made his decision to play in the South Florida Collegiate League.

“He wanted me to work on a new pitch, a splitter,” said Zilla. “I worked on getting movement, getting it down and throwing it for strikes. I had a nice experience there learning a new pitch.”

Josh said he learned a lot from Shevchik in his freshman season.

“He teaches me to stay competitive and remain focused on the mound. Keep my mind straight and be more fluent with my delivery.”

The righty pitcher said coach Mark Finan and his assistants also taught him a lot at Dunmore.

“Coach Finan and his assistants were always telling me to be focused and keep my head in the game,” said Zilla. “They kept my mind straight and focused.”

Josh has been playing baseball since age five right up to Legion and now collegiate baseball. He loves the game and is spending the final month of his summer pitching for the Dunmore entry in the Dunmore Freedom collegiate summer league (formerly CSBL). Home games are played at Dunmore’s Sherwood Park.

“I want to keep getting better as a pitcher. I want to work on my control and velocity. I want to pick my grades up and work on getting my Information Technology degree, but that is a backup plan,” said Zilla. “My ultimate goal is to get drafted and pitch in the MLB. I want to pitch in the big leagues.”