Obituary: Charles DeVenzio / Distinquished basketball coach for Ambridge, Springdale
April 3, 1921 - Nov. 12, 2006
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
By Colin Dunlap, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In 1967, Dave DeVenzio was 12, sitting inside the locker room at the Farm Show Arena in Harrisburg at halftime of the state championship game as his father, Charles, the Ambridge High School boys' basketball coach, stewed.

At the time, Dave was a ball boy for the undefeated Bridgers, who were locked in a state championship tussle with Chester, also undefeated. Dave's brother, Dick, was the star point guard on that Ambridge team.

"My dad was a little bit hot and said to my brother, 'You know, if we wouldn't have had those couple turnovers, we could have broken this game open,' " he recalled yesterday.

"Then, my brother looked up at him and said, 'Dad, you know we're ahead by 30 points, right?'

"That summed up my dad."

Charles A. DeVenzio, of McCandless, a ferociously competitive and highly successful basketball coach, perfectionist and master of preparation, died in his sleep early Sunday morning. He was 85.

His son said Mr. DeVenzio had had heart and kidney trouble in recent years.

A 1947 Geneva College graduate, Mr. DeVenzio won more than 600 games and was the leader of basketball teams at Ambridge, Springdale and North Allegheny high schools. He served two tenures at Springdale, one in the 1960s and the other in the '80s.

His crowning achievement was what Mr. DeVenzio did in leading the 1966-67 Ambridge team to a 27-0 record and the state championship with a 93-61 win against Chester.

During that 27-game season, Ambridge had an average margin of victory of 25 points. In cruising to the WPIAL and PIAA titles in the largest classification at the time, the Bridgers won their postseason games by an average of 20 points and are one of just 11 WPIAL boys' teams to win a PIAA title with an unblemished record.

That team had one of the greatest assemblages of talent in WPIAL history. Dick DeVenzio went on to play at Duke, Dennis Wuycik at North Carolina and Frank Kaufman at Purdue.

Walt Ostrowski and Phil DePasquale were the other Ambridge starters and Dom Russo was a key reserve.

When asked about Mr. DeVenzio yesterday, Mr. Wuycik said in an e-mail: "His coaching style and straightforwardness was most certainly influential in the high school athletic success I was blessed with."

Mr. Ostrowski recently retired after coaching the Hatboro-Horsham High School boys' basketball team for 33 years.

"He was the key to that 1967 team," Mr. Ostrowski said of Mr. DeVenzio. "His preparation was unsurpassed. He prepared you mentally and physically and when you went out there, the rest just took care of itself because of how prepared we were.

"I've seen coaches turn mediocre teams into great ones and, in turn, make great teams mediocre. What he did with our state championship team in 1967 was turn a good team into an excellent one."

Excellent might be a gross understatement.

Many scholastic basketball observers have labeled the 1967 Ambridge team as the best to ever come out of the WPIAL in history, and one of the best in Pennsylvania history.

They were led by the man with the fiery demeanor on the court, but kindness off it.

With a laugh, Dave DeVenzio said, "My dad mellowed so much after he was finished coaching. I try to tell my kids what an S.O.B their grandfather was when he coached me and my kids just say, 'No way, he is like the nicest guy ever.'

"That's how he was, he was such a joy to be around. But if you played for him, look out, he was demanding."

In addition to his son, Dave, of Pine, Mr. DeVenzio is survived by another son, Huck, of Smyrna, Ga., a daughter, Anne, of Los Angeles, and two grandchildren.

Mr. DeVenzio was preceded in death by his wife, Lora, a brother, Bill, a sister, Helen, and his son, Dick, who died in 2001 at 52.

Friends will be received from 6 to 8 p.m. today and from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. tomorrow at H.P. Brandt Funeral Home, 1032 Perry Highway, Ross. A memorial service will take place at the funeral home's chapel at 8 p.m. tomorrow.

Interment at Allegheny County Memorial Park will be private.