By Jim Lane,email@example.com
Outstanding athlete. Coach. Teacher. World War II hero. Choir member. Frank
Mastrocola, who died last Saturday at the age of 93, was all of these, and more.
“He was one of the good guys,” Danny Geis said. “He did things people never new about.”
Geis first met Mastrocola in 1956 when he was a 7th grader at Roosevelt Junior High School where Mastrocola was a teacher and basketball coach.
“I came from a family of 10, and things were tough when I was going to school,” Geis recalled. “My dad passed away when I was in 9th grade, and Coach was always there for me. He became a father to me, and to many other guys, too. I loved him dearly.
“We used to work for him at the [McMahon] golf course, and we used to rake leaves in his yard,” Geis said. “Then he and his wife, Mickey, would feed us.”
Art Taneyhill played for Mastrocola at Roosevelt and Altoona High and also coached with him at AAHS.
“You can’t put a price on how much he meant to so many young men,” Taneyhill said. “He guided me through my basketball career and got me into college at Shippensburg.
“Everything I’ve accomplished in my life I owe to him.”
Jim Rice was Mastrocola’s assistant for five years at Roosevelt and became head coach when Mastrocola went to Altoona Area High School.
“He was an excellent coach,” Rice said. “When he was at Roosevelt, he once beat Keith 10 straight times, including twice when Jim Curry was at Keith. And, he was a good person. He did a lot for kids, especially poor kids.”
Mastrocola had a some outstanding seasons with the Mountain Lions, particularly the 1961-62 squad that included the likes of Dick Leipold, John Myers, Dave Costlow, Jeff Neuman and Ron Gamble. A couple of years later, his team included Dick Johnston, Tony Lepore and Dick Frasca, among others.
Former Bishop Guilfoyle coach Bill Gaffey, who now lives in Harrisburg, said Mastrocola “was one of the nicest guys I ever coached against.”
“We coached in the first-ever Altoona-BG game, and they beat us in overtime,” Gaffey said. “I felt bad we lost, but I felt good for him.”
Rice thought Mastrocola got a bad rap as a high school coach. Despite a couple of outstanding years, Mastrocola eventually was pressured out as Mountain Lion coach and resigned during the middle of the 1965-66 season.
“Frank was a hard worker and an excellent coach,” Rice said. “Everybody forgets that in those days only district champions went into the playoffs, and Altoona always went up against the WPIAL — Farrell or Uniontown or Ambridge or Midland — in the first round.”
I personally knew Mastrocola for many years. He was my coach at Roosevelt, and he liked to spice up practice by making players dribble around chairs with sunglasses and gloves to improve their ballhandling. I didn’t play much, but he treated everyone the same, regardless of their position on the team.
In my early years at the Mirror, I covered his AAHS teams. One of my toughest assignments ever was to interview him after he resigned his coaching job.
We remained friends over the years and, when Jean and I were married, he came to our wedding in Pittsburgh. And, in later years, no matter where I saw him, he always asked about Jean and our kids.
He truly was “one of the good guys.”
[Lane is a retired sports editor of the Mirror. His column appears occasionally.]