Don Yates (2011)

During the Golden Era of Uniontown High School athletics in the 1950's and 1960's - basketball took center stage. The King of the hardwood for the Red Raiders was Don Yates.


Yates was perhaps the most celebrated basketball player to ever play for Uniontown High School. He led the Red Raiders to a state basketball championship in 1962. He earned all-state honors for two consecutive years, and he received more votes than anybody did for the honors in both years.

A 1962 graduate of Uniontown High School, Yates starred for three seasons with the Red Raiders and has fond memories of his high school days.

"I have great memories," Yates said. "In 1962 we had a squad that was not expected to win it all and we came together as a unit and took the whole thing. I had four starting juniors when I was a senior and they were dedicated to playing as a team and that's how we won it."

The 1962 championship made up for the disappointment of his sophomore and junior seasons.

"We had a great team my sophomore and junior years," Yates explained. " We lost to Farrell my sophomore year - they had Willie Somerset and Brian Generalovich and my junior year we fell to Mt. Lebanon. We were supposed to win it all and it did not happen."

Yates and 6-foot-4 junior Ron Sepic were a potent one-two punch for the Red Raiders in 1962.

"Without both of us we never would have made it," Yates offered. "It was a combination of both. If I wasn't present I don't think we would have won and if Sepic wasn't present I don't think we would have won. But we won as a team and Sepic was a great rebounder and he started our fast break for us and he played great defense.

Yates felt that his high school coach Abe Everhart was a great coach.

"Abe would let us play according to our abilities," Yates observed. "He would not have anyone do anything they were not capable of doing. He had a great record, but he was a great coach. He took every player and this is from my sophomore year and ever since I'd known Abe from my eighth grade on up - he would put players in positions that they were good at and he asked no one to do more than they could do."

As with other players from his era - Yates believes the playground system in Uniontown bred success.

"I can't even conceive of Uniontown without the playgrounds," Yates explained. "I can't conceive the town without several playgrounds. The playground system we had was fantastic - that was Mr. Albright and we played in our various playgrounds - we played against each other and when school started we all came together as a unit. It was a great system."

Yates was known for basketball, but also participated in track.

Memories of the 1962 championship season are still very vivid for Yates.

"That season was funny," he recalled. "My junior season we had just lost one game and we got to the Pitt Field House and we lost to Mt. Lebanon. My senior year all my players from my junior year were gone except Sepic. My senior year I made a prediction and I don't know why I made the prediction, but in my yearbook I made the statement that 'we'll bring you the state championship' - I'm saying that with three juniors that I had never played with and the outcome was - we won it.

"That was the greatest season of my high school years. We played an exhibition game at Bethlehem and we lost. We came back and we lost our first section game to Monessen. We didn't lose anymore - we beat Monessen at the end of the season and ended in a tie for the section. We go to the Field House and we beat Monessen and then we beat every other team after that by 15 points or more."

The Raiders faced Norristown in the championship game at Harrisburg.

"The championship game was fantastic," Yates gushed. "It was fascinating because that was the first time we had faced a player that tall - Norristown's Jim Williams was 6-foot-7. When the whistle blew we put that press on him and his teammates - it was a great game. What I remember most is how us winning made the city so happy. We hadn't won since 1925 and the town loved it - that is what stands out the most."

Uniontown defeated Norristown 70-57 with Yates pacing the Raiders with 22 points. Uniontown ended their miracle run with a 29-2 record.

When he graduated from high school Yates was the subject of some intense recruiting from colleges all over the country. He ended up following former Red Raiders Sandy Stephens and Bill Munsey to the University of Minnesota.

"That was the pipeline," Yates stated. "The three recruits that Minnesota signed that year were Archie Clark, Lou Hudson and myself. We were the first three African American's to receive basketball scholarships at Minnesota."

Minnesota was building a pretty strong team and the trio of Clark, Hudson and Yates helped the Gophers to a third place Big Ten finish in 1963-64 and a second place finish in 1964-65.

"I think we were ranked number two in the country for awhile my junior season," Yates recalled. "I had several complications with my grades and I was young and stupid and I didn't get my honor points during the summer and I couldn't play my senior year. I was so immature with respect to what I really wanted to do and being away from home I didn't have a mentor to guide me through - I truly, truly regret it."

The NBA St. Louis Hawks drafted Yates.

"I want to tell you how stupid I was," Yates lamented. "I went up to the last cut and coach Richie Guerin said you aren't going to make it here but I'm going to send you to Chicago and I said Mr. Guerin if I can't make it here I don't want to play at all - see how dumb and stupid I was. I came back to Minnesota and my coach John Kundla gave me an opportunity to go to Europe and play with the Gulf All-Stars. I was in Europe for two years."

Yates played some basketball in Minnesota and then tried out with the ABA Pittsburgh Condors and didn't make the squad.

Yates got into youth programs and worked in several programs in Minnesota and then became a correctional officer in Maryland for 29 years until he retired in 2002.

Yates, 67, and his wife Kathleen reside in Crofton, MD. He has three daughters and five grandchildren.


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