Marisa was born in Fredericktown and attended East Bethlehem High School (now Beth Center). He played basketball and football on some rather pedestrian teams.
“We weren’t very competitive and I wasn’t very good either,” Marisa opined. “It was a small school with 58 seniors and frankly the conference wasn’t very good in those days. Basketball got more refined as we went along, but anyway we weren’t very good and I wasn’t very good.”
Marisa was determined to go to college when he graduated in 1952 and worked hard to improve his game.
“I identify with the movie “Rudy”, Marisa stated. “I told you I didn’t have a lot of talent, but I had a dream and all summer after my senior year I practiced on a post with a hoop on it near my house. I was out in a field with the substance the state highway department used to put on the road for the snow. We got that in wheel barrels and would pat it down and make a surface. My high school coach couldn’t see me going beyond where I was and I kept that dream of going to college all summer.
“I contacted a Fredericktown person Martin Costa who was out of the service. I told him I wanted to go to Penn State like he did and I asked him for help. He said tell me anything you can about yourself including some meager clipping from Bob Petriello of the Brownsville Telegraph.
“Whatever we had to offer Costa presented it to the Penn State coaches. I went up for a visit at the end of the summer, and they gave me a chance. There were 150 players because there were walk-ons galore in those days. I survived 150 guys and a lot fell by the wayside. I stuck around.
“Freshman weren’t allowed to play varsity back then and I played freshman ball. I started to catch on, and I caught the attention of the coaches and that is why I identify with Rudy in the movie. I jogged the golf courses where they played and the roads where they drove and that got back to the head coach.”
Marisa was a part of some outstanding Nittany Lion teams playing for Elmer Gross for two seasons and then John Egli for two years. As a sophomore in 1953-54, Marisa was part of a team that went 18-6 and went to the NCAA Final Four losing to LaSalle and beating USC in the consolation game.
He averaged 7.1 ppg off the bench in 1954-55 when Penn State posted a record of 18-10 and made another appearance in the NCAA tournament. In his senior campaign in 1955-56, Marisa was a starter on a team that finished 12-14 and averaged 13.6 ppg.
“Jesse Arnelle was our ace,” Marisa reported. “He was an All America and he was ahead of his time. He was 6-5 and all muscle, but he was unique at that time and had a great hook shot and could jump. He led the way and we had some tough guys on the team, two or three were tight ends on the football team and one was a quarterback.”
Looking back Marisa was pleased with his career at Penn State.
“The trainer Chuck Medlar was like a father to all the players,” Marisa offered. “He described me to an employer as the least talented athlete to come to Penn State that made good. I think I have a right to make reference to the film “Rudy”.
When Marisa graduated from Penn State in 1956 he started a teaching career. He was hired at Dunbar Township in 1956, but left after two months for a two-year stint in the Army. When he returned to Dunbar he became the head basketball coach.
“I coached at Dunbar for two seasons,” Marisa said. “We had the first winning season at Dunbar in 11 years.”
The Uniontown playgrounds played a big part in Marisa’s education about what it would take to build a winning basketball program.
“I watched guys who are now legends, I would watch them and I would play with them,” Marisa explained. “I had box scores from the summer league games and I had a dual capacity, I participated and helped run the summer league. Bus Albright ran a great playground system, one of the best in the state and perhaps one of the best in the country. I got a lot out of the playground experience.”
Marisa moved on to take the head basketball job at Albert Gallatin in 1960-61.
“I simply applied for the job,” Marisa remembered. “There were a lot of folks who were disappointed and disgruntled they didn’t keep the Point Marion coach at the time. I used my Penn State background and whatever else I could in the interview to get the job.”
Marisa remained at Albert Gallatin through 1966. His Colonials won two WP1AL sectional championships in the Class A ranks-the first in 1961 and the second in 1964.
Two of his Albert Gallatin players, Buddy Quertinmont and Leon Mickens, earned all-state honors. They were among 11 of his athletes who went on to play college basketball.
“I inherited an ace in Buddy Quertinmont,” Marisa recalled. “We had Bobby Hlodan and Scott O’Neill, those three players were outstanding. Couple of years later I had Leon Mickens, who led the county in scoring and went on to Penn State.”
Marisa left Albert Gallatin to take a job as director of the Neighborhood Youth Corps for Fayette County. He remained in that position for two-years and served one year as an assistant coach at Trinity High School before becoming the head basketball coach at Waynesburg College in 1969.
In 1963 Marisa started the Tri-State Sports Camp (basketball) at Waynesburg College and later the Mountain State Achievement Camp (basketball and football) at Morgantown, WV.
“I got the Waynesburg job because the athletic director knew me from the camp at Waynesburg,” Marisa said. “We had great coaches teaching at the camp, Bob Knight and great high school coaches like Abe Everhart, Lash Nesser and Horse Taylor.
I learned a lot from watching those coaches at camp. I ran the Tri-State camp for 45-years and gave it up two years ago. The camp really led to me getting the job at Waynesburg.”
Marisa roamed the sidelines for 34-years at Waynesburg. He led the Yellow Jackets to the NAIA playoffs seven times in the 1980’s and forged a career record of 565-300.
During the 1980s, Marisa led Waynesburg on an unprecedented run of success. The Yellow Jackets won 90 percent of their games in the ‘80s, and won seven NAIA District 18 championships, including a record six in a row.
They made seven trips to the NAIA National Championship Tournament, the first in 1981. In 1988, they advanced to the national semifinals behind former Pittsburgh City League standouts Darrin Walls and Harold Hamlin.
He had tremendous success recruiting the City League and other local talent, In addition to Hamlin and Walls, he has had former City League standouts such as Tim Walker and Tim Tyler with him in
He also has had success elsewhere in western Pennsylvania, luring the likes of Butler’s Paul Stanley, Immaculate Conception’s Ray Natili, South Park’s Mike Taylor, Uniontown’s Paul Epps and Laurel Highland’s Kevin Bealko, Rick Trainor and Rod Wheeler and many others.
“After 34 years it is difficult, if not impossible, to summarize my career, but I will say that it was exciting and extremely rewarding,” Marisa said. “We had good young men here, committed young men. You had to have a good attitude as a player, or you would not survive my program.”
Marisa is still a fixture at Waynesburg in his capacity as Athletic Director. The field house at Waynesburg is named after him, appropriate for a man who was named Coach of the Year on 16 different occasions and was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.
Marisa resides in Waynesburg with his wife Jackie. They have four sons Kurt, Kent, Kameron and Kerry and a daughter Autumn.
The family endured a too-close involvement in the tragedies of September 11, 2001. Oldest son Kurt was working in the Pentagon and second son Kent was in the World Trade Center.
Both survived the attacks, leaving the family to feel as if it were blessed. The family survived that close call and daughter Autumn was crowned Miss Pennsylvania in 2002.
Marisa feels blessed for the family he has and the great career he has enjoyed.
“The naming of the Field House is special,” Marisa explained. “I take the grandkids up and take a photo and that’s a legacy that I leave behind. I can’t think of a thing that I would change or could have changed.
“I’m satisfied with the things that have happened to me and very pleased, I have no complaints.”