Henry DiVirgillio

Winning 457 games as a basketball coach is quite an accomplishment. Former The late Frazier High School basketball coach Henry DiVirgilio was proud of his coaching record, but he took even more pride in his resume as a teacher and educator.

Chuck Muncie  

DiVirgilio grew up during the Depression in the 1930’s and almost didn’t finish high school.

“I had quite an experience with my high school years,” he recalled in a 2008 interview. “I dropped out after my sophomore year, and that was during the depression and we had the CCC camps and the programs where you kind of tried to help the family out. So I dropped out and went to Arizona to the CCC camps. I went out there for a year and then an English teacher wrote me a beautiful letter and thought that I should complete my high school education. She convinced me to go back to high school.”

DiVirgilio graduated from Perry Township High School in 1941 and then entered World War II. He served in the Navy for four years.

“I came back and went to Waynesburg College,” DiVirgilio said. “I had the G.I. bill and it was a great benefit. I would never have been able to go to college if I had to pay my own way. My wife was very instrumental in getting me to go. We were married in 1947 after I was discharged in 1946 after serving in the Pacific for four years. She was the one who convinced me that I should go on to college.”

After graduating from Waynesburg in 1951 with a teaching degree, DiVirgilio began his professional career as a math and science teacher at Perry Township High School. He also began his coaching career.

“We had a coach who was very successful John Turcaso,” DiVirgilio offered. “He did real well and he had some pretty good ballplayers and I became his assistant. I had the junior high team and assisted with the varsity. At that time you did more than one thing. You wouldn’t believe this, but I coached baseball – I was the head baseball coach and assistant basketball coach and assistant football coach for $300 a year. That’s what the salaries were in those days. Coach Turcaso’s final year was 1952-53 and then I became head basketball coach.”

DiVirgilio held the head coaching position until he retired from coaching in 1984. He took one season off in 1978-79. He served as interim Superintendent of Schools until a replacement could be found. He was named Assistant High School Principal in 1959. In 1961, DiVirgilio was named the Junior High Principal, a position he held for eight years. In 1969 he was named the Junior/Senior High School Principal. He held that position until he retired in 1985.

“I was also pretty successful with the baseball team,” he said. “I enjoyed coaching baseball very much. I remember Bobby Locke from Redstone beat us in the playoffs one year. But I finally had to give something up after I moved into administration.”

DiVirgilio had some mentors who shaped his basketball coaching philosophy.

“The man who did a lot because I used to go to all of his coaching clinics was Ed McCluskey from Farrell,” DiVirgilio stated. “He was a real influence for me. He was great – I enjoyed him so much.”

DiVirgilio produced some memorable basketball teams at Frazier. One of his best was the 1969 squad that captured the WPIAL Class B title and was runner-up in the PIAA tournament.

“We had a lot of success here,” DiVirgilio explained. “The loss in the state championship game to Mansfield – the guy that killed us was big Tom McMillen. They went into a 1-3-1-zone defense and McMillen was in the middle and he blocked everything that we shot. I hadn’t had a chance to see them. In those days you didn’t have scouting tools that you have today. I didn’t realize that he was so good, but we hung in there for awhile with them.”

Frazier not only won its sectional title in 1969, Coach DiVirgilio and his Commodores went on from there to belt highly regarded Mapletown, 62-40, then won a comeback thriller from Penn, 52-51, and climaxed their climb into the title game by eliminating the WPIAL's only remaining undefeated team, tall and talented Knoch, 47-41. They then knocked off Center to win the WPIAL title.

“We beat Knoch and that was a great win and they were big,” DiVirgilio remembered. “We had a great bunch of kids and they really loved to play and they practiced hard. We had a good year in the section and we had some close calls in the playoffs – we were the Cinderella team.”

Frazier’s starting five in 1969 consisted of Chuck and Wes Ramsey, Jim Davis, Jerry Boyle and Rod King. The tallest starter was Davis at 5-11. Mansfield and the 6-10 McMillen stopped the Commodores in the state championship game 65-43.

Five years later Frazier had another great run falling to Midland in the WPIAL Class B final at the Civic Arena 70-60. The key factor in the outcome was Frazier’S losing 6-5 center Greg Smith with a sprained right ankle with 7:23 left in the first half.

“We probably would have won that game if Smith hadn’t hurt his ankle in the second quarter,” DiVirgilio lamented.

DiVirglio retired with 457 coaching victories, including one WPIAL Title, a PIAA runner-up and a WPIAL runner-up. He won 11 section titles.

When he retired in 1984 he had this to say about leaving the coaching ranks.

"I was reluctant to give it up but I was planning on retiring as principal at the end of the semester," he claimed. "That's before the basketball season ends. "I'll definitely miss it. I wouldn't have been in coaching that long if I didn't enjoy it."

DiVirglio passed away on September 3, 2013 at the age of 93. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth "Betsy" Pirlo DiVirgilio, and four daughters, Diane, Michele, Annette and Laurie.

Looking back on his career DiVirglio felt it was great ride.

“When kids say that I had a positive influence in their life that made me feel good,” DiVirgilio stated. “That was worth a lot of money to me. I wouldn’t change anything. I made the right choice.”


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