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Community Legacy

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While the Pittsburgh City League grabbed the high school basketball headlines from the ‘60’s through the mid-70’s, there were two WPIAL schools that could hoop with the best of them.

Those two teams were the Farrell Steelers and the Midland Leopards.

The Steelers won AAA state titles in 1952, 1954, 1956, 1959, 1960, 1969 and 1972 with the ’59 and ’60 teams widely considered two of the best area teams of all-time. Brian Generalovich and Willie Somerset led the Steelers to an incredible 31-1 record during that 1960 season.

Midland, on the other hand, won championships in 1965 and AA titles in 1971, 1973, 1974, and 1976.  The ’65 team is regarded by many as one of the best three teams ever assembled in the state of Pennsylvania. The Leopards were led by “Mr. Inside” Simmie Hill and “Mr. Outside” Norm Van Lier.

The schools were coached by two legends, Farrell’s Ed McCluskey and Midland’s Hank Kuzma.

Kuzma, who coached at Steubenville before arriving at Midland in 1960, was highly respected by his players.  

“I have never had a coach like him before,” said Hill, now 65. “And I played for Bill Sharman and K.C. Jones in the pros. He was a no nonsense type of guy and taught us never to embarrass another team.”

Kuzma’s crown jewel was the 1965 team that went 28-0, outscored their opponents by an average of 31.6 points per game and beat Steelton-Highspire for the state championship.

During his brief seven-year stay at Midland, Kuzma’s teams won five section titles, one WPIAL championship, and that state title.

The 6’7” Hill was as gifted a basketball player that ever took to the hardwood in western Pennsylvania. After graduating from Midland, he enrolled at Wichita State, moved onto Cameron Junior College, and spent his final two years at West Texas State. Drafted into the ABA, Hill spent four seasons with five different clubs, averaging nearly 10 points per game.

“Simmie was one of the two best players in the county in 1965,” said Kuzma. “Lew Alcindor was first and Simmie was second. When he drove the lane, people parted.”

Now 85, Kuzma says he always put Van Lier in the role of taking on the other team’s toughest player.

“Norm was as tenacious as any basketball player that I have ever seen or played with,” said Hill. “He was a leader.”

Upon graduation, Van Lier chose to attend St. Francis, PA, in nearby Loretto.

“Stormin’ Norman” went onto to enjoy an illustrious 10 year NBA career, mainly with the Chicago Bulls. The 6’1” Van Lier was an assist-maker and ball-handler, but most of all, a defensive monster. He passed away in February of 2009 at the age of 61.

Van Lier was quoted as saying upon his induction into the WPIAL Hall of Fame in 2008 that “Uniontown, Midland, Schenley and Ambridge could play with anybody, anytime and in any era in the country. It was the golden era of basketball not only for the state, but perhaps the country.”

Van Lier may not have mentioned Farrell at his induction ceremony, but that “golden era” certainly included McCluskey’s Steelers.

“He was very knowledgeable. He was way ahead of his time,” said Somerset of McCluskey, who won 590 games, 11 WPIAL titles, and seven state championships in his three decades at Farrell. “He would never let you know how good you really were.”

Following their high school careers, Brian Generalovich enrolled at Pitt, while Somerset matriculated to cross-town rival Duquesne.

At 5’ll”, “Wonderful Willie” Somerset scored more points in three seasons (1,725) at Duquesne than any other player in Dukes’ history. He also set a school record with 16 games of with 30 points or more. Those numbers earned him All-American honors in 1965 and he is one of five Duquesne players to have his number retired.

Somerset spent three seasons playing in the NBA and ABA.

At 6’4”, Generalovich, was a dominant forward/center at Farrell, named All-State in his senior season. In football, he earned All-State honors in his senior season as a two-way tackle and helped Farrell to an undefeated season in 1959. He played four seasons of basketball at Pitt and in his final year, played football as well. He was the Panthers’ MVP three times and twice was named to the NCAA All-East team, received honorable All-American honors and led the Panthers to a NCAA and NIT bid in his final two seasons.  

In 1964, he was a third round pick of the New York Knicks (18th overall).

“By today’s standards, I would have been a millionaire,” he laughed.

He went for the big money, though, and turned down the Knicks to attend dental school at Pitt.

To this day, “The General” still has his own dentistry business in Hermitage, a practice he began in 1971.

“The entire time you grew up in Farrell, basketball was the predominant sport in the entire city,” said the 70-year-old Generalovich. “We all grew up together and went to school together. We enjoyed each other as people and got along well.”

Midland’s Hill sees things in a similar way.

“We had fanatical fans and a great community. We were taught never to curse and had family values. I have never seen fans like we had at Midland before or since. It was a great place to grow up.”

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