By Antonio Rosetti
The Sto-Rox Vikings were a force to be reckoned with in softball. The Vikings took the WPIAL title 10 times, which is the most titles in WPIAL softball history.
Dynasties in sports are hard to come by and winning five straight championships is even more rare. Nevertheless, the Vikings did just that, winning five titles in a row from 2000 to 2004. Their 10 WPIAL titles happened in 21 years, which was from 1985-2006.
The team’s historic feat was winning the PIAA state title in 1989. En route to their championship, Bonnie Gasior tossed a no-hitter, making them the first and only team to pitch a no-hitter in a state title game.
Seven years after the WPIAL title in 2006, the softball program was cut. Coach Bill Palermo, who was the coach from 1985 until the program disbanded and is also an inductee into the WPIAL Sports Hall of Fame, said that the effects of the abrupt end of softball were devastating as many players from the community were passionate about softball. This led to students choosing to go to other schools to play softball.
“Our kids had the highest grades out of any sport,” Palermo said. “Our kids got more scholarships than any other sport. Softball itself was great. It was the number one sport, so why would you get rid of that sport and what they were saying was that we don't have the money.”
Softball was a tradition for the community and the program because of little league softball and community outreach. This wasn’t started by only Bill Palermo but many other people from the community.
In 2013, a pastime in Sto-Rox was no more. This is something that Coach Palermo still can’t fathom with the amount of success the team earned.
Nonetheless, next year the high school softball team is returning after 11 years. Josh Kemp, Sto-Rox’s athletic director recognizes the impact softball had on the community and he is excited to bring it back.
“They left a legacy here, they had multiple championships here,” Kemp said. “Coach Palermo did a good job with the softball team in the past and I know it's an important tradition here. It’s important for our community, and in our school. That's something that was always on the bucket list. I wanted to make sure we got interest from our girls and just put the proper pieces to the puzzle in place before we move forward.”
Kemp added that he wants the women of Sto-Rox to have the same opportunities as the men’s teams. After the recent success of the flag football team, Kemp said he also wants to see softball thrive.
Palermo is experienced in coaching softball and he knows the effects softball has on a community. He also played football and baseball for Sto-Rox. Palermo said that not just softball, but sport itself means so much for the community.
“First of all, it means a ton to education,” Palermo said. “It gets the kids interested in school, it helps the kids with not being late to school, it gets the kids to make sure their grades are where they should be. Sports has so much to do with the kids' help, that it means a ton. And when it's successful, success breeds success and therefore, it could go out into the community, which it did.”
Palermo doesn’t shy away when it comes to giving tips about how to run a program. As a hall-of-fame coach, he feels inclined to. Palermo talked about how he ran his program and how the administration at Sto-Rox should approach the rebuild.
“What they should have done is get somebody to run a program after school every day, teaching the fundamentals, but making it fun,” Palermo said. “If you don't know how to make it fun, you're not going to be successful. It's not knowing how to show somebody how to catch or somebody how to pitch, it's knowing how to make it fun for them to like it and then give 100%.”
Palermo added that the coaches and administration need to be active in the community. Palermo added that the players, parents, coaches and his mentors were the reason he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in January and celebrated along with 14 other inductees during a June 2 banquet.
“I got in this hall of fame because all of those people that got involved with me that helped start that little league program we started in ‘85. Four years later, we won the state championship in 1989…they did a lot of that ‘89 team. The people in the community, they were the ones that helped.I had good assistant coaches, so it wasn't just me at all.”
The community effort is something that he wants to see. The 1989 state championship team was previously inducted into the WPIAL Hall of Fame.
“It was probably one of the biggest moments in sports because not only was it sports, but it was girls' sports and everything was always around boy sports,” Palermo said. “Then the girls started getting respect. You go to a game, ‘Oh, you play for Sto-Rox softball. They won the state championship.’ And here's the thing, that 1989 team, they won. They got into the WPIAL Hall of Fame.”
Kemp didn’t attend Sto-Rox, but he also knows of the impact Sto-Rox softball had.
“Five years ago, I came into the gym, and I was looking at their softball championships, and I'm like, ‘Geez, this is, this is crazy,’” Kemp said. “I cannot believe this, this is awesome. Having multiple championships. It just shows you with hard work, determination, good coaches, a good community, tradition, and pride, when you gel all those things together, you can make it happen.”
Kemp added that Palermo deserves his spot in the Hall of Fame and that he enjoys seeing the alumni receive recognition.
“He left his mark on Sto-Rox and it’s still here,” Kemp said. “He deserves that just as anybody else deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and it's just great to see an alumni coach getting that recognition that he deserves. He poured into the program and it's only right that he gets to reap the benefits of winning a championship and having his banner in the gym and being recognized in the Hall of Fame, so kudos to him.”
Palermo said that Ken Hohman, Rich Misselwitz, Marty and Linda Jacobs and his mentors, Dick Cetrone, Milt Tatala, and Steve Wargo were a big part in the success of the softball program.
“I want to thank all the people that I want to share this with, because this award doesn't belong to Bill Palermo, it belongs to the community,” Palermo said. “It belongs to the mentors that I had in that school district. It belongs to my system coaches who were teachers at the school as well.”
Kemp’s first step on getting the softball program back on the map is implementing feeder programs and softball clinics to help get people excited.
“It's going to be a process, but the process is going to be good,” Kemp said. “The girls are excited and I believe once we did the hardest part, which was getting it started, I believe that we'll start getting more people to come out year after year and eventually we'll build off that.”
Kemp is also a firm believer in branching out to the community and making sure that everyone at the school and community is involved.
“Once they're actually involved, that's when we're starting to have fun and it's all about building that team camaraderie with each other,” Kemp said. “That's how you win by building relationships with your teammates, your coaches, the staff, I believe that's how you win.”
The alumni are also a focus for Kemp.
“I think the more students that are involved, the more the parents are going to come out and be supportive, the more that alumni are going to be involved,” Kemp said. “That's also very important to me. One of my goals is that I want alumni involved with everything in our sports. We have a solid foundation of alumni. I spoke to some of them and everybody's excited, and they're excited to help out.”
Palermo said that Gasior, the pitcher who threw a no-hitter from the state championship team, came back to the school to speak on multiple occasions. The help that the alumni had then, can still have an impact now.
Most importantly, Kemp, akin to Palermo, has one ultimate goal.
“First and foremost, I want to make sure that our girls are having fun, being involved in a sport,” Kemp said. “It has a lot to do with your grades, so to help them bring their grades up and focus on what it takes to work hard and just giving them a reminder that we take pride here at Sto-Rox, being that they won multiple championships,” Kemp added.
“It's going to take a process to get there, but you gotta crawl before you walk,” Kemp said. “I believe over time, we're going to build that program back up where it needs to be.”