Photos by Mike Longo Jr.
‘On this special night, a special man – ‘Big Al' – is looking down, wearing a big smile’
By Mike Longo Jr.
It's been said as well as written, "A tie is like kissing your sister." Tell that to the OLSH boys basketball team, that age-old adage will be disputed, for, in this instance, a tie suits them well.
The Chargers are on a magical, historical run on the hardwood. On a blustery, snowy winter evening with a packed house on their home campus, a long-standing WPIAL record was tied Jan 24.
Led by Senior superman Jake DiMichele, with his game-high 31 points, OLSH defeated the Antelopes from Avonworth 84-47. That win marked 52 straight games without a loss, tying the record achieved by Uniontown (1963-65) and Washington (1983-85).
DiMichele was not alone, as teammates Dawson Summers and Rocco Spadafora rounded out the usual total team effort. Summers, a senior forward, regarded by many as one of the best big men in the area, netted 19 points while grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking 10 shots. In the third quarter, Summers brought the crowd to its feet once again with a thunderous dunk. Junior Guard Spadafora had three consecutive steals, which he parlayed into three easy layups in transition.
By reaching such a milestone, one would have figured the team celebration after the win would have been one to remember and last a lifetime. Not so, the traditional post-game handshake occurred without fanfare, as the Chargers retreated to their locker room.
Fast-forward four days later to South Side Area High School in Beaver County. History is made Jan. 28 as the Chargers defeat the Rams by a final score of 82-46. The win, the 53rd consecutive by OLSH is a new WPIAL record for the longest boys basketball team winning streak. The OLSH Chargers own that record all by itself.
Led once again by superhero DiMichele with 35 points that included nine three-pointers, the Chargers relied on tough defense and their ability to run the floor and nail three-point shots all evening. Pretty much business as usual for a team poised and precise, brimming with all-around ability and talent.
During the 53-game streak, the Chargers won all but four with double-digit margins. They won 27 games (just over half) by 30 points or more, leaving an average margin of 30.5 points.
Even though this game was of historical proportion there was no wild celebration. Another as-usual post-game handshake with a few hugs and high fives then the usual dignified exit from the court.
Mourning a giant
History was made but it has been a difficult several weeks, as the Catholic school deals with the aftermath of a Dec. 20 car accident near the entrance to the Moon Township school’s campus. Team member Al Magnelli Jr. was riding with his father when their car collided with another vehicle carrying two females. He has yet to rejoin the team and unfortunately, his father and staunch support of OLSH athletics, Al Magnelli Sr., 57, succumbed to his injuries, passing away on Jan. 13 while hospitalized. Affectionately known by all as “Big Al," the loss of Magnelli Sr. has been felt throughout the western suburbs and heavily in the Sto-Rox area where the alumni made his home in the Norwood neighborhood of Stowe Township.
The team played through these record-breaking games with a purpose, taking to heart the team motto of “one game at a time” and sporting “We Believe for Big Al” t-shirts.
DiMichele calls Magnelli Jr. his "best friend," whose dad would be at every game, front row. Teammates recalled that as this current season approached, Magnelli Sr. said, “We are going to get that streak.”
Following that devastating car accident and the run up to the record, Chargers Coach Mike Rodriguez told his team, "Forget about what you're playing for. Think about who you're playing for."
On this special night, a special man – “Big Al” – is looking down, wearing a big smile.
Looking ahead, the state record for consecutive wins is 68 set by West Philadelphia of the Philadelphia Public League. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Chargers can achieve a new state record. With seven regular-season games remaining followed up by running the deck of nine games in the WPIAL and state playoffs would tally 16 more wins this season. A total number of 69 is needed to beat the old West Philly record by one game.