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02/15/03 More than 14,000 fill arena for hoops fever

By Scott Pitoniak
Democrat and Chronicle

(March 2, 2003) — Carm Pascarella attended his first Section V basketball championship game at the Big House 30 years ago. The retired high school history teacher and coach hasn’t missed one since.

"I’m hooked," said Pascarella, who made the 40-mile trek from the Wayne County town of Rose with his wife, Margaret, and friend David Hall, one of his former students and players.

"You can have the NBA. I’ll take the high schools any day."

He was not alone in his sentiments Saturday, as he and thousands of others got caught up in the hoopla at the Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial.

Five dollars got you seven games.

Talk about a big bang for your buck.

Normally five sectional title games are played in a single day at the Big House. But arena scheduling conflicts that saw the Knight-hawks play lacrosse Friday night and professional wrestling take center stage today forced Section V to shoehorn seven games in this year.

"We could have moved some games to another venue," said tournament chairman Jack Purificato. "But it just wouldn’t have been the same."

No, it would not have.

"There’s something special about having everybody come to the same place," said Matt Elvin, whose 10 steals helped Marion defeat Campbell-Savona for the Class CC title in the day’s second game.

"The Big House is our goal from the first day of practice."

It’s also the destination of folks like Lou Sementilli.

He sparked Manchester to the Section V championship in 1944 -- back in the days when the University of Rochester’s venerable Palestra was the Big House of the tournament.

"We weren’t anywhere near as good as these kids are," marveled Sementilli, 75. "These kids are bigger, stronger, faster and better shooters than we were. I just love watching them play, especially this time of the year."

Big crowd, big house

How hot a ticket is McQuaid? Early in the first period of the Knights’ game vs. Marshall, officials stopped selling tickets because the building was nearly full, causing a slight problem for late-arriving fans for the night’s finale between Fairport and East. Arena general manager Jeff Calkins estimated that there were about 9,000 in the Big House at the time. At least 500 fans were stuck in the lobby awaiting the day’s last game.

"The people there were great," Calkins said.

"We had the McQuaid game on the television monitors and people were riveted like it was the seventh game of the World Series."

The ‘lobbyists’ were able to watch the Red Raiders-Orientals game because an estimated 2,500 fans left after McQuaid won the Class A title.

A record total of 14,324 fans attended the seven games.

The appeal of the Knights, who are unbeaten and ranked second nationally, could be felt twice more this week.

There may be sellouts at the arena for McQuaid’s Wednesday cross-over game as well as next Saturday’s state quarterfinals should McQuaid advance.

Who’s crazy now?

When Solomon Donaldson told his friends he was going to attend School of the Arts, they couldn’t believe their ears.

"Everybody said I was crazy," Donaldson recalled, "They said that SOTA stunk. They said I should go to East or Franklin, some school with basketball tradition. But I thought it would be cool to go some place where I could help build a program."

Donaldson had the last laugh Saturday after helping the Silverhawks to a sectional title in just the program’s seventh year of existence. And what made it even sweeter was that the championship came under the guidance of coach Gerard Iglesia, who is in line for a kidney transplant.

Mentor on his mind

On his drive to school Saturday morning, Le Roy’s John King thought a lot about the late Tom Downey, who had coached him at Livonia in the early 1990s.

"I had seen him not long before he died (two weeks ago), and I remember him telling me: ‘Go all the way, John, go all the way,’ " said King, shortly after the Oatkan Knights defeated Wellsville 48-44 to win their first sectional hoops title.

"I think he would have been proud of the way our kids didn’t give up when they fell behind in the first half. Coach Downey instilled that kind of fight in his players. I think our guys showed they didn’t have any quit in them today. Coach would have liked that."

Nickname mania

Lyons players went with nicknames on the backs of their warmups. Among the monikers: Lites Out; Tuna; Monstrosity; Da Kid; Papa Smurf and Franchise.

Proud grampa

Jim Fulmer lives in Wellsville and is a big supporter of the hometown high school basketball team. But Saturday, he had to pull against his alma mater. See, his grandson, Brendan Fulmer, plays for Le Roy -- the Lions’ opponent in the Class CCC final -- and family always trumps school.

The elder Fulmer left the building happy as Brendan scored 23 points and hauled in 17 rebounds to lead the football powerhouse to its first sectional hoops title.

"He was talking me up a lot down there, so I guess this will make it easier for him to return to Wellsville," Brendan joked. "If we had lost and I had stunk up the place, he would have taken a lot of heat."

A real trooper

Mike Paz sat courtside in a wheelchair, an exterior fixator and eight screws holding together his broken right leg. He suffered the injury after falling on some ice Dec. 9.

But the tournament’s long-time public address announcer refused to go on the injured reserve list.

"No way was I going to miss this," said Paz, a veteran disc jockey with WDKX and also one of the voices of the Daytona 500. "Once my ortho gave me clearance, I was headed to the Big House."

You can go home again.

As a player, Darrell Barley helped East to a sectional title in 1992, and Saturday he experienced that championship feeling again -- this time as a coach at his alma mater.

"It’s just pure jubilation," Barley said after East beat Fairport, 60-58, in overtime in a compelling ending to nearly 13 hours worth of basketball.

"We lost two players to prep school last year and we had to play a lot of freshmen. We took our lumps, going 9-12. This year we had some injuries. But the experience we gained last season paid off this year.

"I’ll remember this season and these kids forever because you never know if you’ll be in this position again."

E-mail address: spitoniak@DemocratandChronicle.com