What Simon said, they did

June 27th, 2015 1:22 am

First Posted: 1/6/2013

Even though it's been almost 60 years since Jim Francioso was named the starting point guard for the Hughestown High school basketball team, he still thinks about the coach who trusted him enough to give him the position.

That's why when he saw a story in the Dispatch on Dec. 23 about Wyoming Area school district paying tribute Simon Si Bernosky, Francioso dug out his scrapbook of the '53-'54 Hughestown High School season when the team won the East Anthracite League and District 2 Class C championships under Bernosky.

Though Bernosky, who died in 2000, carved out a Pennsylvania Hall of Fame Career at Montrose High where his teams were 342-43, won 88 consecutive Susquehanna League games, 55 consecutive overall games and went to four state title games winning one, the winning started here in tiny Hughestown in the 1953-'54 season in the East Anthracite League.

The league teams were Hughestown, Jenkins and Pittston Townships, Moosic, Avoca, Dupont and Duryea. Hughestown was 10-2 in the league that season, with both losses to Duryea in what was eventual Boston Celtic Gene Guarilia's senior year.

Duryea was the only class B team in the league, the other six were class C, and so while Duryea won the overall league title at 12-0, Hughestown was the class C champ having beaten the other class C teams twice.

Though Hughestown had won the EA class C title the year before, they accomplished much more in the 1953-54 season. After the season they won the B division championship of the annual Greater Pittston Junior Chamber of Commerce, or JayCee, Tournament. Then they beat Fairview and Harter high schools at Wyoming High in the District 2 Class C tournament.

After a bye week in the state tournament, the season came to an end for Bernosky's Bucket Bombers when they lost to Newton-Ransom in a state playoff game.

Fittingly Hughestown won the first round District 2 game over Fairview 57-55 on two free throws by George Litz in the final seconds.

That was fitting because getting to the free throw line was one of Bernosky's emphasized coaching points.

With speedy little guards, Francioso and Jimmy Barrett, Bernosky like to run the floor on offense and take the ball to the hoop leading to free throw opportunities. The statistics are startling. In all but two of their 10 league wins Hughestown was outscored from the floor. In all the games they shot up to four times as many free throws as their opponents.

In the District championship game, Hughestown shot 18-of-26 free throws, while Harter made 5-of-17. In a league game, Jenkins outscored Hughestown from the field while Hughestown made 25 of 40 free throws and Jenkins made 7.

That game was more typical than unusual.

And according to Francioso, it was by plan. The team worked on pushing the ball and free throw shooting.

Francioso said Bernosky was a disciplinarian. He was strict. We didn't fool around. We always had to be on time. And he watched our grades. I think only one guy smoked and when he got caught, we all paid the price.

The price was running, which they did regularly, smoking or not, on the track above the Pittston YMCA gym, which was the team's home court.

The high school didn't have a gym. The Y accommodated scheduling Hughestown's home games, but not regular practice time.

When the team couldn't get the Y for practice, they'd practice wherever Bernosky could arrange it.

Bernosky would pile eight players in his '48 Chevy and drive them to practice at the a community center on Suscon Road, Wyoming high school, Scranton and, at least once, all they way to St. Michael's in Hoban Heights.

At practice in addition to free throw shooting, Bernosky emphasized defense. Hands up, Francioso said. Get a hand in their face. Watch the belly button.

Francioso said Bernosky wasn't rigid. We'd try different things, he said. Zone, man-to-man, double-team, but we were always prepared.

Bernosky, 5-8, was a Hughestown native.

He set a single-game school scoring record of 33 points in 1943 shooting mostly 20-foot two-handed set shots. In that 1953-54 season he saw his player John Andrews, 6-3, break the record with 36 points.

That was okay with Bernosky, though typically he preferred balanced scoring. A good player was a good player, but he didn't encourage stars.

Bernosky was also the Hughestown baseball coach. Francioso was a pitcher and once when he pitched poorly and got knocked out of the game, Bernosky made him run laps around the field – during the game.

While coaching baseball and basketball, Bernosky also played both sports in high-caliber adult leagues.

That 1953-'54 basketball season was Bernosky's last at Hughestown. After that school year he moved on to Montrose.

Francioso said his high school class tried the arrange a reunion and have Bernosky back, but with only 22 class members and many of them out of town it was tough to pull off.

Francioso never saw or talked to Bernosky again after the last day of school in 1954.

Francioso, 76, is a retired PennDOT Pavement Marker Manager.

He played baseball and basketball as an adult with the Red Devils and he still bowls. He and his wife, Louise Musto, who died in 2007, have one daughter, Terese Ginocchetti, and one granddaughter, Lauren, a high school soccer and track athlete in Upstate New York.

Bernosky would pile eight players in his '48 Chevy and drive them to practice at the a community center on Suscon Road, Wyoming high school, Scranton and, at least once, all they way to St. Michael's in Hoban Heights.