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Casper recalls 27 years as St. Mary’s basketball coach

Sheila Walsh, the president of the defunct St. Mary’s Assumption school athletic association, used to kid the school’s boys basketball coach Mark Casper about his pay. “She told me she doubled my pay every year,” Casper said with a chuckle. “Double of nothing is nothing.”

Casper coached the team for the now closed school as a volunteer for 27 years and 719 games. His record was 485-234.

His SMA teams won 11 regular season Wyoming Valley Boys Catholic 8th Grade League championships. They were runners-up three times and Diocesan runners-up twice, losing to St. Paul’s, Scranton both times.

Casper coached over 400 kids and against the likes of Bob Sura and Gerry McNamara.

To mention just a few of the notable players Casper coached over the years start with Dr. Keith Pritchyk who was honorable mention all-state at Seton Catholic where he scored score 50 plus points in back to back games at Seton which got him featured on ESPN.

Aaron Norakus is another. He scored 1400 points at SMA, went on to be a WVC Division 3 MVP at Wyoming Seminary. He played at Bloomsburg University.

Albert Melone III, was another Division 3 MVP at Wyoming Seminary. Dr. Steve Murray won a championship at SMA and played for Scranton Prep and Philadelphia College of Pharmacy.

Steve Barnic was a football quarterback at Pittston Area and King’s. Billy Noone, was a baseball draft pick from King’s.

Jimmy Dessoye played at Seton and Misericordia. Atty. Billy Burke played at Seton and the University of Scranton. Both won multiple championships at Seton.

Others include Brendan Carroll, Mike McGarry, Ian Gilmartin and John Staub who is the head soccer coach Del Val high school.

Casper said when the season approaches he’s not sure what it will be like without a basketball team to coach. “I’m looking to stay involved in the game at some level,” he said.

One way he’ll stay involved is to keep his annual summer camp going by moving it from St. Mary’s to Wyoming Area Catholic. “Wyoming Area Catholic A.D., Mike Prociak, asked me to continue doing my camp at their site so Mark Casper’s HOOPS4ME CAMP will continue,” he said.

The camp is August 15 to August 19 at the Wyoming Area Catholic gym. Call 760-6396 or e-mail hoops4me2@comcast.net for details or an application.

Another way Casper will stay involved will be as Wyoming Valley Boys Catholic 8th Grade League president for the fifth year. Casper said that the closing of Catholic schools in the diocese has caused rumors to surface that the league would fold.

It won’t. Though down to just five schools -- Holy Rosary, Wyoming Area Catholic, St. Jude’s Mountaintop, Good Shepherd and St. Nick’s/St. Mary’s Wilkes-Barre -- the league will operate next season.

Casper said Good Sheppard, and maybe one other school, could enter two teams. Good Sheppard is hosued in the former Bishop O’Reilly high school in Kingston.

In it’s heyday the league had seven teams in the Greater Pittston area alone in St. John the Baptist, St. Mary’s Avoca, St. Mary’s Old Forge, St. Mary’s Assumption, Wyoming Area Catholic, Mt. Carmel and St. Rocco’s.

Casper said everyone involved with St. Mary’s and the basketball programs, boys and girls, over the years deserve praise.

“I want to thank all of the parents for allowing me the privilege of coaching their children. I want to thank the teachers for their help and dedication to our student athletes. I also want to thank the past presidents and athletic directors for all of their cooperation. We always looked good and had the best equipment.

“Finally, to every player that ever wore an SMA uniform, did a side drill, ran 17’s, or ran the dreaded ‘steps’, thanks for giving it your all and thanks for doing it the right way. It was my pleasure to have coached you and to have been a small part of your life.”

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