Meadville Tribune

November 23, 2012

LOCAL BASKETBALL: Past players all in for tonight’s alumni games

By Matthew Digiacomo
MEADVILLE TRIBUNE

November 23, 2012 7:00 a.m. MEADVILLE — Jerry Ambooken played his last game for the Meadville Bulldogs basketball team in 1994. Now, 18 years later, the effort of one of the best point guards in team history will put him right back on the court he helped prove was truly the “House of Thrills.”

Ambooken began a quest earlier this year to piece together an alumni game to help the MASH boys basketball boosters. Those efforts have resulted in a stellar turnout that has turned one game into a two-game event on Friday.

“We had a great turnout,” said Ambooken. “We got 36 former players to commit and, because of that, we are actually going to play two games.”

The evening starts with “Meet the Bulldogs” at 6 p.m., as current MASH head coach Norm Price, the winningest coach in program history, introduces the 2012-13 team to those in attendance. The first alumni game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m., with the second contest to follow. Each game will be played in two 15-minute halves. Price, who coached most of the alumni playing in the game, will also coach one of the four teams.

“The turnout ended up being so good we also decided to move everything up an hour,” said Ambooken. “With two games, we did not want to have everything run too late.”

The biggest selling point will obviously be the return of many former Meadville stars.

Among those coming back are players from the 1986-87 squad that lost to  Carlisle in the 1987 state championship game. In fact, the only member of the top six not able to make it back is Michael Burnett.

However, Donald Burnett, Mike Pero, Tommy Wofford, Joey Gray and Todd Waid will appear on the court together for the first time since that state championship game. And while Michael Burnett is unable to attend, 1986 graduate Paul Burnett will be dressed and ready to take his place on Team No. 2.

There are others returning who will be just as interesting to watch.

Casey Miller and Sean Miller will team up with their father, Bob “Square” Miller, a 1964 MASH graduate, on Team No. 1. It is unknown how much Square will play, but Ambooken said Square wants to run the court with his children at least one time.

Also back is a pack of Swicks — John, Pat and Ryan. Add in recent Allegheny graduate James Ness; recent MASH grad Josh Gregor; one of the best athletes in Bulldogs’ history in Matt Werle; and George Schroeder, the oldest alumni to attend the game and a Meadville sports institution, and the timeline of alumni spans 50 years.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” said Ambooken. “I can’t say I am surprised (by the turnout), but I am impressed. And we had some guys that wanted to play but couldn’t make it.”

And Ambooken will not just be there to watch how his hard work paid off. He will also be a participant. Watching the games when he is not on the court is just one more positive to the entire endeavor.

“I’m really happy that we have a good amount of people coming, and they are excited to do it,” said Ambooken. “It’s been a lot of fun, especially talking to people I have not talked to in a long time. And, also getting to talk to people I looked up to when I played.”

Ambooken does not plan to let the games end here, either.

While he has not decided on an exact format, he wants to keep the games going into the future. Whether it is every year or every two years, or another option not yet looked at, Ambooken hopes to make the game a tradition. And if this year’s turnout is any indication, it is already on its way to being a good one.

“I put everyone I heard from on my contact list,” said Ambooken. “So, when I decide when the next game is, hopefully everyone will have more time to plan around it. I really see this getting bigger as we go along.”