Bill DiFabio's Sports Column
Faust a gentle giant among basketball coaches
Ron Faust won 520 games and two PIAA championships as the head boys basketball coach at Wash High.
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As a youth, Ron Faust was not an ordinary athlete. When he played baseball in the Washington Bronco League, he already was 6-feet tall.
Did he stop growing? Not really. As a player in high school and college, Faust was 6-4. Then, as a basketball coach, he became a giant in the WPIAL.
During his days as an athlete at Washington High School, Faust was a four-sport standout, excelling at football, basketball, baseball and track.
“He played basketball for me,” said Bob Wagner, the former athletic director at Wash High who retired in 1995 and was replaced by Faust.
After playing for Wagner for two seasons (1966-68), Faust played one year of basketball for John Unice, who later would be the head coach at Washington & Jefferson College.
Faust was a tight end for the Prexies’ football team under head coach Dave Johnston, and also was a good baseball player. He played, however, only one season of baseball at Wash High because the sport was dropped.
“The school didn’t have a field. We played at Colt Field (in Washington Park) for one season, then Trinity used the field for their home games,” Faust explained.
Faust’s baseball career would resume as catcher for California State College under long-time Vulcans head coach Mitch Bailey.
After his playing days, Faust became a legendary boys basketball coach at Wash High.
“I was lucky,” Wagner said. “In two years, I hired a couple of good coaches. In 1980, I hired Guy Montecalvo as the football coach. The next year, I hired Ronnie. Like I said, I was lucky.”
At Wash High, Faust built a powerhouse basketball program that for several years dominated at the WPIAL and PIAA levels. During a three-year stretch from the 1983-84 to 1985-86 seasons, Wash High won 81 of 83 games.
With Faust guiding the Prexies in 1984, Wash High won the WPIAL and PIAA Class AA championships. The Prexies beat Wilkinsburg in the WPIAL finals and edged Delone Catholic, 47-45, on a last-second steal and basket by Brian Davis.
In 1985, the Prexies were upset in the PIAA quarterfinals by Serra Catholic. Injuries played a key role in the team’s postseason exit. In 1986, Wash High added some valuable hardware by again winning WPIAL and PIAA championships.
Wash High rolled over Wilkes-Barre GAR in a state final, 68-50. GAR had a 6-8, 265-pound center Greg Skrepenak, who played football at the University of Michigan and in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders. The speed of Wash High got the best of GAR, which was considered the best in the state until the Faust-coached Prexies beat them.
It was the ’84 and ’85 teams that put Wash High back on the basketball map by winning 52 games in a row, a WPIAL record.
Faust’s teams, however, were not blessed with size. They made up for their lack of height with quickness and teamwork.
“That’s right,” said Wagner. “Ronnie started every practice with fast-break drills. His players ran like deer. I mean, they were quick and they learned that during a game speed and rebounding were the keys to success.”
Wagner was quick to provide an example.
“We were playing Canton McKinley in a Christmas tournament in the Wheeling Civic Center (now the WesBanco Arena). They were big. They were all over 6-feet tall. All of our players were under 6-feet. We whipped them,” Wagner smiled.
“I remember the head coach at St. Clairsville (Ohio), who was watching the game, came over after the contest and said he couldn’t believe how the speedy players from Washington beat an outstanding team, one of the best in Ohio. I remember the coach saying Canton McKinley was trying to stop an ocean with a bucket. They just ran Canton McKinley to death.”
Said Faust: “My players knew the drill: run, run, run, rebound, play defense and good things happen.”
Winning the tournament in Wheeling brought back another memory for Wagner.
“We knew that the Canton team was outstanding. We didn’t like them laughing at our kids during warmups. We were so small, but we beat ’em. We were a Double-A school and they were a Triple-A school.”
Faust is quick to point out he was fortunate to have quality players.
“During our run of 52 wins in a row, we had guys like Jamie LeMon, Brian Davis, Mark Wise, Tony Ellis, Mark and Chris Popeck and so on. They were coachable kids. Quality kids. Even today, these kids still come back to school to talk to students. You see them at the games. It’s Prexies Pride. Jamie comes back to talk to the students at graduation. Tony Ellis is a basketball official. Mark Wise is a coach in youth baseball. Mark Popeck is coaching kids.”
Faust also coached Wash High to the WPIAL championship in 1990. He spent 28 years on the bench with Washington, guiding the Prexies to 520 victories.
Faust was offered coaching jobs away from Washington, though leaving was never an option.
“Never gave it a thought,” he said. “I had success because I worked at a great school. I was lucky to work with coaches like Guy and Bob (Peton).”
Considered low key, Faust’s calm demeanor was opposite of many a successful basketball coach.
“Because you’re low key doesn’t mean you’re easy,” Wagner is quick to say. “If you didn’t listen to Coach, then you were not going to play the next game. He didn’t care if you were a star player or a bench player. His kids listened. He was never demanding. He never questioned anything I did when I was the school’s AD. He never questioned my hiring of officials. He never interfered.
“Leo Durocher once said, ‘Nice guys finish last. He was wrong. Ronnie is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. He finished first. He’s the kind of coach you’d want your son to play for.”
Faust was inducted in the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame Washington-Greene County chapter in 2002.
Bill DiFabio is president of Sportscall and writes a biweekly column for the Observer-Reporter about local sports history.