It takes a proud and free-spirited personality to be known for having great character and being a real character.
Meet Skip Koskoski.
The former Robert Morris University and Ringgold High School basketball player has made an impression on those who have coached him, played with him and against him. Koskoski also was an outstanding pitcher for Ringgold. In 1979, as a senior, Koskoski struck out 20 of 22 Belle Vernon batters. He was considered one of the top prospects that year by major league scouts. Koskoski, all 6-7 of him, had a carefree demeanor that was a menacing view for any opponent, in any sport. To know Koskoski is to understand his toughness, grit, determination and will to win.
At Ringgold he was a pivotal basketball player on a section championship team and a top-grade pitcher in baseball. Koskoski was an integral part of a Robert Morris Colonial basketball team – made up of many WPIAL players – who remain bound together through their collegiate accomplishments and had a whole lot of fun.
Robert Morris’ 1981-82 basketball team was the first team at the school to be honored with a spot in the RMU Athletic Hall of Fame. The 1981-82 Colonials finished 17-13 and earned the South Division regular-season championship of the ECAC Metro Conference – now known as the Northeast Conference – with a mark of 9-5.
Robert Morris won the conference tournament at the famed Brooklyn Paramount Theatre in Brooklyn, N.Y., defeating LIU Brooklyn, 85-84.
That win earned the Colonials a spot in the NCAA tournament to play defending national champion Indiana in the first round in Nashville, Tenn., at Memorial Gym. RMU lost to the Hoosiers and Coach Bob Knight, 94-62.
The biggest names on the team were Forest Grant, Chipper Jones, Tom Parks – a Belle Vernon High School graduate – and Tom Underman. Koskoski did his part.
“We were recruiting Parks very heavily,” said then Robert Morris Coach Matt Furjanic. “During their games with Ringgold, we saw Skip play and we loved his athleticism and spirit. He was 6-7 and had guard skills.
“He could handle the ball and was one of the best passers. He took the ball out for us. He got us out in transition. Skip was unselfish and could guard the opposition’s best player. He was just a good and talented athlete. Skip offered us so much. He was very important to our success.”
Koskoski helped lift the Ringgold basketball and baseball teams his senior year.
The Rams defeated Chartiers Valley in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL playoffs. They met Burrell in the semifinals at the old Civic Arena.
“We were up by 18 at the half,” Koskoski explained. “They started making shots and you could see us choking. We got beat in double overtime.
“It was heartbreaking. The loss hurt us. We thought we had a good shot at it. We never got the chance. Then we lost in the state playoffs to Punxsutawney at the buzzer. It was a bitter pill to swallow.”
In the baseball playoffs, Ringgold was eliminated by Chartiers Valley, 1-0.
“I just wanted to win,” Koskoski said. I had some great teammates, guys I played basketball with a long time – Ricky Webb, (the late) Mike Sloan, Brian Lyons, John Chatlak and Darnell Littleton. We were a tight-knit group, concerned with only one thing.”
King of the Hill
Koskoski was known as the hard-throwing lanky lefty who would just as soon throw his 90-plus mph fastball down the middle of the plate or inside to move the batter off the plate or to fall on his bum.
“He was the fastest throwing pitcher I ever had,” said John Kendra, former long-time baseball coach at Ringgold.
“He could bring it. He had a slow curve. I saw Skip do things most pitchers could never do. He was happy-go-lucky. But he could be tough. He was not afraid to come inside on a batter and if he got mad enough, he might throw at a player in the on-deck circle.
“Skip was always a good pitcher. He enjoyed going out on the mound and throwing.”
After winning 18 of 20 decisions and having an earned run average of less the 1.00, Koskoski was a must-watch pitcher.
After he struck out 20 of 22 Belle Vernon Leopards, Koskoski became the fancy of area scouts. In the Rams’ 9-0 victory over Belle Vernon in the spring of 1979, Koskoski gave up a single to the second batter and retired the next 20 Leopards.
“On the last out, it was a ground out to first, Skip yelled over to the first baseman to not touch the bag, Kendra said. He wanted to strike out 21.”
Because of his size, being a lefty and having a similar build, some called Koskoski “Candy” referring to Pirates’ pitcher John Candelaria, who Koskoski reminded them of.
Koskoski was part of a strong Ringgold rotation, which also included the late Gary Columbus. Kendra stuck to his four-man rotation and kept all his starting pitchers fresh.
Koskoski was being touted as the potential first area high school player selected in the June amateur draft despite having signed a letter-of-intent to play basketball at Robert Morris University.
A strange thing happened along the way to the draft, however. In a matchup with Connellsville’s John Leonard, the Rams dropped a 5-0 decision. Leonard struck out 18. Koskoski wasn’t his overwhelming self and lost the decision with about a dozen scouts in attendance.
“Skip had pitched three days earlier against Brownville,” Kendra explained. “He told me before the game his arm was a little tired. If he were fully rested, I think he would have won. But the kid beat him that day.”
Because of the chatter among the scouts, Koskoski anticipated being drafted. It all change quickly.
“I was putting a bit during the Connellsville game,” Koskoski said. “About the fifth or sixth inning, the scouts left. I didn’t get drafted.
“After the draft, the Pirates had me down for a few workouts. Nothing came of it.”
Koskoski decided to play both basketball and baseball at Robert Morris.
He had played on an elite summer baseball team, and was teammates with Dan Marino, who was a top baseball product, as well as football prospect from Central Catholic. Marino was drafted by the Kansas City Royals but settled on playing for Pitt on his way to a Hall of Fame professional football career.
“Skip had the ability to dominate a baseball game,” said Kevin Colbert, the Steelers general manager and former graduate assistant basketball coach at Robert Morris, who also coached baseball at the school. He had power and speed. He was a team guy, all about the team in both sports he played.
“He could have had a shot to play professional baseball if he’d have concentrated on that. But he was an important part of the basketball program.”
Skip to the Fun
Almost everyone who knows Koskoski, has a favorite story about him.
He even tells on himself.
“When Matt recruited me, it was like we were friends,” Koskoski said. “Once I got there things changed. He, like my dad, had expectations for me. I didn’t go to every class.
“One day, I’m leaving class and headed to lunch. Kirk Bruce, who was an assistant basketball coach at RMU and later became women’s coach at Pitt and then an administrator there, was waiting for me. “He said you have to come with me. ‘Matt wants to see you.’ I said OK, after lunch. He said I had to go now.
“So, I went and as soon as I walk in Matt is there with my parents. I knew I was in trouble. My dad leap-frogged onto me and started screaming that I was done and going to work in the blast furnace. Why wasn’t I going to class? I said I didn’t know; Matt didn’t tell me there would be all these classes.
“Thank God, Kevin was sitting there and got in between us. Matt got up and left. I made an agreement with all of them I would start going to class.”
Said Colbert, who vaguely remembered that incident and lived in the same suite with Koskoski one summer: “I can’t say I paid close enough attention to my academics either when I started there. The Sports Management program saved me. Skip had his way. It was a little different then academically I guess as it is now. But I really can’t compare. I’m just guessing.”
Koskoski earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration while majoring in sports management.
“As suite mates, living with players, including Skip was always entertaining and all good,” said Colbert.
Koskoski coached basketball 23 years. He started as an assistant at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, before being an assistant at Belle Vernon and Bentworth.
He worked as an assistant with the California University women’s team, working under three coaches. He concluded his career as head girls’ coach at Ringgold and then as head boys’ coach at Charleroi.
“My time at Cal U is the most fun I had in coaching,” Koskoski said. “The women were easier to coach, more willing to listen and learn.”
Nick Mandich, a fellow assistant coach at Cal with Koskoski under the late Paul Flores, said their time together was priceless.
“We had more laughs,” Mandich said. “I’ve never had as much fun with someone than I had with Skip. It was the greatest time. The games. The travelling. He was so much fun.”
Parks, an opponent in high school and teammate with the Colonials, said: “I loved playing with him. Skip was a good rebounder and great passer. He wasn’t afraid to rough it up. He had his nosed smashed at Kent State and played the next week with a mask. We played baseball together off and on. He could break a catcher’s mitt.”
Furjanic said you knew what to expect on the floor from Koskoski. But off it…
“Really, he was no different than any teenager going to college,” Furjanic said. “He didn’t take life as serious. I’d show up hoping to see him there. He was a heck of a basketball player. He liked to have fun.
“One day he came to practice dressed in a sweatsuit and a towel around his neck. I told him he’d have to take the sweat suit off. He said, ‘Coach, put me on the line right now because I’m not going to be worth a (crap) this morning.’ Everyone loves him.”