For the past 58 years, the Robert “Tick” Cloherty – Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame has honored and inducted over 735 incredible men and women who have made a lasting impact in Pennsylvania through extraordinary athletic achievement and contributions. Whether these activities have been achieved on or off the field, we honor them here.

Hal Hetzier

Year Inducted:1974

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Chuck Scally

Year Inducted:1974

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Herb Scott

Year Inducted:1974

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Francis Scumaci

Year Inducted:1974

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Carol Semple

Year Inducted:1974

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Bob Siar

Year Inducted:1974

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Bruno Krsul

Year Inducted:1974

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Merlyn Condit

Year Inducted:1974

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Frank Thomas

Year Inducted:1974

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Born June 11, 1929 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and attended high school at Our Lady of Mount Carmel secondary school. As a teenager he attended a seminary in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood for five years before entering pro baseball. Thomas signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1947. He debuted with the Pirates in 1951 and was adept at playing first, and third and left field. With the Pirates, he made three All-Star games (1954,55,58). In 1958Thomas finished fourth in the voting for Most Valuable Player, when he batted .281, finished second in the National League to Ernie Banks with 35 home runs, and had 109 RBIs. Thomas appeared on the cover of the July 28, 1958 issue of Sports Illustrated. He also won his only NL Player of the Month award in June, batting .275, with 9 HR, and 29 RBI. On August 16, 1958, Thomas hit three home runs in a 13-4 rout of the Cincinnati Reds. In 1959 Thomas was traded to Cincinnati and continued in big-league baseball with various teams until 1966. In a 16-season career, Thomas posted a .266 batting average with 286 home runs and 962 RBIs in 1,766 games. He was larger than the average player of his time, and known for his opinionated nature. One of his nicknames as a player was "The Big Donkey." In retirement Thomas was active in supporting charities especially “Kids with Cancer.” Because of the other famous Frank Thomas who was inducted into the Cooperstown Hall of Fame in 2014, he would tell all he was the “original one.”

Anthony Deluca

Year Inducted:1974

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Lowell McDonald

Year Inducted:1974

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W.S. McElroy

Year Inducted:1974

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Jack Morris

Year Inducted:1974

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Ralph Fife

Year Inducted:1974

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Armand Niccolai

Year Inducted:1974

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Armand Niccolai, the son of Amadeo and Annuziati Niccolai, was born on November 8, 1911 in Vesta. A football star at Charleroi High School, Armand became an All-American tackle at Duquesne University. He would kick the winning field goal for the North to win the North-South All Star game, 3-0. It was his 45-yard placement goal which gave the Northern College All-Stars victory over a Southern hand-picked team on Christmas Day of 1933.

Niccolai played offensive and defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers from1934 through 1942, and tied for field goal leadership in the National Football League in 1935 and 1936. He captained the Steelers during five campaigns. Armand was also an outstanding international soccer star in his teens. Niccolai’s first sport was soccer since, “all kids just naturally played soccer where I grew up (near Dunlevy). I was never interested in football. I played soccer and baseball. Football coach Steve Stepanian coaxed me to come out for the team my senior year. I had a broken jaw the summer before my senior year that I got during a baseball game. Coach Stepanian came to my house with a football helmet that had a face mask attached. My mother was concerned that I might get hurt playing football, so Stepanian put the helmet on me and then smacked me on the head to prove to my mother that I couldn’t get hurt.”

His first year of high school football was his senior year in 1929. He was a starting tackle. Coach Stepanian promoted Niccolai’s size, strength, and kicking ability. He kicked soccer style at this time, but could also kick a football straight on. He believed he could get more power using the conventional straight-ahead method.

Niccolai was invited to a tryout session at Duquesne University in 1930. Over 200 prospects showed up, but freshman coach “Buff” Donelli saw Niccolai’s potential immediately, and in the midst of the Great Depression, the 1930 Charleroi graduate accepted a scholarship to Duquesne.

Not only could he kick, but Niccolai was a fine two-way starter as a tackle. In fact, kicking came last. In those days, it just wasn’t developed to the degree established later. The fact that Armand was a kicker was a well-kept secret. He only kicked off in college and tried but one field goal as a collegiate star during his senior year in 1933. Duquesne was playing the University of Pittsburgh at Pitt Stadium, where Niccolai attempted a 45-yard field goal from a wide angle. His kick hit the cross bar and the scoreboard registered three points. Moments later, the referee took the points off the board. For years people argued that the kick was good. Pitt went on to win the game 7-0. Elmer Layden, one of the Four Horsemen at Notre Dame, coached Armand at Duquesne.

Because of Niccolai’s outstanding college senior season, he was invited to play in the North-South All-Star game in Brooklyn, New York. It was at that game Armand kicked his first successful field goal. The 47-yard field goal won the game for the North 3-0, on Christmas Day. Also that year, 1933, Duquesne University was invited to play in the Festival of the Palms, the forerunner of the Orange Bowl. The Dukes crushed the University of Miami 33-7.

Following college graduation, Niccolai accepted a counseling position at Ellwood City High School. While working there, Steelers’ business agent Dick Guy signed Niccolai to a professional contract. Armand joined the Steelers in their second year of existence in the NFL when they were known as the football Pirates.

Owner Art Rooney soon became interested in his tackle=s strong right leg and made Niccolai the extra-point and field-goal kicker. His first field goal attempt was a 47 yarder, a Steeler mark for many years. Niccolai was the only player to play for Mr. Rooney’s team as both a Pirate and Steeler. In those early Niccolai years, there was no draft, and college sport was king. The pro sport wasn’t taken too seriously. Niccolai captained the team from 1936 to 1940 and in 1936 was voted the league’s top kicker.

Although Niccolai’s first pro contract was for $110 a game, boosted nine years later to $145 per contest, he could say nothing bad about owner Mr. Rooney. He was a lovable guy who hired friends as coaches. This practice ended in hopeless failure as the Steelers suffered for many years. Joe Bach was Niccolai’s coach during his early years with the Steelers and was his favorite. “He had a genuine concern for his players and he knew his football,” Niccolai would later say. Other head coaches included Luby DiMeolo, John Blood, Walt Kiesley, Bert Bell, and Aldo Donelli.

During his nine years with the Steelers, Niccolai led the team in scoring in 1935, 1937, 1939, and 1940. In 1936, Armand shared the NFL leadership in kicking with the Chicago Cardinals’ Bill Smith. Each kicker booted six field goals. In those days, players performed on both offense and defense. Specialty players were unheard of and for many years Niccolai was no different playing offense and defense tackle. Among his teammates was Supreme Court Justice Byron White, who played one season with the Steelers in 1938.

In 1940, Niccolai accepted a teaching position at Dunbar High School. It was impossible for Niccolai to attend practice every day, but Mr. Rooney asked him to remain on the team as a kicker. Armand agreed and would only see the team on game days. Thus, the first specialty player was born. Niccolai retired as a Steeler in 1942. Mr. Niccolai coached six years at Dunbar, compiling a record of 25-18-6 turning out three unbeaten teams in the Class B WPIAL competition.

In 1947 he accepted the Monessen High School football coaching position as James “Rab” Currie was moving to longtime rival Charleroi. He coached at Monessen for 12 seasons taking the good years with the bad. “You do your best for your close friends, the assistant coaches,” he would say. His record at Monessen was 62-54-4. His Monessen teams won the Big 6 title in 1950, shared it with Charleroi in 1949 and again with Charleroi and Brownsville in 1955. Niccolai was named Big 6 coach of the year in 1949.

Niccolai enjoyed the games with rival Charleroi that made a great series. A mutual closeness and admiration developed between Niccolai and Rab Currie. Niccolai singled out Greyhound players Jim Ralston, Jack Sparacino, Maurice Mathieu,“freight-train” Carl Crawley, and Bruce Pezzelle, as some of the best players he coached. As a football coach, he was a proponent of single-wing football. Crawley remembered affectionately how the coach would call out to the players, “You cockroaches.”

Niccolai’s overall football record was 87-72-10 when he retired from coaching after the 1958 campaign. Of course, any coach will say he’s coaching to win, and Niccolai did just that, but any coach must also learn to lose and pass that lesson on to his charges. Armand Niccolai could handle both possibilities. No matter which team won, he was always at the center of the field waiting to shake hands.

Armand Niccolai had a noble quality. His philosophy in life was not routine for a Mon Valley football coach. He didn’t have that killer instinct. Some would see this as a weakness, but Niccolai used it to teach life lessons to his charges. “There is no glory in beating someone of lesser ability,” he would say. Niccolai would never humiliate a team of lesser stature. Instead, Armand attempted to make the game interesting. He would not take any unnecessary shots at his opponents. He would never beat the rival into the ground. This became a real learning experience not only for his players, but also for the adults who watched his approach to football. His example taught many about fairness in life, something difficult to achieve. In his remarks to organizations, he would emphasize his approach to life the same as his technique on the gridiron.

After his coaching days, Niccolai remained at Monessen High School as a business law and economics teacher, alongside his wife, a home economics teacher. As a teacher, Niccolai had the ability to reach out to all students. He elevated the esteem of all the youngsters he taught. Although he had a commanding presence at 6'4", he did not intimidate, but instead elevated his charges. He retired from teaching on May 7, 1974. Armand married his high school sweetheart, Vivian Rosini, on December 24, 1940. They had two children Armand Guy and Judy DeVault. In the 1950s and 1960s Mr. Niccolai could be seen running the concession stand at City Park in Monessen. His family referred to him affectionately as “Mundo.”

In 1979, Mr. Niccolai underwent heart surgery. Attending all the Pittsburgh Steeler games no matter what the weather, owner Art Rooney demanded that Niccolai, since his heart surgery, watch the Steelers from Mr. Rooney’s heated box.

Many awards were bestowed upon Armand Niccolai, including introduction into the Dapper Dan Hall of Fame in 1972, the Duquesne University Football Hall of Fame in 1972, the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1976, and the Mon Valley Sports Hall of Fame in 1964. Armand was the past president of the Pittsburgh Steelers Alumni Association. A charter member of the Monessen Lions Club, Mr. Niccolai served as president from 1949 to 1950. He was a member of the Monessen Elks, Monessen Knights of Columbus, Garibaldi Club of Dunlevy, North Italian Political Association, and the Italian Society of Mutual Aid. In 1985, he received the Father of the Year Award from St. Cajetan Roman Catholic Church.

After a lengthy illness, Armand Niccolai died in Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh at 6:53 a.m. on December 2, 1988 at the age of 77. The Raymond D. Dalfonso Funeral Home conducted services. Jeff Oliver, The Valley Independent sports writer, reported the outpouring of grief upon the death of Niccolai. “The most common words used by friends to describe him were congenial, gentlemanly, and well-respected.” Monessen football coach Joe Gladys recalled that Niccolai had given him his first coaching job when he joined Armand’s staff in 1955. Gladys succeeded him in 1960. Gladys said, “he was a congenial kind of person. He got along with the kids really well. He was not only respected in high school but throughout the tri-state, even the nation. His career took him everywhere.” Gladys labeled Niccolai a “good coach.” He said during Niccolai’s tenure, Monessen played in the tough Big Six Conference. “That was a tough conference to play in, but we were always competitive,” Gladys recalled. “He was so easy-going,” Sherman Brizzi, a former high school principal agreed. “You wonder how he ever played football. He didn’t have any of that meanness in him, yet he was a successful player.” Monessen faculty friend Armand Mori said upon Niccolai’s passing, “It’s a tough loss. Number one, he was a gentleman. No matter what the situation was, he was always a gentleman first.”

Baldo Giannini

Year Inducted:1974

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Bob Parlaman

Year Inducted:1974

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Gene Grapes

Year Inducted:1974

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Si Hugo Green

Year Inducted:1974

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Si, a product of Boys’ High School in Brooklyn N.Y, started as a sophomore at Duquesne University, scoring 392 points: broke 4 records at Duquesne; most points in one season-662; field goals -241; most free throws – 183; record for points per game – 24.7. He electrified crowds with his speed, driving ability and clutch plays. His knee- high socks were his trade- mark. Made Helms All-American Team in 1956 He played in the NBA for ten seasons with Rochester, St. Louis, Chicago, Baltimore and Boston.

Cumberland "Cum" Posey

Year Inducted:1974

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Best remembered as co-owner of the fabulous Homestead Greys Negro Baseball Team.
He began his life-long association with the Homestead Greys in 1912 as an outfielder and co-owner. Served as player-coach for 8 years; volunteered his services as coach of Homestead High School’s basketball team from 1914 – 1919. Gained national recognition as an owner -player with the famed Leeni Club Independent Basketball team. The national Negro champs for many years under his direction. His 1926 Greys team was a superlative Product of the Posey touch, opened that spring with 43 consecutive wins before losing a contest – his 1931 team had 131 wins and 17 losses with such members as Smokey Joe Williams, Josh Gibson, Oscar Owens, Buck Leonard, Ted Page and Oscar Charleston. Joined Negro League in 1936 and won 8 consecutive Negro League titles.