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Way to go Dons

March 21, 2011

I have had the privilege of talking to the kids at George Vargo's basketball camp the past few summers.

It's great to be around those kids and the Madonna boys and girls basketball players who help with the camp.

Last summer I talked with Vargo about the season that just ended.

He said he had a lot of people who said something about his turn to lead the Blue Dons boys basketball team to a state championship.

Some were kidding.

Some were not.

Madonna had won state titles in football and baseball in vastly differing fashion.

The football team whipped everybody in its path, while the baseball team came back in the bottom of the seventh and eighth innings to win a semifinal and then grabbed the state crown the next day.

Some players on Vargo's basketball team were on those teams and people really thought the way the Blue Dons had finished the 10-15 campaign that year sandwiched between the state titles, they were the Class A team to beat this season.

Don't get me wrong, Vargo really liked his team.

But, winning a state title is something that is not easy to do.

If it were, the Blue Dons would have been to Charleston more times than their last appearance in 2001.

If it were, the Blue Dons would have been in the state title game more than their only appearance in 1980.

Top all of that with a state golf championship in November and Vargo was on the hot seat.

Well, not really, but you know he felt the pressure.

And, what everybody else thought was no big deal to him.

No one puts more pressure on himself to win more than he does.

Sure, he would have loved to ride on that fire truck, but he wanted the state championship for the community, the school and, most important, for the kids.

Connor Arlia, on the other hand, now a three-time state winner, wanted it for the coach.

"I promised coach Vargo since my freshman year, I said, 'coach, we're going to win a state title and you're going to ride on that fire truck,'" said Arlia, the team leader. "I promised him. I don't know if he believed it, but I believed it. I'm so glad that we won it for him.

"Coach Vargo has not only helped me so much as a coach and taught me basketball, but coach Vargo has helped me become a better person. He's a great human being.

"All of our coaches did a great job with us this year - coach (Mike) Hagg, coach (Chris) Blair, coach (Michael) Battista. I love them all."

In the stands watching Madonna's 44-42 win over Morgantown Trinity for the West Virginia Class A state title Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center were former Blue Dons assistants Dennis Peterson and Fred Hendershot.

"Coach Hendershot and coach P are great guys," said Arlia. "My freshman year, coach P trained me. He's helped me so much over the years. I talked to him after every single game. He always gets me up, no matter how mad I get. He always comes over and seems to pick me up.

"I love coach P so much and I'm glad he was able to come down for this."

There are too many variables that go into winning a state championship in anything.

Basketball has its set of intangibles based on a bad shooting night, poor attitudes, strange calls or a number of other possible pot holes to a loss, including the players on the bench.

Look, someone has to start and someone has to come off the bench.

Do these players relish their roles and do what's best for the team?

Do the players of the parents relish their roles as subservient ones and allow their kids to be members of the team in whatever capacity the coach sees fit?

Those battles do now help a team win a state championship.

In fact, those battles do nothing more that greatly hinder a team from getting anywhere near a state title.

There were three Madonna players who did not see action in Saturday's championship game, two of whom saw a lot of action during the season.

They choose their actions while sitting on the bench.

Do they stay great teammates or do they pout while watching the game unfold?

That's a choice.

A bad attitude carries bad mojo to the rest of the team.

A good attitude carries good mojo to the rest of the team.

I know they would have given anything to play in that game.

But, it didn't work out.

Yet, when the buzzer sounded and the Blue Dons won that elusive state title, I saw them on the floor smiling from ear to ear, jumping up and down, hugging anyone and everyone.

There were a part of that win, just like the other 23 wins, it was just in a different way and there is nothing wrong with that.

Coaches make decisions in a state championship game to do nothing more than win.

A state championship game is not T-ball, where everyone bats, everyone runs the bases, everyone scores.

Madonna loses five seniors off this 24-3 team - Arlia, Chris Perna, Mario Yacoviello, Pat McCune and Nick Alexander.

Those five seniors have etched their names in the Madonna basketball record book in more ways than one.

Congratulations to all involved with the Blue Dons program.

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at

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