Lions and Hawks lead Willie “Pops” Stargell MVP Class of ‘21


by Bill Neal, For New Pittsburgh Courier

 The 49th Annual Willie “Pops” Stargell Pittsburgh MVP Awards lived up to the legend. The stars were out and shined bright on this night of champions.

The event was the brainstorm of the late, great Willie Stargell and I am proud to say was bestowed to me 49 years ago while putting away the second dozen of “Chicken on the Hill with Will” at his Point Breeze home. His desire then, and remains true today, was to recognize and honor the people who help make Pittsburgh someplace special — part of the “We Are Family” credo.

The event is a combination of honoring “8” such women and “8” such men that meet the objective… (because Willie’s jersey number was 8 — c’mon man, pay attention here!) along with the induction of some of the nation’s greatest basketball players in the nationally and internationally recognized Connie Hawkins Pro/Am Summer Basketball League.

The best of the best gathered at the DoubleTree Hotel in October for the ceremony. But none better than two of the greatest athletes Pittsburgh or Brooklyn ever produced. (Be mindful I am a Pitt man so talking about those Nittany Lions is not easy… But I do what I do to make the world a better place.)

On the Willie Stargell side of the slate we were privileged to have Chris Thorpe awarded. Most likely the lead Thorpe on what is known as “Thorpe Nation,” Chris was a great running back at Fox Chapel High School where he rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and scored 28 touchdowns his senior year while holding down a spot on the Post-Gazette Fabulous 22 and a two-time state champion in the 110m hurdles. A nationally recruited star player, Thorpe took his talents to Penn State. Several near-paralyzing injuries curtailed what surely would have been an NFL career but not before picking up a national championship ring with Coach Joe Paterno in 1986. Today Chris is managing partner and founder of Germ Sweep Inc., based in Pittsburgh.

AND THE LIONS CONTINUE TO ROARFormer Pittsburgh stars and area legends Ron Brown (top) and Chris Thorpe (bottom).


The other lion that roared was Ron Brown, one of Brooklyn’s all-time greatest players. If you know anything about basketball you know the two words —basketball and Brooklyn — simply greatness. Or do the names Connie Hawkins, Rucker, Lew Alcindor, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Bernard King and Nate “Tiny” Archibald mean nothing to you?

Ron Brown is listed among the legendary names. A superstar player at Penn State during the glory years of football, Ron changed the way basketball would be talked about at Penn State in the ensuing years.

Off the court these days, Ron scores most of his points in the name of the Lord as a minister after a top-level executive career in corporate America in some of the nation’s biggest cities, returning to Pittsburgh where he was an unstoppable force in the Connie Hawkins League, thus earning his Hall of Fame induction.

Chanel Smith, former “Ms. Pittsburgh,” representing the late great Darin Poindexter.

Joining Brown in this year’s Hall of Fame Class are: Chuck Cooper III, son of the legendary Chuck Cooper, the first African-American drafted to play in the NBA. But make no mistake about it, CC-III got in on his own merits, most notably his high percentage long-range shooting; David “Quickdraw” Strothers, where the nickname says it all. Quick first step, quick shot and without question quick to tell you what’s what. A player, a coach, a mentor a leader and the sharpest man coming out of the locker room after the game; Jeff Scott, a sharpshooting guard with a number of ways to beat you and never had any problem letting you know it. But the main thing about Jeff was his heart. He would play you no matter who you were or where you came from and at the end of the game you knew it; David Freeman, a hard-nosed, no-nonsense complete player in or outside the paint that challenged you at all times, just ask Jason “White Chocolate” Williams; Jeffrey Johnson, that guy, if you know the guy with that look on his face that tells you you’re about to be in for it and all night long, and without a smile or any conversation he gave you a double-double and a handshake; Coach Angelo Anthony who mastered the talent needed to mold and control a team of superstars and lead them to league dominance with respect and do so without a lot of notice; Calvin Juan “Cornbread” Glover, and the name alone should tell you all you need to know.

Calvin Juan “Cornbread” Glover goes into “The Hall” and that’s that!

But if not this man has been in perfect shape since he was 5 years old, and upon request back in the day would take a dollar off the backboard and leave you some change and in so doing dunk on you at will and give you 20+ points 24/7/365; Derek “The Mailman” Gordon, and, yes, he got the name because he delivered. At six feet tall, one of the all-time great leapers and part of the last wave of superstars that closed out the Hawkins League at Champions Park (aka Pennley Park) in East Liberty. Him and Darrin “Skywalker” Walls and the boys gave people fits; and Warren Wilson, quiet but really dangerous. Can shoot it, handle, pass, rebound and score in a number of ways but the way most remember is getting slammed on. His potential NBA skillset fell short but landed him in the European League for a quick run but evidence of his capabilities played out in a legendary championship game against Ricky Greer and the Pitt men and what I am telling you is truth, not fiction. If you go down to the park you can still see the rim shaking after Warren and the great Sam Clancy Jr. met at the hoop for a thunderous dunk. And, yes, that would be Sam of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Dr. Tammy Washington, honored for enhancing the lives of others.

With great respect and appreciation we proudly announce the Willie Stargell MVP’s — Mrs. Laura L. Lee, Dr. Tammy R. Washington, Ms. Florence Damico-Johnson, Dr. Joyce Meggerson-Moore, Ms. Janice Gore-Cobb, Mayor Betty Esper, and Sharon Penny Briggs.

The men recognized were construction executive Ernest Sota, McKeesport native and legendary running back from the first time he picked up a football, Gerald “Puddin” Grayson, four-time Steeler Super Bowl champion and legend J.T. Thomas, Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert, Sheldon Oliver, Rob Pratte, and the Penn Hills leader of leaders, Jerry Chiappinelli.

Pittsburgh Construction executive and humanitarian Ernie Sato

A grand time was had by all and with the support and sponsorship of Chief Executive of Allegheny County Rich Fitzgerald (who made a surprise appearance), UPMC Highmark, attorneys Billy and Jack Goodrich, attorney Shawn Flaherty, attorney Alexis Cobb, Dominic Gambino, Franco Harris and Super Bakery, Seamoss Gel Sota Construction and Bowser Automotive, a thousand dollars was raised to benefit our Toys For Champions Christmas Party and Toy Giveaway.

Last but not least, a tremendous thank you once again to Pittsburgh Pirates Charities and Pirates representative Joel Gray. And we can never say enough to thank the great and legendary Mr. Al Oliver, 1971 Pirates World Champion who traveled a country mile to speak on behalf of his close friend Willie “Pops” Stargell. It’s true what “Pops” said – We Are Fam-A-Lee!!!


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