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Balistrere recalled as great friend

December 11, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - To many people, Tom Balistrere was many things.

He was a coach, a teacher, a great friend and, maybe most of all, an influential leader.

That will be the legacy left behind by Balistrere, who died from heart failure Wednesday. He was the man who came to town in the late 1970s and established success through his hard work, philosophy and personality for two decades.

"He was the most important person in my life," said Tom Hoffman, Waynesboro's current basketball coach and a family friend. "He put Waynesboro on the map. He was a great basketball coach, but he touched many lives in Waynesboro in so many ways."

Balistrere, 60, was born in Harrisburg, Pa., and came to Waynesboro after coaching stints at Western Michigan University and in Harrisburg. He arrived at a time when Waynesboro was struggling to establish a program.

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"He was a gentleman's gentleman," said L.W. "Bill" Kohler, an assistant coach under Balistrere and fellow teacher at Waynesboro Area Senior High School. "He always had a Christian approach to the kids and his staff and yet he was still intense and loved to win. He was an outstanding man and it reflected in the kids in the classroom.

"His outlook was 'everybody's important.' It didn't matter if you were No. 12 or No. 1 on the team, everyone played a part. He told them that first came church and God, and then family. You played for yourself and the school last. Everyone was part of the picture."

Balistrere arrived during lean years at Waynesboro, and like most coaches who tried to establish something new, struggled his first few years. The Indians had a 1-23 record his first season in 1978-79 and followed it with a 6-19 record the next year.

"He was established as a great fundamental coach. The program had great success under him," Kohler said. "He was really frustrated in that first year but after that he got things going."

"He thought coaching was an honor," said Ken Brown, who coached with and succeeded Balistrere at Waynesboro. "He thought every kid was special. I'm sure you will see a lot of his former players at the funeral out of respect for him and what he did for them."

In the third year, his philosophy took hold and Waynesboro finished 14-14 in its final season in the Tri-State League. Balistrere led Waynesboro into the Blue Mountain League, where he finished his seven-year stint with the school with a 19-5 mark and the league championship in the 1984-85 season.

"He was a big part of it all," Hoffman said. "He had some players - you have to have some talent to win - but he took them and molded them. He was good at building a program."

Brown took over as coach and Waynesboro's success continued into the mid-'90s.

"I was a 22-year-old kid, just out of college, and he hired me," Brown said. "When you coached with or played for Tom, you became part of his family. He molded me as a coach and he gave me values I'll remember forever. He gave Waynesboro its renaissance."

Balistrere finished his stay at Waynesboro with a 94-82 record. He left Waynesboro to become athletic director at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md., for 10 years. Balistrere finished his career as girls basketball coach and athletic director at Fairfield, Pa., where he hired Brown as the boys coach.

During his tenure, Balistrere's influence was far reaching. His methods and approaches were used in the junior varsity and junior high programs, where it first touched Hoffman. He helped start an active youth program in Waynesboro that encompassed many sports, including basketball.

"I learned from the outside looking in," Hoffman said. "I learned from being great friends with his son, Tony, and in junior high. People would tend to gravitate to his personality. His influence touched countless people."

That influence allows Hoffman to create a lasting tribute to Balistrere.

"He brought Waynesboro through the tough years," Hoffman said. "He put emphasis on the program and made it fun to play. Even though he removed himself, we rode with the success he established. A lot of what I know about the game and how to treat people comes from him and that's what I'm modeling my program from now."

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