The patriarch of a family of officials, Eugene “Gene” Steratore Sr. has passed away. Steratore, 84, died of natural causes Friday in Ruby Memorial hospital in Morgantown, W.Va., surrounded by his family.
Steratore had a flamboyant 45-year career as football and basketball official and his two sons, Gene and Tony, followed in his footsteps both officiating in the National Football League.
Gene Jr. and Tony grew up in Uniontown and are Laurel Highlands graduates who now live in Washington. Gene Sr. was a Washington High School graduate who eventually became a longtime resident of Uniontown.
Profiled in a Memory Lane column in 2012 Steratore Sr. explained how he became an official.
Steratore earned letters in four varsity sports at Washington High School — football and basketball for three years, track & field as a sophomore and baseball as a junior and senior, and he was a three-year letterman for the Panthers at running back and defensive back. He missed his senior season with a shoulder separation and missed out on playing in the 1956 Sugar Bowl.
Here is where fate stepped in and pushed him towards becoming a sports official.
“I hated officials,” Steratore explained. “I would get technical fouls routinely and I got thrown out of a game at the YMCA in Washington, Pa. and I wasn’t allowed in the YMCA for six months. I hated officials and would have never considered becoming an official.”
But in 1954 Steratore’s officiating career began.
“It was a case of being in the right place at the right time,” Steratore said. “I was attending a doubleheader basketball game at Bentleyville at Sokol Hall; one of the officials for the second game couldn’t make it. Mike Kindamo asked me if I could fill in and take his place. I resisted and said it was the last thing I would ever do. Kindamo persisted and asked three times. I finally said yes and after awhile I thought it was cool and started to like it. We went in at halftime and Kindamo looked at me and said you really like it don’t you? I said don’t tell anybody, but I like it. That was the start of it. I took the test for basketball and became a certified official.”
Steratore started to work games in the YMCA, Church and grade school leagues, junior high, junior varsity and finally got into varsity officiating.
“I was recalled to the service for a year during the Berlin crisis (he was in the reserves), then when I got out I had been working for Parke Davis as a medical sales representative and I accepted a transfer to Uniontown.
“I ran into Disey Simon and he told me to call him. He had an accident and couldn’t work, so I replaced him. I had six games — Thursday afternoon and night, Friday afternoon and night and Saturday afternoon and night.
“Disey was the greatest thing that could have happened to a young basketball and football official in Fayette County. Before I started working college ball, I worked 45-48 games a year with Disey.”
In 1962 Steratore move into college basketball.
“My first college game was at California University of Pennsylvania,” Steratore remembers. “I did freshman and JV games, but my first major college game was between Pitt and West Virginia. I was sitting on the Pitt bench watching the action with my old old football coach Bob Timmons, when two minutes into the game, varsity referee Sheriff Tiano pulled a hamstring.
“The referees came over to me and asked me to suit up. I pointed out that I had ties with Pitt, but they said it didn’t matter and WVU coach Bucky Waters was okay with it and so was athletic director Red Brown. I was introduced and got a standing ovation from the crowd, they were happy to see the game continue, but the first call I made they turned on me and booed.”
Steratore got good reviews from a number of coaches and started working more college games and then moved into various conferences, including the ECAC, Eastern 8, the Atlantic 10 and the Big East.
Steratore went on to officiate NCAA Division-1 college football for 33 years and worked 25 years in college basketball.
In football he worked six Army-Navy games and nine Bowl games including the Sugar Bowl.
In basketball he officiated two NCAA Tournaments, two NITs and one NAIA National Championship. Steratore retired from Parke Davis in 2000 and after he stopped officiating was Commissioner of the Tri State Officials Association.
He crossed paths with many great college coaches.
“WVU’s Gale Catlett was the most fair of all the coaches I have had the opportunity to work for,” Steratore said. “John Wooden (UCLA) was easy to work for. I had him at the Steel Bowl in Pittsburgh and at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.
“Bucky Waters (ex-WVU coach) was a class man, Red Manning (Duquesne) was one of my favorites, Mike Rice Sr. (Duquesne), I had a lot of fun with him.”
He had some favorites on the gridiron.
“I became good friends with Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden and both were class acts,” Steratore said.
Steratore worked over 1,000 high school games and has great memories.
“I enjoyed the ‘high school classics’ and local legends like Abe Everhart and Lash Nesser and guys like Harold ‘Horse’ Taylor,” Steratore said. “Great memories and great games.”
Former WVU basketball coach Gale Catlett had some kind words for Steratore when he learned of his passing.
“Gene Steratore was one of the few officials that actually off the court I liked,” Catlett said. “He was a guy that I liked. Most officials don’t have a human element to them, because they get on the court with a whistle around their neck and they think it gives them extra authority. He was never like that, he was always friendly. He didn’t fight with you, he’d let you say your peace. At the same time he gave me a few technical fouls.
“The funniest thing was we were in Logan, Utah, for an NCAA game. My assistant Gary McPherson came to me after we lost an hour or so later and said, ‘Coach we are on a charter flying back into Morgantown.’ Gene who called our game wanted to know if he could ride back with us. I said Gary there is no way that I am going to allow that. I said we just played and I don’t like some of the things that went on. About a half hour later Gary came back again and said coach we are going to the airport and Gene doesn’t have a ride. I said tell him to get his rear end on the plane and sit back in the back. I don’t want to see him the whole trip. He flew home with us to Morgantown and then drove to Uniontown.
“He was fun to be around. I knew he was failing and I wanted to come up and visit with him and didn’t get the chance unfortunately.”
Steratore was inducted into the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. He also was inducted into the Washington High School Wall of Fame, and the Washington-Greene Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.