WHAT 'DEUCE' TAUGHT ME ABOUT BEING FAITHFUL
Any of us who were involved in high school athletics in Western Pennsylvania in the last half of the 20th century must raise a glass today in memory of one of the true legends of the era, Lawrence “Deuce” Skurcenski, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 73. Deuce was a guy who saw over his time over 11,000 high school events in his life, and had detailed stats on all of them. He had no children and never married – his love was the young athletes of Western PA who he saw early on in their development. Deuce was so well-known that you could ask pretty much any high-profile college coach of that era about him, and get a story or three. He served as the official statistician for the WPIAL and PIAA on more than a few occasions for playoff games. I got to know Deuce a little during my high school days as a stat man for football and basketball.
When I started keeping stats for North Allegheny’s teams, both of the coaches for whom I worked told me to be on the lookout for Deuce. I said, “How will I know who he is?” Both Coach Caldwell and Coach Rankin told me, “Trust me, you’ll know.” They weren’t kidding. Our junior year, we had a pretty talented basketball team that enjoyed more success in that one year than pretty much any in school history. I don’t remember exactly where I first met Deuce, but something in me wants to say it was when we were at Butler High School (our arch rivals.) He leans over to me and says, “Hey kid – watch this.” Deuce would do this at least two to three times a game, often by messing around with the coaches or referees. I distinctly remember Bob Caldwell (or “BobbyCaldwell” in Deucespeak) just laughing as I told him I encountered Deuce. Deuce tipped me off about how while the 1991-92 NA Boys Basketball team was excellent, I “[S]houlda seen BobbyCaldwells teams back in the late 70’s-early 80’s at his last stop.” I was able to use this info later that year when some of us were talking about whether or not this was the best team he ever coached. Thanks to Deuce, I was able to say, “No. Shoulda seen his teams 12-15 years ago.” To this day I’ll never forget the wistful look of pride on Coach’s face when I recalled one of his favorite teams.
But it wasn’t until we were at the Palumbo Center on the campus of Duquesne University that I saw Deuce at his finest. One of our guys, Devin Billeter, went coast-to-coast to hit a layup at the buzzer to knock Woodland Hills out of the playoffs. Woodland Hills’ coach just lost it, and expressed his displeasure to everyone at the scorer’s table for the ‘slow clock,’ amongst other things. After things calmed down, Deuce was laughing. He slapped me on the back and said, “Kid, that ain’t nothing. When you’ve been around as long as I have, you’ve seen a lot more than what we just saw.” He then regaled me with a couple of stories from back in the day. There are plenty more stories I could share, but…
What I will always remember about Deuce, though is that he was SO kind to everyone he met – while he never met a stranger, he went out of his way to help those of us with the teams learn more about our craft. He took the time to tell us stories, give us tips, and introduce us to people all over the place. “Hey kid, meet ____________.” I have thought of Deuce often since I left Pittsburgh, and always with a warm smile and a laugh.
Upon hearing about Deuce’s passing, I immediately reflected upon all the memories he gave me, and thought about how much selfless sacrifice he made to get up and down the roads of Western PA, simply indulging his love of basketball. While I haven’t seen Deuce since a brief encounter during my freshman year of college, I have come to realize that what he was teaching me had very little to do with stats and very much to do with life. There was, really, nothing in it for Deuce – he just loved the sports, athletes, and coaches so much he did whatever it took to be a part of it all.
I wonder, friends, how much our lives, and the lives of our churches, would be radically transformed if we approached our professed love of Christ with the same fervor and devotion to loving the Lord our God with everything and our neighbors as ourselves with half the love and devotion Deuce had for high school athletics.
Rest in Peace, Deuce. I am a better man because of the brief time God blessed us to share together.
Grace and Peace,