South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Jon Istik will be inducted into the City League All-Sports Hall of Fame

 


Besides playing on South High School’s first undefeated football team in 1973, Jon Istik left his own indelible impression.

“He was kind of a Mike Dutka-style tough guy, who had the respect of his teammates, and played the game the way it was meant to be played,” said Bill Neal, the CEO of Achieving Greatness, Inc., and founder of the Pittsburgh City League High School All-Sports Hall of Fame program in 2014.

“He was a great linebacker and center who is being recognized as one of the great players in the area,” Mr. Neal said.

Mike Harber, who played in the backfield on the team with Mr. Istik for three years, called him “a definite leader.”

“We would not have been the same team without his leadership and his commitment to excellence,” he said.

On Nov. 6, Mr. Istik, 61, who played the dual positions in the early 1970s, and never missed a game, will be one of the inductees into the Hall of Fame.

The induction ceremony will be held at the Heinz History Center, 1212 Smallman St., beginning with a reception at 5 p.m., and the awards ceremony at 6 p.m.

The public may attend. The purchase of a ticket will allow the guest to tour the center from 2 to 5 p.m. Tickets are $50 for adults, and $25 for children ages 12 and under. Call 412-628-4856 for information.

The first two years of the event were sold out. Tickets may be purchased at the door, but there is a limit of 500, by law, in the ballroom.

“This is the first time in the city’s history of a Hall of Fame strictly for student-athletes who participated in City League schools,” Mr. Neal said.

The event is presented by Achieving Greatness, Inc., in conjunction with the Office of the Mayor, Office of the Chief Executive of Allegheny County, Pittsburgh School Board, city council members, attorneys Jack and William Goodrich, and former Steeler, Judge Dwayne Woodruff.

Other former Super Bowl winning Steelers in attendance will be Franco Harris and Mike Logan, with the latter – a city league high school coach -- presenting the 12 current student-athletes selected by their respective high schools as their top male and female student-athletes for induction into the Junior Hall of Fame.

Mr. Neal called it “a way to establish a bond between young and old.”

The National Football League Alumni Association, Highmark, and UPMC are co-sponsors of the event.

Achieving Greatness, Inc., is a for-profit corporation providing services in community development, consulting, advertising, marketing, promotions, and special events. It is headquartered in Penn Hills.

The criteria for induction into the Hall of Fame is: having attended a City League school; participation in a varsity sport at least two to three years; being the best of the best; and strong moral character during and after high school.

The selection of inductees was made by the Hall of Fame committee: Eddie Jefferies, former sports editor of the Pittsburgh Courier; retired city school teachers/coaches Chuck Franklin (chair), Vince Neal (co-chair), and Fred Lucas; Ron Saunders and Curt Hefflin, former City League student-athletes; Toni Allen, city school teacher; sports personality Smokin’ Jim Frazier; Taylor Allderdice boys’ basketball coach Buddy Valinsky; and Mr. Harber, a KDKA cameraman.

Mr. Istik grew up in South Side, and attended Phillips Elementary School. In ninth grade at South High School, he began on the junior varsity football team. When a varsity player broke his leg, Mr. Istik volunteered to play center. Eventually, he was also playing middle linebacker.

“I wanted to be in the whole game and contribute,” he said of playing both offense and defense.

He never missed a game.

“If you were hurt you did not tell anyone because if you missed practice, you didn’t play that week,” he said.

As center, Mr. Istik was All-City for two years. As middle linebacker, he was selected to the High School All-American team for two years.

During the undefeated 1973-74 season, he was elected to the second team offense in the Associated Press all-state team.

He was also co-captain that year with Rudy Musulin and George Whittman. The late Mr. Musulin, the team’s quarterback, was also the City League’s MVP.

Among Mr. Istik’s highlights during the 8-0 season his senior year was his three interceptions against Carrick High School.

One of last year’s Hall of Fame inductees, South High School running back Lynn Harris, attributed much of his and the team’s success to an outstanding offensive line of Michael Kucerovy, Doug Grainger, Mr. Istik, and the late Clarence Fortson.

“It was a whole community that supported us,” Mr. Istik said of the cheerleaders, fellow students, parents, and neighbors which he said also contributed to the team’s success through their attendance and cheering at games, and their encouragement.

South High battled Perry High School for the city championship at Three Rivers Stadium, losing 22-6. Mr. Harber scored the team’s only touchdown.

For their exceptional play that year, five offensive South players were honored as first team All-City: Rudy Musulin, Lynn Harris, Mr. Istik, Vic O’Neill, and Bill Palashoff.

Following graduation in 1974, Mr. Istik played for a year with the South Side Sooners in the sandlot Metropolitan Football League. His last involvement with football was as head coach of the Sooners for one season.

Mr. Istik, who became a laborer, married his high school sweetheart, the former Bernardine Thornton. The couple has been married for 31 years, but together for 46 years. They are the parents of three children, and reside in Carrick.

As for the Hall of Fame honor, he said he is appreciative for himself and the other inductees of decades past.

“It’s great to remember the athletes of yesterday,” he said.

Mr. Neal said for the first time, a team will be inducted into the Hall of Fame: the 1976 Fifth Avenue High School basketball team, which was the City League champion and state champion in 1976, and ranked No. 2 in the nation.

Its starters were Sam Clancy, Bill Clarke, David Kennedy, Warner Macklin, Edwin Peoples, and Jim Whitner.

Mr. Neal said Mr. Clancy’s jersey needs to be retired in the rafters of the Petersen Events Center.

“In my opinion, he was the most dominant physical player in Pitt basketball history,” he said.

Mr. Neal said he hopes to eventually partner with the History Center for a designated space within its building for the Hall of Fame.

“We owe a great deal to the Heinz History Center for their support and participation,” he said.

 

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