He was a father figure with wisdom that reached well beyond the gym doors, although he didn’t really know how to pull a punch.
He was all in for you, as long as you were all in for the team. Didn’t matter if you ever played as much as a single meaningful minute.
And without him, Lancaster Catholic sports — boys basketball in particular — may never be quite the same.
Tony Arcudi, who died July 27, spent the last three decades helping to grow the tradition of Crusader hoops. In the process, he created a whole lot of indelible memories for those whose lives he touched.
“Not just a great coach, but an even better person,’’ said Greg Testa, one of the stars on Catholic’s 35-0 Class 3A state champions in 2003.
Testa, like everyone who knew Arcudi, remembers his boundless commitment to Crusader sports, as both an assistant coach and a jack-of-all-trades supporter. His presence at every game, even after health concerns ended his coaching career, spoke to how much he cared about kids.
“It wouldn’t have made a difference if he was coaching fourth graders or college,’’ said Shawn Sweigart, an ex-Crusader guard who returned years later to coach alongside Arcudi and current head man Joe Klazas.
Sweigart remembers “Pop’’ — a term of endearment favored by many Arcudi protégés — as a 24/7 straight shooter. “You knew there was no agenda,’’ he said. “He had your best interest at heart, whether you liked what he was saying or whether you didn’t like it. You knew he was genuine.’’
Arcudi was just the same with fellow coaches. Bill Southward, who guided Testa and company to that state crown, chuckles at the memory of Arcudi saying his team never learned how to handle a zone defense. But Southward will also tell you how Arcudi had time for every young athlete who just wanted to improve.
“He could really talk to people, but you wouldn’t notice because he wasn’t boisterous or loud,’’ Southward said. “He did it in his own quiet, kind way.’’
Arcudi’s approach dated back to the start of his coaching career, at the CYO level. That’s when he made an early impression on a young fullback named Ken Gerber.
“I was a smaller kid, I didn’t stand out, and the first thing that comes to mind is that he made me feel important,’’ said Gerber. “He made you feel you were of value, and he taught you more than football. … He was a life lessons-type of coach.’’
Gerber, who still supports local youth baseball today, went on to coach with former Crusader boss Danny Walck at Hempfield. Yet he never stopped seeking out Arcudi as a mentor. “He taught me that sometimes you have to have confidence in a kid before (the kid) has confidence in himself,’’ Gerber said.
Klazas, another ex-Crusader who returned to coach, knows what that confidence has meant to the kids. He saw what it meant to them every time they placed a chair on the court for Pops, in a spot where he could see everything that was happening in every practice.
“Sometimes,’’ Klazas said, “kids are pretty hard on themselves and it takes some of the fun out of it. Pop was always great at reminding them that they’re doing a thing because they love it, and it’s what makes them happy.’’
Hard to say just how many wins it would take to match that kind of legacy. So let’s just agree on quite a few, as a starting point.
• Connect with Jeff Young, a former LNP sports editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.