Two coaching legends, officials to enter OVAC?Hall
Two highly-successful coaching legends – one in basketball and one in football -and a pair of long-time officials who not only worked the games but have done much behind the scenes as well have been added to the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013.
Nick Aloi, who guided East Liverpool High’s boys’ basketball teams to more than 300 victories, and the late Jim Thomas, who led three area football teams including most notably Wheeling Central Catholic, will be inducted in the Coaches category while John Howell of Shadyside and Don Zinni of Yorkville are this year’s honorees as Officials.
Over the next three weeks, the OVAC Hall of Fame athletes (selected from each decade dating back to the 1940s) will be announced.
The Robinson Auto Group serves as sponsor of the OVAC Hall of Fame, which along with the OVAC Museum is on permanent display inside WesBanco Arena.
Here’s a look at the Hall of Fame selections in the Coaches and Officials categories:
Nick Aloi (Midland (Pa.) High School, Class of 1962).
His coaching career began with a three-year stint at his alma mater, Midland (Pa. ) Lincoln High, where he led the team to a state runner-up finish in 1986. He was named Class A “Coach of the Year” in western Pennsylvania in 1985.
Aloi’s coaching stay at East Liverpool began in 1986 and spanned 20 years, longer than any basketball coach in school history.
He compiled a career record of 326-121, an impressive winning percentage of 73%.
His Potter-coached teams won four Ohio Valley Athletic Conference championships (1991, ’94, ’95 and ’99); nine sectional titles; six district crowns and one regional championship with an OHSAA State “Final Four” Appearance in 1999.
The ’99 team finished with a 23-2 record, falling to Shaker Heights (71-63) in the Division I state semifinals.
He was selected Ohio Division I “Coach of the Year” in 1996 by the Ohio High School Basketball Association and 1999 by The Associated Press; was the District 5 Basketball Coaches Association “Coach of the Year” 11 times, Eastern District “Coach of the Year” seven times and received similar honors in Columbiana County numerous times.
He was previously inducted into the East Liverpool High School Athletic Hall of Fame, the Beaver County Sports Hall of Fame, the Midland High School Sports Hall of Fame and the District 5 Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Among Aloi’s attributes were consistency, continuity and commitment, evident in the fact that he never missed an open gym, practice, scrimmage or game during his playing or coaching careers.
He also started the popular “Potter Holiday Classic,” a tournament known for quality competition, and conducted the “Little Potters Clinic” yearly for the district’s elementary and middle school students free of charge.
As an athlete, Aloi was the leading scorer, MVP and team captain of Midland’s 1962 undefeated basketball team, earning All-WPIAL and All-State recognition.
He then went to Bowling Green State University where he was a three-year starter and team co-captain, averaging 15 points per game and gaining All-Mid American Conference recognition. Aloi earned his bachelor’s degree from Bowling Green and later obtained his master’s degree from Duquesne University. He was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks of the NBA.
Jim Thomas (Wheeling Central Catholic High School, Class of 1963). The highly-regarded “J.T.” is the fourth-winningest coach in Ohio Valley history behind Reno Saccoccia, Jay Circosta and the fellow Hall of Famer George Strager with a 35-year record of 235-134-2. He wound up only 35 wins off of the all-time West Virginia state record for football coaching victories (267).
His first head coaching stint came at old Yorkville High where he spent three years (1968-70), guiding the Ductillites to an unbeaten season in 1970.
He then assumed the head coaching position at Wheeling Central (1971-80), and moved on to Wheeling Park for six seasons (1981-86). From there, it was back to his alma mater for a second stint, this time guiding the Maroon Knights from 1987-2004.
He coached teams to seven Ohio Valley Athletic Conference championships (1974, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1990, 2000 and 2004) and four West Virginia state title. The Maroon Knights were Class AA state champs at the first “Super Six” event in Charleston in 1979 and they won the Class A crown in 2000, 2002 and 2004. The 2000 team set a school record for wins (13-1).
He also coached the West Virginia squad four times in the Rudy Mumley OVAC Charity All-Star Football Classic.
Thomas was voted the West Virginia All-Sport “Coach of the Year” for 2004-05 and the OVAC All-Sport “Coach of the Year” in both 1980 and 2003. He was also The Intelligencer’s “Coach of the Year” in 1979 and the Upper Ohio Valley Dapper Dan “Man of the Year” in 2001.
He earned his bachelor’s degree from West Liberty State College and a master’s degree from West Virginia University.
Thomas passed away in 2005 at the age of 60.
John Howell (Lancaster Fairfield High School, Class of 1967). When it comes to high school basketball officials, Howell is among the most recognized individuals throughout the Ohio Valley. After all, during a 38-year officiating career, he worked in practically every gymnasium out there.
Howell became a member of the Ohio Valley Board of Approved Basketball Officials in 1972. He served as secretary of the board for 14 years; as a training class instructor for 14 years; as rules interpreter for 16 years and assigned junior varsity officials for 14 years.
He served as the OVAC’s Assistant Basketball Commissioner from 1983-94 and became the Basketball Commissioner in 1995, a role he still has today.
Howell worked his first varsity basketball game in 1974 (Paden City vs. St. Marys) and his final appearance on the hardwood came March 11, 2009 in a West Virginia Class AA Regional Tournament game at Phillip Barbour High School.
Howell worked a total of 27 state tournaments: 14 Ohio boys (1987, ’88, ’90, ’92, ’94, ’95, ’96, ’98, ’99, 2000, ’02, ’04, ’06,’ 08); 5 Ohio girls (90, 91, 93, 01, 03); 6 West Virginia boys (88, 91, 94, 97, 99, 03); and 2 West Virginia girls (83, 89).
He also worked a total of 75 regional tournament games over the years.
In 1993, Howell worked a W. Va. boys’ state semifinal game in Charleston with Mike Coyne in morning and then and Ohio girls’ semifinal game in Columbus with Roger Levi later same day.
He worked the first three-man championship boys’ game in Ohio in 1996 and the first 3-man championship boys’ game in W. Va. in 1997.
Howell received a host of awards over the years, including NFIOA (National Federation of Interscholastic Officials Association) Official of the Year in West Virginia in 1992 and in Ohio in 1997; Ohio District 5 Official of the Year in 1991. Ohio District 12 Official of the Year in 1992; West Virginia Official of the Year in 1994 and was the 2013 recipient of the OVAC’s Robert Dawson Officials’ Award.
He was inducted into the OHSAA Officials Hall of Fame in 2003.
In addition to basketball, Howell has worked as a track official since 1972, serving in various capacities over the years at OVAC meets as well as at the Bellaire Relays and Shadyside Relays, and he has handled the position of clerk at those meets for the last 15 years.
While not an on-field official in football, Howell did serve as the OVAC’s Assistant Football Commissioner under Hall of Famer Evan Reese from 1983-94.
Don Zinni (Yorkville High School, Class of 1954). He began his officiating career in 1970 as a member of the Ohio Valley Board of Football Officials, remaining active until 1991.
He officiated at the district, regional and state level in the WVSSAC playoffs from 1975-90, working the 1977 Class AAA State Championship Game.; and he worked games at the regional and state semifinal level in the OHSAA during that same time span.
Zinni officiated the Rudy Mumley OVAC All-Star Charity Football Classic four times (three as referee and one as back judge) and worked the OHSFCA North-South All-Star Classic in Massillon in 1982.
A member of the OHSAA Football Advisory Committee for four years and a Past President and Rules Interpreter of the Ohio Valley Board of Football Officials, Zinni became OVAC Football Commissioner in 1995 and held that position until retiring in 2012 as the longest-tenured individual to serve in that capacity..
While serving as OVAC Football Commissioner, the affable Zinni expanded officiating crews from four men to five; expanded the officiating base to include several areas on both sides of the river including Wheeling, Weirton-Steubenville, Mason-Dixon, Parkersburg-Marietta, Columbiana County, Cambridge-Zanesville and Columbus; established rating of crews by coaches during the season and by the Commissioner after the season; served as a clearinghouse for schools seeking opponents for schedule openings; and assigned officials to the Rudy Mumley OVAC All-Star Charity Football Classic by position rating.
Zinni also spent several years in the coaching ranks. He first served as junior high and freshman basketball coach from 1958-65; was an assistant football coach at Yorkville High from 1959-65; was the head coach at Yorkville from 1965-70; and then was the high school principal from 1970-72.
He is also a member of the OVAC Hall of Fame Committee.
As a high school athlete, Zinni was a four-year letterman in baseball, a two-year letterman in football and a one-year letterman in basketball at Yorkville.