Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, May 04, 2015

The Guru's Appreciation of Frank Bertucci

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

It was sometime during the middle of this past Saturday evening during this quasi-quiet time between the end of the collegiate women’s basketball season and start of the WNBA training camp run-ups to the opening of season 19 that I was playing catch-up on my twitter time-line.

In scrolling fast in some instances, I suddenly saw the name Bertucci flash past and thought what is Frank up to?

In moving the directional arrow in reverse to see what I missed, I fell upon the link to the eloquent obit by Joe Juliano in The Inquirer marking the sudden passing of the longtime writer/copy editor at The Inquirer and Daily News as well as Penn Relays notable and La Salle sports publicist, to name a few, because of a heart attack suffered at his home Friday night in South Philadelphia.

What a shock.

Though aware of man’s eventual mortality, Frank, who was 68 years old, was such an ongoing presence in the Philadelphia sports scene for so many decades that in his case, it was easy to believe that the maker might make an exception of Frank and allow him to be around forever.

One of the quotes in Juliano’s narrative from Frank’s sister Mary Lou Bertucci Rooney described him best: "Frank sometimes had a dour expression, but deep down, he was the friendliest guy you ever met. If you had Frank as a friend, you had a friend for life."

This was certainly true of the relationship of yours truly with Frank, who also was one of the more passionate soccer devotees I’ve come across besides his ongoing love for the Penn Relays.

I probably didn’t first have to deal with Frank regularly until he had the La Salle job in the 1980s when current WNBA Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, also an Olympic assistant, played for the Explorers.

Note: The Guru is writing this off the top of his head so it may be that Beth Huffman had the job then or Cheryl played across both their tenures.

Anyhow, Frank struck me, not uncommon with many others in a similar capacity of the time, that as I dealt with him as part of covering the La Salle women, he appeared to accept his WBB duties as a necessary evil but he also still maintained a professional equivalent to any of the other sports that got more attention.

Blame the dour expression for the misread because as the years went by there were times when he would engage in fine banter when we were involved with a part of the local sports scene together.

But Mary Lou was right about the friend for life.
In the final days of winter in 2010 just before heading to the NCAA women’s finals, I let the word get out that in a few weeks my longtime daily association with The Inquirer would end for the same reasons many contemporaries at newspapers across the country have been making in recent times.

Two nights later I got a call out of the blue from Frank saying he heard the news and then proceeded to offer some of the more generous remarks that were made reacting to my decision and what a loss it was going to be for the paper and the sport.

I assured him that, for one, I was still going to do what I was doing, but operating in a different manner in which this blog would now become the mainstay and that there were still going to be occasions in which I would probably be drafted back into freelance coverage for the paper, when needed.

He insisted we have lunch or dinner and since both our lives continued to be quite active it took over a year and a half until we finally got together for a nice lunch at a sports bar off Columbus Avenue not far from his South Philadelphia home.

It was quite the conversation about a myriad of things and since Frank had hit the magic number a few months ahead of yours truly, he spoke of the joys of being able to ride SEPTA for free and he was contemplating giving up his car altogether.

One hobby he took up, which Juliano noted, to take advantage of the perk that also allows just a $1 inside the Pennsylvania borders on the commuter rail division, is each week he rode a different line in its entirety, especially the ones with great distance, and then chronicled in his blog Frank Thoughts the quilted patchwork of neighborhoods the line went through and what he saw.

Indeed, a year ago remembering what Frank had said, I actually used SEPTA for a whole month in February and it was true, I could get to games quicker at times then during rush hour or bad weather in a car.

Frank often invited me to do the biography of local women’s basketball honorees for the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association’s massive program publication he oversaw for the organization’s annual awards banquet.

That day we had lunch and since Cheryl had won one of her WNBA titles with Minnesota, Frank, in also taking advantage of discount airfares, was planning to go to Minneapolis, and was eager to get together with her.

I can’t remember if she was going to be in town but I know they eventually hooked up when she was honored at a sportswriters banquet in Cherry Hill across the river.

During our conversation, as I mentioned some dining places I had discovered, Frank insisted we do this more regularly and every time we were at a subsequent event he kept reminding me to set a date.

That didn’t happen, though we saw each other often enough, especially when I would stop by the press box in the fall during free time to view Temple football games.

Ironically, it had just crossed my mind last week when passing one of Italian restaurant chains with the same name as Frank’s, I decided I would call to get together while not much was going on in my world.

Sadly, it’s another lesson for those of us among the living that one needs to act quicker when it comes to social engagements because obviously, you just don’t know what the next hour has in store, though you think you know.

Frank’s passing is just one more departure both recently and in preceding years that has seen us lose such notables who were part of the sports coverage scene as Frank, Stan Hochman, Sandy Grady, Frank Dolson, Chuck Newman, Bob Vetrone, John McAdams, and Andy Dougherty to name just a few.

On one hand, these are sad times for those of us who were contemporaries to these greats, but on the other, we’ll always have the fond memories of being mentored and counting ourselves to be lucky to have enjoyed their friendship while they were here.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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