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, July 30, 2018

The Camelot Personalities of Penn State Past Unite to Say Farewell at Memorial to Former Coach Rene Portland

By Mel Greenberg

BROOMALL, Pa. — A week after former longtime Penn State coach Rene Portland, one of the stars of the Immaculata championship era in the early 1970s, succumbed to cancer after a three-year battle against the disease, the sadness of her passing was reflected here Sunday afternoon among the family, friends, former teammates, and former players who attended her viewing at D’Anjollel Memorial Home of Broomall.

Many past coaching colleagues, who were coming off the recruiting trail, will likely be added to those groups Monday when the viewing opportunity continues nearby at Saint Anastasia Church of Newtown Square on West Chester Pike between 10 a.m. and 11:45, followed by a noon mass.

Among the mourners Sunday were Saint Joseph’s men’s coach Phil Martelli and his wife Judy (Marra), a former Mighty Macs teammate; Former Rutgers coach Theresa Grentz, another of the legendary Mighty Macs; Hall of Fame basketball writer Dick “Hoops” Weiss, who chronicled much of the Mighty Macs era; recent Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Rose Battaglia, Hall of Fame former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan, and longtime assistants Dan Durkin and former Lady Lion star Anne Troyan, as well as longtime PSU women’s broadcaster Jerry Fisher.

Former Mighty Macs teammate and Hall of Fame coach Marianne Stanley, now an assistant with the WNBA Washington Mystics, was absent, because having been hit hard with a double loss in recent weeks, was down in Norfolk, Va., to be at the Old Dominion tribute to all-time great Anne Donovan, who died suddenly last month.

Stanley coached the Monarchs great when ODU dominated the sport in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Portland is now the second Maureen (nee Muth) from the Macs champions to go deceased joining Maureen Mooney.

Meanwhile, back here what took place soon after the viewing, if such a thing would be spiritually possible, would bring one of those wide grins to Portland’s face when successes were achieved.

At nearby Barnaby’s of Havertown, if anyone who had been Lady Lions fans or media covering the different parts of the Portland era, it was a chance to relive the moments years later at what became a reunion here as the stanlouts of the past could all catch up with each other besides offer tales from memory lane in Happy Valley.

For example, that in the wake of the shocking upset in the NCAA second round at home to unranked James Madison after finishing first in the final Associated Press Poll, JMU was on the scoreboard at Portland’s practices the following season.

But all was positive Sunday.

For a few shining hours, the Camelot personalities of Penn State women’s basketball were packed into the popular Delaware County Sports Bar, which is experiencing a revival after suffering a devastating fire in May of a year ago.

Though with the exception of Jenn James, the primary administrator of the Lady Lions women’s basketball program who is also assistant athletic director of event management, the official Penn State delegation here was not part of the Portland era.

But it is a notable group in athletic director Sandy Barbour; deputy athletic director of administration Lynn Holleran, and women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington, a former Notre Dame star, who succeeded Portland in 2007.

Kathy (Phillips) Drysdale, a former star center, is marketing director for women’s basketball at her alma mater.

Now years later they were virtually all together at once.

“I think it’s 25 years since I’ve seen some of these people,” smiled Lisa Salters, who has been a sideline reporter for two of ESPN’s primary properties — NFL’s Monday Night Football and NBA games on ABC and ESPN.

In their present lives they have come as athletic directors (that would be Susan Robinson Fruchtl at Saint Francis, Pa.), as proud parents —center Bethany (Collins) Irwin’s daughter Kyla is a member of UConn’s powerhouse - head coaches (Terri Williams-Flournoy at Auburn, Mauren Walseth at North Dakota State), as well as owning WNBA pedigrees (Kelly Mazzante, Tanisha Wright, Helen Darling, Andrea Garner, to name a few).

There was enough representation that if each of Portland’s 691 wins were shouted, someone could raise their hand to be marked present on the roll call.

Statistically, most of the high number producers were on hand in treys and points in Kelly Mazzante (357 treys, 2,919 points), rebounds in Susan Robinson-Fruchtl (1,070), and assists in Suzie McConnell-Serio (1,307).

Soon after they arrived, they were Lady Lions back on activity duty.

Particular eras sat around within their time frames, but they also gathered together overall, posing for group pictures besides taking selfies of each other, shouting out “We Are Penn State” cheers, and raising glasses upwards to shout a toast to their coach.

And then they retreated to their respective homes, for those who live around here, and hotel rooms to run out of their virtual locker room to salute their coach one more time Monday morning.


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