Frank Scago is No. 4 on the list of the top 50 athletes of the 20th century in Berkshire County
"I was taking classes at Morningside [Elementary] School," recalled former Adams High School basketball star Al Skrocki. "I don't remember how long ago. Years. But we had a break, and I just walked over to the gym there. And I could hear someone dribble and then shoot. And before I even got to the doorway, I knew it was Frank. I knew that rhythm."
Bounce, bounce, swish. Bounce, bounce swish. Again and again and again.
"Frank" is Frank Scago, the former St. Joseph High School two-sport athlete. Scago is No. 4 on the list of The Eagle's list of top 50 athletes of the 20th century.
"I'm a St. Joe guy," said Gary Bianchi, a longtime friend and co-worker with Scago. "And when you talk St. Joe athletics, you start with Frankie Scago. He is at the head of the table."
"He is one of the greatest two-sport athlete in the county's history," wrote the late Brian Sullivan, who served as sports editor at The Eagle for many years.
Scago's play as a quarterback for the Crusaders, which we will speak of in a bit, was an amazing run.
But it is his basketball prowess for which he is best known, in Pittsfield and indeed throughout Berkshire County.
Seven years after his death in 2010 at the age of 62, Frank Scago's life and career remain legendary.
"If there were a three-point line in those days, he would have scored 2,000 points," asserted Scago's teammate, former St. Joseph' basketball coach Paul Procopio.
"If they had the three-point shot in his day, he would have scored 2,000 points," said Bianchi.
"He would have gotten 2,500 points if there was a three-point shot then," said Skrocki.
You get the idea.
Scago scored 1,520 points in his high school career, a county record that stood for more than 30 years.
"But," wrote Sullivan, "that total packs an extra punch because Scago did not have the benefit of a three-point line and completed that total in just three years."
Scago's scoring was a cut above his opponents — at every level in which he played. He once scored 77 points in an elementary school game. But his range was legendary. Sullivan estimated it to be 35 feet or more. Former Eagle sports editor Roger O'Gara put it at "30-plus" feet.
His mastery of the jump shot also came at a pivotal time in area hoop history. The dunk shot was not widely practiced by high school or collegiate players in the 1960s, including 1963-65, Scago's career. The dunk was still considered "showy." Good players didn't dunk in those days, except for the super-pituitary professionals like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.
And the jump shot itself was relatively new. Ken Sailors, a 5-10 guard for the University of Wyoming, introduced it to the world in the mid-40s. about 20 years before Scago donned a Crusaders' uniform. Locally, Adams High star George Bigelow was one of the first county stars to shoot a jump shot in games in 1953.
Scago's scoring was what made headlines, as Procopio can attest.
"I was the point guard his senior year," said Procopio. "I usually passed him the ball. 'You'll never get your name in the papers that way,' he used to tell me."
Skrocki, who watched Scago as a young teen, cautioned against making too much of Scago's long-range sniping.
"He was a great passer, too," said Skrocki. "and he played with a lot of great players. He was not a one-man team by any means."
True. There were teammates Procopio, Dick Falkenbush and Tom Agnew, all of whom played with Scago and won all-league recognition at some point in the Scago span. But it was Scago who scored 27.3 points per game in that 1964-65 season to lead St. Joseph to the county title.
"Scago strode the county like a Colossus, despite his 5-foot, 10-inch stature," wrote O'Gara in a post-season 1965 column.
In football, he was the quarterback, and a linebacker on defense. In 1964, his senior year, the Crusaders went 7-0 and were Western Mass. Small School champions. It was the only undefeated team in the school's history. Included in that run, of course, was a 16-0 shutout of arch-rival Pittsfield. Scago scored one touchdown and passed for the other.
"I don't know if it was the best team ever," said Bianchi, who was head coach of a St. Joe team that won a Super Bowl in the 1990s. "But it was the only unbeaten team. We had a loss the year we won it."
There was, after high school, a period of darkness for Frank Scago. He was convicted of burglary in 1972 and of receiving stolen property in 1975. In an Eagle story written shortly after his death, Scago's friend and supervisor, former County Sheriff Carmen Massimiano spoke of Scago literally hiding out in Buffalo, with the FBI on his tail.
He was eventually caught and returned to Pittsfield, where he served his time. And he would, in the end, overcome all those setbacks, to work at the Berkshire County House of Correction. He eventually became head of security there.
"The thing about Frankie's problems with the law was that a lot of it — an awful lot of it — was because he was such a loyal guy," said Bianchi. "He was a stand-up guy and sometimes it got him into trouble. I'm not excusing what happened, but it's a fact.
"And in the end," concluded Bianchi, "He tuned his life around. He became a great husband and father and friend. It's a story with a good ending."
Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-629-4621.
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