Together, tough and tenacious
By John Enrietto
Eagle Sports Editor
BUTLER TWP — This was not a team of stars — at least, not yet.
Shawn Bellis, who went on to become Butler boys basketball's all-time leading scorer, was only a freshman. Matt Clement, who went on to a solid career as a major league pitcher, was merely a sophomore. Jaron Hilovsky, another eventual 1,000-point scorer, was a sophomore as well.
But the 1991 Butler varsity boys basketball team went on to post a 27-4 record — the program's most wins ever in a single season — and win the WPIAL championship.
It marked the first WPIAL title in Golden Tornado boys basketball history since 1915. It is also the lone WPIAL crown in the 36-year prep coaching career of Mark Jula.
“It all came together that year,” Jula recalled. “We had the guard play, three or four quality guys inside ... But the big thing I remember is what close friends those guys were and how well they played together.
“Play defense, play together and play hard. That's how they did it. That's still the best way to do it.”
Clement and 1991 Tornado teammate Don Hilliard are now Butler varsity basketball coaches. Pat McClellan, Jula's assistant coach, is an assistant coach with the Tornado now as well.
Chris Bellis, a senior starting forward on that 1991 team, is boys basketball coach at Karns City.
Bellis scored a career-high 15 points in Butler's 63-29 win over Bethel Park in the semifinals. He topped that with an 18-point effort in a 79-54 win against Hempfield in the title game. He also helped defend Hempfield's 6-foot-9 Leon Agnew, who went on to play at West Virginia University.
Agnew was frustrated to the point that he and Bellis were ejected after tempers flared with less than two minutes to play.
“It was the ultimate in team basketball,” Bellis said. “We played great team defense and the points were evenly distributed. Our leading scorer had maybe 12 points per game, then we had a guy averaging 10, a guy averaging nine, etc.
of the 1991 WPIAL boys basketball championship Butler basketball team
included, from left, front: Chris and Brett Jula
(coach's sons); middle: Aaron Sease, Matt Clement,
Jaron Hilovsky, Larry Garvin, Dan Heiman, Don
Hilliard and Dave Wingfield; back: Ron Zawrotuk,
Chris Bellis, Matt McClelland, Mike Beichner, Chris
McMichaekl, Doug Brink and Shawn Bellis. Coach Mark
Jula is at far right.
“All I remember is taking the court, no matter
what gym we were at or who we were playing, never thinking we would lose. We
felt like we could beat anybody anywhere.”
The Tornado allowed only 46 points per game — and were very patient when scoring theirs.
“Coach Jula never did anything fancy,” said Bill Ellis, a statistician for the team. “He'd run some set plays ... He ran a weave where we'd possess the ball for two to four minutes before the right shot would open up.
“The kids bought into the system. They believed in it. And they won.”
Actually, they won big most of the time — in front of a lot of people.
“I don't remember many of our games being close,” Clement said. “Those seniors just got after it. I know because I went against them on scout team every day in practice.
“I learned so much from those guys in terms of work ethic, desire and willingness to work both ends of the court.”
Shawn Bellis echoed those thoughts.
“Work hard and you can be successful,” he said. “Sounds basic, but's that all it was.”
Seniors on the team were 6-6 center Mike Beichner, 6-4 forward Bellis, 6-5 center Doug Brink, 5-7 point guard Dan Heiman, 6-foot-0 guard Hilliard, 6-7 center Chris McMichael, 6-foot-0 guard Dave Wingfield, and 6-3 guard Ron Zawrotuk.
Starters were Heiman, Zawrotuk, Brink, Bellis and Hilliard.
Also on the team were juniors Larry Garvin, Matt McClelland and Aaron Sease, sophomores Clement, Rich McClellan and Hilovsky, and freshman Shawn Bellis.
Jula recalled the partition being closed in the Butler gym during that season's first win against Farrell.
That partition stayed open the rest of the season and the gym was always packed to the rafters.
of the 1991 Butler chamopionship basketball team
celebrate their WPIAL title win at Fitzgerald Field House.
“It was like that every game,” Jula said. “There was a sign, 'Jula's
Jungle,' that was displayed every game. We'd get 500 or so fans coming to our
road games. They used to come in buses.
“I've never seen community support like that for a basketball team, before or since.”
Heiman scored 789 points in his high school career and was the leader of that 1991 team, averaging 12 points per game. He scored 23 points in the WPIAL finals and sank 16 treys during the WPIAL Tournament.
“We executed plays well and eventually wore defenses down,” Heiman said. “The chemistry was definitely there and we got on a nice run.”
While Heiman stood just 5-7, Ellis recalled an opponent putting a 6-4 defender on him to take away his 3-point shot.
“All Danny would do is dribble around him and then shoot. He was so quick,” Ellis said.
Butler's 1991 season ended with a loss to Altoona in the PIAA Western Finals. Eventual University of South Carolina quarterback Steve Taneyhill and future NBA player Danny Fortson were on that Altoona team.
Butler fell behind by 20 and whittled the deficit to two before eventually losing.
“We were well-coached and we were always the best conditioned team on the court,” Heiman said. “We were never out of a game.”