It’s been five decades since Len Chappell actually resided in Portage, but the former NBA standout felt right at home as he shared the high school auditorium stage with members of a special club on Friday evening.
Chappell, 71, traveled from Milwaukee, Wisc., to participate in Portage Mustang Basketball Appreciation and Achievement Night.
“I’ve been away 50 years and I’ve got to retrace the memories but it was worth it,” said Chappell, a former 6-foot-8 big man who tallied a school-best 2,240 points from 1955 to 1958. “It was really great to see all the other guys here. This was a good program, well thought out.”
Chappell was among Portage’s eight 1,000-point scorers honored on Friday. Seven of those were in attendance, while another had a prior commitment in Florida.
The group later was recognized during halftime of Portage’s home game against Ferndale played in the gymnasium bearing Chappell’s name.
“I want to throw this number out at you, 10,416,” said current Mustangs coach Travis Kargo, himself a member of the club with 1,247 points, third-best all-time. “That’s a special number tonight. It represents the total number of points scored by the eight members of the Portage Area basketball 1,000-point club.
That’s 10,416 points accumulated by eight individual players. But it could not have been accomplished without our great teammates and coaches.”
The easy-going and humble Chappell fronted the group. After all, his basketball career took him to Wake Forest University, where he scored 2,165 points and had 1,213 rebounds in three seasons, twice earning Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year honors. A two-time, first-team All-American, Chappell averaged 30.1 points a game and led Wake to the 1962 Final Four.
The Cambria County Sports Hall of Famer was a first-round NBA draft pick, fourth overall by the Syracuse Nationals, and he played nine NBA seasons and spent one year in the ABA.
“It was given a God-given talent,” Chappell said when asked about his success. “It’s been 50 years since I stayed here. I went to college and always ended up going some place else. But this is a great community and it’s always great to get back here.”
Each of the honorees received a Portage jacket, a list of the 1,000-point scorers, a commemorative plaque and a highlight DVD. The crowd at the auditorium watched the DVD, which included individual, action and team photographs of each 1,000-point scorer as well as statistics. Musician Cliff Nobles’ 1968 instrumental hit, “The Horse,” provided background music for the DVD. The Mustangs band traditionally performs “The Horse” at sporting events.
Portage Superintendent Richard Bernazolli, Principal Ralph Cecere and Athletic Director Gary Gouse each spoke. They credited Portage assistant basketball coach Dave McCabe for coming up with the program’s concept.
“We had some unfinished business. We had to honor these gentlemen,” McCabe said. “What I did was got the ball rolling. I talked to Len Chappell first. As soon as he committed the ball got bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Brian Shope was a football and basketball standout at Portage, scoring 1,580 points to rank second on the hoops list. He played Division I football at Marshall University and is completing his master’s degree there.
“It’s a privilege and an honor to be here,” Shope said. “Playing here at Portage, playing multiple sports, you get a lot of experience. You get to do a lot of things to hone your skills. Playing here was the only reason I was able to play at Marshall.”
The Mustangs’ 1,000-point scorers include: Chappell (2,240 points, 1955-58); Shope (1,580, 1999-2003); Kargo (1,247, 1988-91); Randy Spaid (1,175, 2003-06); Rick Layo (1,081, 1970-73); Denny Pierce (1,043, 1965-68); Sean Cronauer (1,032, 2007-11); and Ron Swanson (1,018, 1964-67).
“Portage High School has been around for a long time,” Shope said. “For there only to be eight players to score 1,000 points shows that it really is a privilege not only to be on the list, but to be No. 2.”
On Friday night at the Portage/Ferndale match up, Jesse Kreutzberger led with 15 points while Mike Bryja and Troy Scoran scored 10 each to lead Portage. Chad Eisenhuth’s 12 points topped the Yellow Jackets. Chappell, along with the rest of Portage's 1,000-point club were honored at halftime, with a donation of Chappell's #50 Milwaukee Bucks jersey to Portage High School's trophy case.