Jack Loya first made an impression on the region’s basketball scene as a member of the former Franklin High School Blue Jays team in the late 1950s.

During the six decades that followed, the long-time coach was a fixture on the hardwood in places such as Gallitzin, Shanksville, Cresson, Boswell and Johnstown.

Loya died Wednesday at age 78 after an extended illness.

“He had a really unique ability to see something in a player that someone else might not see,” said Landon Loya, who followed his father into the coaching ranks and is in his 10th season leading the Penn Highlands Community College men’s program. “I think it’s a good metaphor for life, being able to find good in a person and have a use for them.”

Landon said his father had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

Basketball and family memories almost certainly will help the Loyas through this difficult time.

“He really loved his players,” Landon Loya said. “He had a soft spot for kids who didn’t have much and he would look after them extra. Growing up in my house through the years there was always a different player that would show up for supper, dinner at Thanksgiving. 

“He was very giving that way and did it without expectations of getting anything back.”

‘Iron Man’

Jack Loya was a football and basketball standout at Franklin High. He went on to what now is Clarion University, where he earned the nickname “Iron Man” as a football player who rarely left the field while filling roles on offense, defense and as a punter.

After getting his master’s degree at West Virginia University, Loya became an educator and eventually retired from Conemaugh Valley High School, where he was a health and physical education teacher.

His basketball coaching career included stops at the high school and college levels as well as his well-known “Loya Camp of Aggression” summer sessions.

Most recently, Loya coached the North Star High School boys team to a 99-34 record in five seasons (2006-07 to 2010-11). 

His Cougars appeared in five straight District 5 Class AA title games, including district crowns in 2007, 2010 and 2011.

“He brought a lot of positive accolades to the North Star boys basketball program,” Cougars Athletic Director Stacy Schmitt said. “During his tenure here he was very successful in the big games, the district games. He managed to win the big ones either in the districts or the PIAA playoffs.”

Loya never strayed from the fundamentals and philosophies ingrained in him during those early years of his basketball career but managed to incorporate contemporary strategies.

“I was a junior when Jack came on with us at North Star. We weren’t the best program at the time,” said Bryan Ridilla, a 2008 graduate. “He stepped in when our program was down. When he came in it gave us a little more structure, a little more organization.

“We really didn’t expect to make districts the first year and we ended up winning that year.”

‘Made you a better person’

Elijah Petrilla was a 6-foot-3, 1,000-point scorer for the Cougars under Loya. Petrilla appreciated Loya’s focus on getting the ball inside.

“I always liked Jack. I thought he was a real good coach,” Petrilla said. “He was good for the program. He always liked to push people and always made you a better person.

“He was really big into foul shots. Always put the ball inside. He didn’t like shooting from the outside too much. It was an old-school coach type of play. Always driving to the rim.”

Loya coached the college game in various roles with Mount Aloysius College, Frederick Community College, Pitt-Johnstown, Seton Hill University and Cambria County Community Area College (now known as Penn Highlands Community College).

“I played for him when it was Cambria County Community Area College,” Landon Loya said. 

“I had an ACL knee injury that prevented me from playing my second year. I became a student assistant and got my coaching start under him. I learned a lot that year about basketball.”

When Landon needed an assistant coach at Penn Highlands, he knew where to turn.

“Things come full circle sometimes,” Landon Loya said. 

“When I was hired at Penn Highlands, he asked if I needed some help and he became my volunteer assistant coach.”

‘Well-prepared’

Those who coached against Jack Loya at the high school level recalled a competitor – intense on the court but a friend after the final whistle.

“He was always one to offer help and assistance if I’d run into him at a summer league game,” said coach Wade Fyock, whose Shade Panthers split a pair of WestPAC title games against Loya’s Cougars. “He would always ask if there was anything he could do. Even when we were done competing against each other he would take time out to say hello.”

Richland’s Greg Burke first coached against Loya when Burke was at Windber High.

“When I got into coaching basketball, Coach Loya was established in the area. No matter what I asked him about the game of basketball, even though we were competing, he was always willing to share,” Burke said. 

“I was involved with his summer basketball clinics. He asked me to present. He welcomed me into the fraternity of coaching in our area.”

Blacklick Valley’s Garry Wurm recalled rivalry games against Loya’s Cougars. The intensity level often rose during the contests, but a friendship was forged afterwards.

“He was a good coach, competitive,” Wurm said. “Every time we went up against Coach Loya’s teams they were always well-coached, well-prepared and they were good. 

“He had a good stretch at North Star and we had some good battles with them. They came out on top a lot of the times.

“He was always a gentleman to me and a good competitor,” Wurm added. “He really was an old-school coach.”

Jack Loya is survived by his wife Mary, sons Lane, Lance and Landon, and daughter Lora, as well as his children’s spouses. There are eight grandchildren and another grandchild on the way.

Mickle-Geisel Funeral Home in Schellsburg is handling the arrangements.

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.

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