Slippery Rock Hall of Fame nod good reason to catch up with former Warren LB Rick Allen

When Warren sports fan Dave Sherman recommended we start up a “Where are they now?” feature in the Times Observer sports section, the obvious Warren County Sports Hall of Fame names came to mind. But I had also remembered recently reading an article online about Warren Area High School graduate Rick Allen being inducted into the Slippery Rock University Athletic Hall of Fame.

Graduating from Slippery Rock State College in 1983 as a Division II All-American linebacker would put Allen on Warren Area High School’s football team in the late 1970’s – a history-making time for the Dragons.

“I was very fortunate to play football with my brother Chuck on the undefeated 1976 Team (11 – 0) and be coached by Mr. Toby Shea and linebacker coach Mr. Jack Swedler – great coaches and … life mentors,” said Allen, who builds hospitals around the world as vice president of Global Healthcare Services at dck Worldwide, Pittsburgh.

“I joined dck following 27 years in various hospital operations leadership roles (senior vice president/vice president) around Pittsburgh,” he said. “I also consult with hospitals on medical and technology planning, licensure and accreditation, and transition and occupancy of their new facilities. We are building hospitals in Guam, Hawaii, the Caribbean, and have potential projects in Africa and the Middle East.”

But it all started at North Warren Elementary School, Beaty junior high, and then at WAHS. Now Pittsburgh.

“I played baseball, basketball, track and football and all other sports that were going on in the summer at the North Warren Playground, usually supervised by Mr. Molinaro and Mr. Kraft, my sixth-grade elementary teachers. Great teachers and, as I know now, life mentors,” said Allen, of Pittsburgh.

“My graduating class was 1979,” he said. “My senior year, I played football and was on the track team (shot put).”

Allen was named all-conference and all-district at center and linebacker, recording 177 tackles his senior season of 1978. He recalls being a four-or-five-time WNAE (radio) Defensive Player of the Game.

“Our ’77 ” and ’78 ” seasons we were not undefeated, but we played well and had a number of teammates go on to play college football at all levels,” said Allen. “WAHS football was perhaps the best preparation for college ball a young player could have had. Our summer pre-season camps consisted of three weeks of triple sessions and, yep, you only got water when you performed. Ah, the good ol’ days. I also was an avid weight lifter; seeing my brother was larger and older, as were his friends, I had to do something to keep up – I turned to lifting at the YMCA pretty much five or six days a week. I would often see the coaches at the Y, especially coach Falvo. My goals were to show any kid playing at Slippery Rock, from Pittsburgh or Erie or wherever, that Warren played the best football around and prepared players very well. It worked. Warren football under coach Shea was tough, smash-mouth football – run first, maybe pass. Defense was a 52-spread with plenty of blitzing. I was well prepared for college ball.”

It was surprising to learn Allen signed a Letter of Intent to play at IUP.

“I was recruited to play football at a number of PSAC schools,” said Allen. “I also recall receiving a letter from Louisville and saying to my mother, ‘where is that school?’ I didn’t reply to the letter.

“Believe it or not I always wanted to go to Slippery Rock,” said Allen. “Now, with that said, I was recruited to and signed a Letter of Intent to play at IUP. However, when I went to the campus following signing day, one coach slipped and said I was recruited to play center. I said linebacker. He told me they recruited two All-State linebackers and I tore up the (letter). I was 17-years-old, and called the Slippery Rock coach ( Doug Clinger), who said linebacker all the way… I never forgot the coaches at IUP; we beat them all four years we played them and, funny, I didn’t see any of their “All-State LB’s” on the PSAC All-Conference or NCAA All-American lists. Motivation comes in a variety of ways.”

Allen said a few Slippery Rock teammates actually played in the NFL, and they had the No. 2-ranked defense in Division II his senior season. A three-year starting linebacker and four-year letterman at Slippery Rock, Allen was a 1982 NCAA Small-College All-American, and was named PSAC All-Conference, All-East Coast Athletic Conference (ECAC), All-Pittsburgh District.

“I was a good student and was focused on a career in healthcare administration (hospital administration through the graduate school at University of Pittsburgh,” said Allen. “In fact, my final semester at Slippery

Rock, I enrolled and went to the University of Salzburg (Austria) to study international healthcare. I missed my buddies preparing to get looks from NFL scouts, and their tryouts. Okay, I went skiing quite a bit in the Alps, too.

“I returned in the summer and went to the University of Pittsburgh in the fall (graduate school of public health, earning a Masters in Health Administration in 1986),” said Allen.

“Growing up in Warren taught me the values of hard work and persistence,” he said. “My mother and father also taught me the value and importance of family and relationships. I always like coming back to Warren. It’s home to me and, as you might imagine, I am proud of my roots. I love the woods and Kinzua area. I also like to note to folks who may look down a bit on small towns that successful people come from everywhere – not just the city. It’s your drive, determination, thirst to excel that results in success, regardless of where you were born. I kind of like the edge that comes with not being handed success or be given opportunities; earning success is much sweeter.

“I own a cabin and land in Pittsfield that has been in my family for almost a century, hand-built by my grandfather and uncle,” said Allen. “My boys and I are avid outdoorsman and often come back to hunt and fish or just be in the woods or go to Kinzua Dam. My mother grew up on the farm that is now the Brokenstraw Airport (her family name is Techonchuk) . My father grew up in Irvine. My grandfather grew up in Warren. My grandfather and father worked their whole lives for the National Forge. I still have piece of art work that the owner of the National Forge (Mr. Wilder ) gave my grandfather and grandmother as a wedding gift -I assume early 1900’s. My father died of cancer when I was a senior in high school in 1979. My mother passed away only recently, September 2013.”

His family and sports helped make him the man he is today, nearly 35 years after graduating high school.

“Sports are a great avenue to help teach those life lessons,” said Allen. “Vision, goals, planning, hard work, teammates, performance appraisals, coaching to get better, winning and losing – all aspects of life that go on regardless of if you are playing a sport, in the band, cheerleading, working, or simply in every day relationships with your spouse, family or friends. Sports also support being part of a team, a brotherhood or sisterhood that lasts a lifetime. The games are long over for me, although I have tapes to watch, but the friendships and relationships forged on the field remain. It is the friendships and bond with your teammates that lasts a lifetime. I still get together with my teammates and friends from Warren and Slippery Rock. We now play golf and reminisce about playing football; the stories get better each year. I give back to Slippery Rock by serving on the SRU Foundation Board of Directors and the “National Championship Committee,” dedicated to raising money to support football scholarships… The Rock finished this past season winning the PSAC West, was ranked 21st nationally and played in the D2 NCAA playoffs in November.”

Rick’s son Gary finished his senior season last year at Slippery Rock.

“I have three outstanding sons and one step-daughter,” said Allen, married to Janis. “All great individuals and very talented, smart and successful. My oldest son, Gregg, is a graduate of Virginia Tech (BS degree in Construction Management) and works in Pittsburgh. My next two sons, Gary and Derrick, are at Slippery Rock (senior and junior). My step-daughter (Elizabeth) is at Penn State Main (sophomore).

“I was so very pleased when Gary chose to play football at SRU,” said Allen. “He had a lot of options and was recruited heavily out of Pa.’s AAAA-powerhouse North Allegheny High School. He was a captain and led the team in tackles with 109. It was the Slippery Rock coaches, the campus and the people that convinced him, and that he would be needed on the field quickly. I suspect a near full ride to school helped, too… he and I were the first father-son players for head coach George Mihalik at SRU. Coach Mihalik was the QB coach when I played. Gary ended his playing this year as a team captain , four-year letterman, All-PSAC linebacker. He also received the coaches award for being the player that best represents the type of individual they want on field and off-field. To me, that is the award to get.

“As you may have read, I was fortunate to be inducted in to the SRU Athletic Hall of Fame this past year,” said Allen. “Coming when my son was a senior and captain was truly great. We had such an emotional weekend, but as many know, when the game that night started and he went out for the coin toss, I looked out and said, ‘where is Gary?’ He wears number 45. All I saw was a number 50 – my old number. Unknown to me, he convinced the coaches to allow him to wear my old number during the game to honor the old man. Wow. Still brings a tear to my eye . He had a great game. Gary is off to the Navy Special Forces following graduation. He wants to join perhaps the most elite team in the world… He is well prepared.”