Thomas Steve, Peter Coughlin and Nimit Bansal shared the same question when informed they would be inducted into the Upper St. Clair Athletic Hall of Fame. “Why me?”
“To be honest,” said Steve, a 2014 alum, “I never thought about it. I was a little surprised when I got the call, but what an incredible honor. It’s awesome.”
Bansal agreed. As he perused the program, which listed previous inductees including NFL players like Sean Lee, former Major League Baseball players such as Sean Casey, Kevin Orie and Kevin Slowey, professional golfer Missie Berteotti, as well as big-time coaches like Todd Haley (Steelers) and Kirk Ferentz (Iowa), the 1988 alumnus said, “When you look at these names, it’s a humbling experience but a wonderful honor.”
Indeed, the three were honored along with legendary football coach Jim Render during the USC Halls Of Fame ceremony held Oct. 4. Eleven former alumni in all, including five for academia and two for the arts, were recognized at a dinner reception and introduced before the Mt. Lebanon-USC football game.
“For a multiple reasons,” Coughlin said it was “eternally grateful” to share the evening with everyone present. “I’m incredibly honored to have this recognition.”
While none have entered the professional ranks, the three enjoyed successful careers at the scholastic as well as collegiate level and are now ensconced in the business communities in which they reside.
A three-sport athlete, competing in baseball and basketball but excelling in golf, Steve earned medalist honors with a one-under-par 71 and captained the Panthers to its first PIAA state championship. The two-time WPIAL individual champion also led USC to three section titles.
An Almanac Athlete of the Year finalist, he was USC’s Outstanding Senior Athlete, a Western Pennsylvania Positive High School Athlete as well as a member of the National Honor Society.
Steve played four seasons of golf at Notre Dame and graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University.
Steve says his time at USC prepared him for the success he now enjoys as an analyst for Lincoln International for business and finance in Chicago.
“I have a lot of memories from my days of playing golf at USC,” said the son of Greg and Gina Steve, “but the thing I recall most and am grateful for is my coach (Todd Flynn) and how he had us prepared for every event and how win or lose, you keep your head high. But most of all, you must do right and treat people right.”
Coughlin learned those lessons too from his high school coaches, including Danny Holzer for basketball and Jim Render for football. He added it was a “privilege to play” for the WPIAL’s winningest football coach.
“You don’t realize how much our coaches sacrificed at the time. They were always putting us in the right position to be successful,” said the 2013 alumnus.
“At USC, I experienced a lot of success but when my teammates and I talk about our playing days, other than the memories of the games, you appreciate more how Coach Render set us up to be successful in life. I truly believe that. Whether it was his saying ‘Do Right’ or be accountable and show up on time, we are better men for that. That’s more important than the football game.”
Coughlin played in many football games at USC as his teams racked up a 22-4 record that featured two conference championships and an appearance in one WPIAL final. A two-time all-conference defensive back, he debuted at quarterback, rushing for 209 yards in an upset win against Central Catholic. Coughlin passed for 1,331 yards and 18 TDs and rushed for 545 yards and nine additional scores.
At Washington & Jefferson College, Coughlin holds 12 school passing records and six all-time Presidents Athletic Conference marks. He was a two-time captain, three-time all-conference pick, three-time offensive MVP and the 2016 ECAC Presidents Bowl MVP. In 2015, he led the NCAA Division III in completion percentage and was second in the nation in all divisions at 71 percent.
Of all his achievements, his Hall induction amazed him, even as he considered this year’s honorees.
“When you hear of the many accomplishments,” he said, “it is astonishing to be even mentioned in the same breath.”
When he played tennis for Richard Saccani, it was Bansal’s breath that was taken away from him. The USC tennis coach, who is in the school’s athletic Hall of Fame, conducted a ritual where the players ran the steps in the steamy natatorium to condition themselves for the season. Today, Bansal sees the benefit of such a drill.
“Running the steps didn’t just make us stronger but is made us mentally stronger and defined us. We ended up believing in ourselves. Coach helped us develop character and grit. He taught us to keep trying and good things will happen. So these are life lessons learned through sports that sometimes we take for granted.”
Bansal never took his abilities for granted. Not only was he a three-time section champion, WPIAL and PIAA winner, Bansal graduated as the valedictorian of his high school class and he recorded a perfect 800 score on the math portion of his SAT test.
Bansal graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and received an MBA from Duke University. He is the marketing director for external innovation at Church and Dwight Inc.
He is grateful for his education in the USC School District, citing his formative years from Eisenhower Elementary to Fort Couch Middle School to the high school.
“USC shaped me,” he said. He cited his 10th grade English teacher’s methods of making him support his answers with a statement. There was a reason for this that at the time he didn’t understand.
“She knew better than we did,” he said. “To make it in this world, you have to have conviction. You have to have support. You have to think about what you say and what you believe in. You always have to have confidence.”
Confidence is something Jim Render always possessed but it’s the support he credited for his success in coaching that led to his induction into the USC athletic Hall of Fame.
“Football coaches get into Halls Of Fames all the time,” said Render, who is already in the WPIAL, Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches, Western Pennsylvania Sports, and Upper Ohio Valley institutions, “but they don’t get there without players and coaches and I have had about the greatest players and coaches you could ever have. They put me here.”
Render also noted that his wife, Pam, and his sons, Eric and J.T., both of whom played at USC, also contributed.
“They made a lot of sacrifices so that I could care for other people’s kids and so that I could do something that I really enjoyed.”
USC enjoyed having Render at the helm because the Panthers won 406 games, 23 conference championships, five WPIAL titles and two PIAA state crowns.