Mark Jula started a new tradition on Sunday with the Ambridge boys basketball team.
The Bridgers coach decided this year to treat his seniors to a special night out.
All four seniors and their dates met up at Anthony Wayne Terrace in Baden before taking a snazzy limousine ride to the Grandview Saloon, a scenic restaurant on Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh.
For Jula, a 1971 Ambridge graduate, the meeting place meant as much as the excursion itself.
“I wanted to go where it all started,” said Jula, who grew up in Anthony Wayne Terrace.
Seniors Tyler Niederriter and Mike Winterbaur said they were “definitely surprised” their coach wanted to treat them and their teammates Kody Nichi and Mike Taylor.
“I feel like he’s taking care of us, like he said he would the first night he ever came to us to talk to us,” said Tyler, a basketball player for three years.
But if anyone knows anything about Ambridge basketball traditions, it’s Jula. Growing up, he was a sports standout at Ambridge–a point guard in basketball, a fullback, linebacker and defensive back in football, and a pitcher and infielder in baseball.
“The man has won everywhere he’s gone,” said former neighbor and family friend Dan Couch, who stopped by to greet the coach he remembered as a little kid.
Jula was hired as the Bridgers’ coach in 2012 and has helped turned the program around in two seasons. The team finished the season 17-7 this year with a loss against Uniontown.
"We played a good Uniontown team. They lost one game all year...We didn't play our best game," Jula said.
But the team finished out better than last year, when the season ended 14-9. Jula’s career record is now at 498 wins. He believes he’ll reach 500 soon enough.
"We're getting better every year. We have four starters back so we're looking forward to next year."
Assistant Coach Matt Kupper said the Ambridge team has become like family and he thinks the tradition Jula started is "amazing," adding that the coach is a good role model on and off the court. He knows from experience, having played under Coach Jula in 2004-2007 as a Center High School student.
"Not only does he teach you about basketball, he teaches you a little bit about life."
Before hitting the road Sunday afternoon in a Shamrock Limousine, a company owned by Ambridge grad Dina Dodaro, the crew headed down to the nearby basketball court to shoot some hoops.
In between shots, Jula pointed out changes in his old neighborhood, like the parking lot where the basketball court used to be located. He said the court would be so crowded that some guys had to wait on the sidelines for their turn.
"I just wanted to do something special for these seniors. It's kind of cool to be able to come back to Anthony Wayne Terrace where it all started."