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Buscaglia Named BCT Sportsperson of the Year

Sunday, January 3, 2016
By Lauren Kirschman, Beaver County Times
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Pittsburgh, Pa. — Sal Buscaglia keeps an old newspaper article tucked away in his desk. It's from his time in Buffalo, and it commends him for spending just as much time promoting women's basketball as coaching women's basketball.
 
He's fond of the clipping, not only because he does spend so much time advocating for women's athletics, but also because the more people notice, the more change he can he can facilitate.
 
He often gets upset, frustrated even, at how women's athletics are treated. Like when newspaper prints the Robert Morris men's team is playing, but doesn't mention the women. Or when ESPN only runs the women's top 25 scores, but all of the men's.
 
"How are women's sports supposed to grow?" he asked from his office chair, surrounded by trophies and memorabilia from his 13 years coaching Colonials basketball. Above him, on the wall, hung a portrait of his mother.
 
Buscaglia hates when someone tells him, "That's the way it is." He doesn't want to hear that's just how society works, and he's not interested in accepting things how they are. Not when it comes to his life's work. Not when it comes to women's sports.
 
Now in his final season at Robert Morris, Buscaglia has been a woman's basketball coach for37 years, never making the switch to the men's side. He has no interest. He was raised by two women — his mother and his grandmother — and he believes coaching women is his calling.
 
He's made it his mission to spread the word.
 
"I really like the underdog. I like the challenge behind it," he said. "More importantly, I have a very big respect. ... My mother taught me that respect is a very important thing. I just feel that any group in our country who has had to earn everything they have deserves respect, and I think women could be in that category, especially women in sports.
 
"They had to earn all this respect that they have. When I first started out, women didn't have that. They were stereotyped as non­athletic and boys played sports. I even say today, the old­school people think of basketball as the men's basketball team. They don't think of it as the women's basketball team."
 
Buscaglia started working in women's sports in 1977. He's devoted to it. It's been rooted in him since birth.
 
His grandmother was an immigrant from Sicily, and her husband died when she was 21 soon after they arrived in the United States. She had four children to raise. One of those children was Buscaglia's mother, whose husband died when she was 46 and Buscaglia was 8. She raised three children with no life insurance and an eighth­grade education.
 
"I saw the passion that they had and they work ethic that they had," Buscaglia said, "and they were women.
 
"He sees a similar passion in the women he coaches, and that's why he won't stop demanding for them to receive the recognition and respect he believes they deserve. It doesn't stop at basketball, either. He's just as committed to rallying for Robert Morris' other women's programs.
 
"I tell my players all the time, as a woman you have to fight harder for things," Buscaglia said. "Things are changing. Women are CEOs, women are coming up. But they still have challenges ahead of them. We need to make this a total world, not a men's world. It's that challenge that makes my adrenaline flow."
 
"When he became women's coach, he really fell in love with what it represented," said son Charlie Buscaglia, Robert Morris' associate head coach who will take over as head coach next season. "What it represents is women going out there working equally as hard as the men's side and fighting for them to get the recognition and the credit for how hard they work."
 
Buscaglia completely rejuvenated the Robert Morris women's basketball program when he arrived before the 2003­04 season. The Colonials hadn't been to a tournament since 1988­89, and he inherited a team that went 1­26 the year before.
 
His first season, Robert Morris finished 3­24. Just one year later, he led the 2004­05 team to a20­10 mark, the third biggest turnaround in Division I history. Since then, he's taken the Colonials to six national tournaments, including three NCAA Tournaments.
 
But while the success on the court has been impressive, Buscaglia also wants to leave a mark as a champion for women's athletics. He pushes for media coverage, for female athletics to get attention for their accomplishments, for equal promotion.
 
It's not something he plans to stop, either, when he retires after this season. He still plans to campaign for recognition, and athletic director Craig Coleman wouldn't expect anything less.
 
"I frankly expect him to continue that from beyond the grave," Coleman said with a laugh. "I feel like we could have a seance and he would appear."
 
Coleman, who also coaches the softball team, said he doesn't think anyone — not even Buscaglia's own players or other Robert Morris women's teams — understand just how hard Buscaglia works to promote them.
 
"He is tireless in his efforts to not just get his own program the attention it deserves, but all of our women's sports," Coleman said. "It's something that's been a lifelong passion of his. He's there everyday with these young women and they work just as hard as the men and they go through all the same trials and tribulations as the men.
 
"He cares an awful lot about them and it breaks his heart when 2,000 people show up to watch the men play and 200 people show up to watch the women play. He is always advocating for doing more for the women, trying to come up with new marketing ideas to get people to the games."
 
Buscaglia has seen progress. Not as much as he'd like, but progress nonetheless. Women's sports and men's sports are more equal now in resources and funding than when he started, and he commended Robert Morris in particular for what the university does for women's athletic financially.
 
Still, there's work to be done. It can't just be the people working in athletics striving to make a change, he said, it has to be the community and the fans and other university employees. It's about altering the culture of the country as a whole, to build a consciousness for the value of women's sports that wasn't there before.
 
"The fact that I know that my coach has my back means everything," said senior Ashley Ravelli. "If he's out there talking to people, I know he'll talk good about us. I know he doesn't complain that he's coaching women. He loves that he's coaching women. He supports us. It means everything.
 
"You can't ask for more than knowing that your coach has your back. He's there to tell you you're good enough to do this. You're not a guy, but you're good enough to do this."
 
Objectively, Buscaglia understands why men's sports are more of a draw, but he wants fans to look at sports, particularly college sports, in a different way. In many ways, female athletes personify what student­athletes are supposed to be, he said, and it's time for everyone else to pay attention.
 
"I think we in society look at everything from an entertainment value," he said. "Men entertain us more. They dunk. They run faster. That's just the truth, they do. But I think we should foster the complete picture of what college athletics is about.
 
"It's not just about entertainment. It's about young people, men or women, who are representing their school. I'm going to a game to see a student­athlete, a true student­athlete, a kid who gets good grades, is a good kid. Get excited about who you are supporting."