By Harla Brown
Throwback with TODAY
Gold in Upper St. Clair By Harla Brown May 1995, pages 8&9
Gold discovered in Upper St. Clair! Bronze found nearby! The precious gold medal is from the 1988 Olympian Suzie McConnell Serio's winning basketball efforts in Seoul, Korea. The bronze is from the 1992 Olympics in Spain. Suzie lives in Upper St. Clair with her husband, Pete, and their two children, Peter, four, and Jordan, nine months. Our community is enriched by their presence.
The gold medalist has been many places since growing up in Brookline and playing on the fourth grade boys' team. Her family is always there, even across both oceans, to support her. Why is her family so close? Her parents and eight children lived in a small house with one bathroom. "When you share one bathroom with that many people you become close and stay close!" Suzie explained. Her parents, Tom and Sue McConnell, and six of the eight children still live in the Pittsburgh area. Six children continued their love of basketball through coaching!
Both parents played basketball in high school, giving their children a natural ability and the desire to become athletes. Her two older brothers taught Suzie to play and to love the game. Suzie's team playing began at Our Lady of Loreto School with Coach Dan Kail. "He was a great coach. He taught me the fundamentals," Suzie added. Her first team was the Boys' Team. "I had long hair that year. I looked like a girl in the photograph, but by the fifth grade I cut my hair. I knew I was serious about basketball. I looked like a boy in that photo!" laughed Suzie.
At Seton LaSalle High School, Suzie started setting goals. Her brothers were her role models. She wanted to make good grades and win a WPIAL (Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League) Championship. She succeeded with a 3.5 grade point average and two WPIAL Championships! "It takes a lot of hard work and discipline. You cannot give up," adds Suzie.
Suzie still sets her goals. As the coach of the Upper St. Clair High School rival Oakland Catholic, her target was met with a state championship two years ago. She has set her aim for yet another WPIAL and State Championship.
Besides basketball, Suzie wants to be a good wife and mother. She continued, "I want to raise our kids with good values and morals. They need to know they must work hard to be successful and that family is so important." Careerwise, Suzie would like to coach a Division I college team when the children are older. "I would also like to have a positive effect on at least one student by speaking through the Blue Cross Speakers Team for Drug and Alcohol Awareness," Suzie replied. "I talk to middle school and high school students about setting goals, working hard, having a positive attitude, believing in yourself and having fun! Choose whatever you like, whether it's sports, studies, music, reading...whatever you choose, have fun and enjoy doing it!"
Pete, Suzie's husband, was a friend of her oldest brother. He was always at the McConnell's home. When Suzie was in high school, Pete wanted to date her, but Mom said "no." He was seven years older than Suzie. They started dating while Suzie was in college and have been married fro six years as of April 22. Suzie is most proud of their two children, saying, "I love being a Mom. I love knowing I am there to help shape and teach them. I find that so rewarding."
Only the Best of the Best make it to the Olympics. Suzie made it twice. How did she do it? "It was a tremendous amount of work and time. The tryouts for the 1988 Olympics came when I was right out of college. I was at the top of the game. I was in shape, But the 1992 tryouts were four months after Peter was born. I had done nothing for two years. My brother, Tim, became my personal trainer. We ran the hills of Pittsburgh. We ran the stadium steps at Three Rivers. We jumped rope. I played against the guys. He really pushed me. It was a greater achievenment making the 1992 team after being married and having a baby. I kept asking myself 'Why am I doing this? Is it worth it?' There were so many questions. But making the team and representing the United States was worth all the time and effort." Husband Pete adds, "Suzie worked hard and got everything she deserved."
"Seoul was the most exciting. It was all so new! My whole family and Pete were there to support and encourage us. The fans at both Olympics were wonderful asking for autographs and taking photographs," continued Suzie.
Will their children play basketball? "Only if they choose to play. There will be no pressure. We do not have any expectations of them. They will have expectations of their own to fulfill. We will encourage them to find an interest or talent and we will encourage and support the in whatever they choose. My parents never pressured any of us. We were and still are very competitive, but we were encouraged to do our best, not pressured."
Where are all those trophies and medals from all those McConnell Kids? "All the trophies and plaques are in my parents' trophy case downstairs. I do have the Olympic Medals in safe-keeping."
Suzie has had some riveting moments in the sports world. Her greatest sport disappointment was having a broken ankle in the Keystone (State) Games and missing part of her junior year playing at Seton LaSalle. Suzie's Oakland Catholic team went to the State Championship in Hershey two years ago and left the basketballs back in Pittsburgh at the school! It all makes the fame - and life - more interesting!
The Township of Upper St. Clair was chosen as the Serios' home because of the school system, the location and its residents. Suzie not only has a gold medal but she embodies the character and the heart of gold to match. Her values are in the right place. She believes in the importance of family, hard work, dedication and enjoying life. Upper St. Clair is privileged to have this precious treasure, which is more valuable than any gold, residing in our community!