Ralph Blundo is a big numbers guy, as in the numbers he has produced as New Castle’s head boys basketball coach have been really big.
Blundo has won 303 games in 13 seasons while guiding New Castle to a WPIAL championship appearance eight times. The Red Hurricanes have won seven of their record-14 titles in that period, and Blundo is one of only four coaches to win at least seven titles.
This past Saturday, this WPIAL coaching great found himself connected with another big number.
Blundo turned 50.
If you see Blundo this week, wish him a belated happy birthday. He celebrated the milestone Saturday while surrounded by a few things he cares deeply for — his team and his family and friends. New Castle picked up one of its most impressive wins of the season by defeating previously unbeaten South Allegheny, 61-56, in double overtime in a game that was played at Chatham University.
“It was just a heck of a win,” Blundo said. “It was a hard-fought game by both teams. Someone just had to make one more play than the other. It was a war.”
Following the war was peace, as Blundo and about 60 family members and friends spent the night enjoying each other’s company at a popular restaurant in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District.
“One thing I really enjoy is being around people I love,” said Blundo, who now sometimes wears a pair of “cheaters” (reading glasses) during games.
Added Blundo, “They’re what old people wear. I probably started wearing them when I was 48 and I’ve been wearing them more and more lately.”
Blundo has got to love what he sees from his team this season, which to the surprise of no one is piling up the wins and leading its section. New Castle began the season 10-0 — the sixth time it has done that in Blundo’s tenure — before losing twice and three games, but has since won two in a row to improve to 13-2 overall and 4-1 in Class 6A Section 1. It’s the first time the Red Hurricanes have played in the WPIAL’s largest class since the 2013-14 season when Malik Hooker led them to a perfect record and only PIAA title.
“It’s their grit. Their toughness. Their will. We know our shortcomings and our limitations, but we also know we’re going to compete night in and night out,” said Blundo, whose squad plays host Tuesday to Aliquippa in a non-section clash.
New Castle has been forced to adjust on the fly after losing its leading scorer, senior guard Isaiah Boice, to a broken foot in a Jan. 6 win at Butler. He has missed each of the past five games, including both losses, and Blundo called him week to week. Blundo said Boice is “dying to come back,” but added that they are trying to be careful with him and not rush him back too soon. Boice, who was averaging 19.5 points a game, hopes to play in college, Blundo said.
Seeing more minutes during Boice’s absence have been senior Byron Lett and sophomore Nate McKnight. The Red Hurricanes still have a dynamic talent in their backcourt with senior Jonathan Anderson. He put up a game-high 26 points against South Allegheny and is averaging 18.1 points this season.
Also sliding into a larger role this season is Blundo’s oldest son, Ralphie, a sophomore guard. Ralphie moved into the starting lineup this season after having a reserve role last season.
Ralph Blundo said he expected it would be “different” coaching his son as opposed to his other players, but it hasn’t played out that way.
“He’s my son, but he’s a player of mine. There are some things that I want to say to some players that I can’t, but I can say to him because it’s my son,” Ralph said, laughing. “But it really hasn’t been that much different. He’s been around this since he was 3.”
New Castle thriving under Blundo is nothing new. What he has done in his 13 seasons is remarkable. He has won 86% of his games, with his career record currently standing at 303-49. Over the previous 12 seasons, Blundo guided the Red Hurricanes to nine section titles and at least two playoff wins in every season. The ‘Canes have claimed an astounding 66 postseason wins in that time.
The affable Blundo is revered in New Castle and well-liked throughout the Western Pennsylvania basketball community. Good luck finding a person willing to say even one negative word about Blundo, also an assistant principal at New Castle High School. But no one supports him more than his family, which includes his wife, Kate. The two will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary this year. Kate was a three-sport standout in high school who won a WPIAL basketball championship at Avonworth in 1992. She’s a special education teacher at New Castle High School.
“I don’t know if anyone has a wife like mine,” said Blundo, a 1991 New Castle graduate. “She won 12 varsity letters in high school, so she knew what she was marrying. She sometimes has raised the kids all by herself. She’s made me feel some kind of way.”
The couple has four kids: Anna, 19; Ally, 18; Ralphie, 16; and Geno, 12. Anna attends Duquesne University. Blundo said that Geno was born just before he became head coach at New Castle, and was actually sent home the day he was hired.
It’s hard to imagine New Castle basketball without Blundo as head coach, but it almost happened.
“[Geno’s birth] made the decision hard. [Kate] blames telling me yes on the anesthesia clouding her thinking,” Blundo joked. “I actually told them no a couple of times. I didn’t know how I was going to do it with a fourth child.”
Blundo is unquestionably a “young 50.” He’s energetic and exercises regularly, but noted that he’s likely the most unhealthy during the season due to working out less and eating worse. Due to his age, good health and passion for the game, one might think Blundo has many years of head coaching still ahead of him. But that might not necessarily be the case.
“Man, I don’t know how long I’ll coach,” said Blundo. “It’s been 13 years, I believe. Our season is particularly long. It’s been 15 or 16 seasons with all the playoff games. It’s something I actually revisit every year, and whether I have the energy to do it again because it’s obviously an enormous commitment.”
It’s a commitment Blundo has made for more than a decade, and at the age of 50, he has New Castle headed toward what could be yet another WPIAL championship.
The big numbers guy isn’t sure how long he will coach, but he’s certainly not done yet.