This article was written and released by Joe Tuscano of the Observer-Reporter. The original article can be found here.
Buns, to his friends. I never heard him called Manuel by anyone.
My fondest memory of Buns was him sitting at the edge of the scorer’s table, yelling encouragement to his Canon-McMillan wrestlers.
I write the word “his” because it was so true. He was never the head coach or assistant but he lived and died with each win and every loss by the C-M wrestlers. His voice would be lower, like speaking in a church, when his Big Macs suffered a heart-breaking loss, just as it was raised when his Big Macs notched a great win.
The voices are low this week after Pihakis, who was 89, died Saturday in the community he loved and surrounded by family members that he loved even more.
“Even at the very end, he’d be out of it, then the next thing you know, he would wake up, take off his covers and say, ‘I’ve got to get to the school,’” said Brian Krenzelak, the current head coach of the Big Mac wrestling team and Pihakis’ nephew.
“We were like, ‘Lay down Uncle Buns, lay down.’ And he would say, ‘I’ve got to get to the school board meeting.’ He would look at me and say, ‘How’s the team going to be this year?’ I’d say, ‘They’re going to be fine, Uncle Buns. They’re going to be fine.’”
Buns seemed like such an odd nickname and I never learned the story behind it. But it was easier to understand who one was talking about, when they used it.
Buns was the thin little kid who went 99-1 in his high school career at what was then Canonsburg High School.
Buns was one of the first four-time WPIAL champions.
Buns was elected into the Pittsburgh Sports Hall of Fame, Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame and Washington-Greene Co. Chapter of the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame.
Buns was a graduate of Indiana University and twice tried out for the United States Olympic Wrestling Team.
When he returned to Canonsburg, there was a career in education waiting, an athletic directors job for the taking and a lengthy stay on the Canon-McMillan School Board, where he worked to improve the education of children and the prosperity of the district, such as the swimming pool and construction of one of the finest gymnasium in the WPIAL.
“That was a big part of me coaching, not only for Uncle Buns, but for all these people who are in my mind,” Krenzelak said. “That’s why I put so much into the program, to live up to their legacy.”
And Buns didn’t care what school district you were from, as long as you put Canon-McMillan first as he did.
“When everyone thiinks about Canon-McMillan or Canonsburg wresrtling, the one name that should stand out is Manuel Pihakis,” said Chris Mary, who arrived from Chartiers-Houston High School and led the Big Macs to their most prosperous days.
Try 12 section titles, four WPIAL Team Tournament titles, three PIAA Team Tournament titles and two PIAA individual team titles.
“He was on the school board when I was there,” Mary said. “He interviewed me, he hired me and he always told me ‘I believe in you.’”
That trust was born out of faith. Buns was a religious man and rarely missed services.
“He was a man larger than life in the community and in church. He was always (at church) with a smile to greet you and welcome you, whether you were a member or a visitor, and that will be sorely missed,” said Fr. George Athanasiou, Presbyter at All Saints Church. “He was dedicated to the church and to Canonsburg.”
Mary recalls the time when Canon-McMillan won its first state team title.
“I took the Canon-McMillan van to his house that Sunday and put that state trophy on his TV stand,” Mary recalled. “Mr. Pihakis would joke with me because he was instrumental in hiring Dave Cook and Jim Neuman, who were both Chartiers-Houston grads, and he would say he took some jabs hiring three Chartiers-Houston grads.
“With a stern voice, he would put his finger down and say, ‘You guys delivered.’”