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R.J. Umberger headlines latest class for East Boros Chapter of Pa. Sports Hall of Fame

October 18, 2018 GMT

R.J. Umberger is known by millions of professional hockey fans for his time in the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers.

He finished his NHL career with 180 goals and 212 assists in 11 seasons from 2005-16.

But it was in Plum where Umberger got his start in hockey, growing in the sport through youth-league participation up to his time with the Plum varsity team.

Umberger left home after his sophomore year to pursue hockey at the junior level. He traveled throughout the country and internationally for several teams before playing in college at Ohio State.

A 2001 NHL first-round draft pick, Umberger waited four years to make his dream of playing in the NHL a reality.

Umberger will be celebrated for his accomplishments with seven other athletic greats as the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, East Boros Chapter, inducts its Class of 2018 Thursday at Edgewood Country Club in Churchill.

“This is a huge honor for me and for my family,” said Umberger, who resides in Columbus, Ohio, with his wife and three children.

“I am looking forward to sharing this evening with family and friends. It should be a fun gathering to hear stories about the other inductees and meet some great people.”

Plum retired Umberger’s No. 20 Mustangs jersey in 2006.

During the NHL lockout in 2012, he was able to return home to receive induction into the Plum High School Sports Hall of Fame.

Joining Umberger in this, the 41st induction class, is Dave Loya (East Allegheny), Jim Alcorn (Penn Hills), Michael (Mickey) Catello (Penn Hills), Joe Dello Stritto (Swissvale), Bob Flajnik (Plum, posthumously), Alfreda Goff (Westinghouse Memorial/East Allegheny) and Barbara Russell (Wilkinsburg).

“It’s always impressive to see what other people have done in their lives and in sports,” Umberger said. “There is a great and lasting sports tradition in the area.”

The event will be a mix of grateful celebration and emotional reflection for the friends and family of Flajnik, who passed away in May 2016 at age 49.

Flajnik, a 1985 Plum graduate, was a member of the Mustangs 1983 WPIAL Quad-A championship football team and was captain of the 1984 squad.

An airline flight attendant for more than a decade, he pursued a second career in sports and became known for hiking and mountain climbing, as well as his prowess and success in road races, marathons and triathlons.

The Boston and Pittsburgh marathons were among his favorites.

More than 300 have been enshrined since the Hall of Fame was formed in 1978. A number of them will be on hand Thursday to celebrate this year’s class.

“It’s nice to see so many of the past inductees we’ve honored be able to come back and greet the new members,” said Bob Ford, president of the East Boros chapter.

Ford said he is pleased to see the positive response to the banquet, again a sellout, and also to this year’s induction class.

“The evening is always a special time for the inductees, as well as their family and friends,” Ford said.

“It is a celebration of their lives and their careers in sports.”

The East Boros Chapter represents 21 communities in eastern Allegheny County and western Westmoreland County, stretching from Edgewood and Swissvale in the east, Oakmont in the north, Murrysville, Trafford and Penn Township in the west and Wilmerding and East Pittsburgh to the south.

Bill Hillgrove (2005), Curtis Bray (’15), Roger Kingdom (’96), Sean Knapp (’07), George Novak (’04), Herb Sendek (’01), Elroy Face (’91) and Dick Groat (’78) are just a small sample of the many athletic greats honored over the past four decades.

For more information on the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, East Boros Chapter, as well as the scholarship golf outing held each May, visit paeastborosshof.com.