This is the first in a series of five articles profiling the Seneca Valley Sports Hall of Fame’s class of 2020.
ECONOMY — Ken Eastgate was waiting for Ron Gruca’s class to come along.
He wasn’t disappointed.
Gruca began playing soccer in Cranberry Township’s youth ranks in the late 1970s.
“He was outstanding since the first time I saw him,” said Eastgate, who would later coach Seneca Valley’s varsity boys team. “A lot of those kids came up together, grew together and played on travel teams and all-star teams. I didn’t hesitate putting them in as freshmen for the high school team.”
The Raiders, as Gruca put it, “got crushed” those first two years. As a junior, the team reached respectability in 1989 with a 6-11-2 record.
Then, led by Gruca’s scoring as a striker, the Raiders vaulted to second place in the section standings his senior year and qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the very first time, finishing with an overall record of 14-3-1.
Gruca was the third-leading scorer in the WPIAL that season, after which he was named Team MVP and the section’s player of the year.
The 1991 graduate will be inducted into the Seneca Valley Sports Hall of Fame in September.
“The way we transitioned, first to a competitive team, then to the playoffs, that turnaround was tremendous,” said Gruca. “Don’t get me wrong, I loved scoring goals, but my teammates and coaches helped me out a ton. It was truly a team effort.”
Eastgate’s encouragement helped spur the program’s improvement.
“He was always behind us,” said Gruca. “If we had a bad game, it was, ‘Let it go. Let’s get back to what we need to do.’ That was my biggest takeaway from him.”
It was when Gruca was about 10 years old that he gained a passion for the sport.
“There wasn’t a lot of interest in soccer around here when I was really young. The (recreational) teams had both skilled and unskilled players, but then the Pittsburgh Spirit (professional indoor soccer team) came along and people started getting a passion for it. The local soccer leagues used to take kids down to watch them.”
Gruca went on to play all four years at Allegheny College, where he majored in mathematics. He is now Senior Director of Development for Pressley Ridge, which helps youths and families establish healthy and stable communities and lives.
He and his wife, Cindy, have two children, Emily (18) and Will (15).
Gruca said his late parents, Rich and Peg, “were always supportive of me.
“Making the hall of fame, there’s no bigger honor you can get from your school,” he added. “When I’m inducted, it will be almost 30 years to the day since I last walked off that field. It’s surreal. I’m excited and honored.”