Joseph N. Brancato, 97, a former vice principal at South Philadelphia High School and versatile athlete who once held a collegiate record in rope climbing, 20 feet in 3.9 seconds, died Thursday, Dec., 27, at a Delaware County retirement community.

Dr. Brancato graduated from South Philadelphia High School, earned bachelor's and master's degrees at Temple University, and completed his Ph.D. in physical education at Pennsylvania State University.

Though he lived most of his adult life in Morton, he was the last surviving of seven Brancato siblings from South Philadelphia.

Brother Mike sold suits at Gimbels. Brother Dom worked at the Navy yard for 52 years. Brother Al, who died in June at 93, played shortstop for the Philadelphia Athletics. The eldest, Anne Brancato Wood, became the first Democratic woman to serve in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, according to a nephew, Albert Brancato.

Dr. Brancato, who suffered from dementia in the last years of his life, was born March 21, 1915, the fifth child of Giuseppe and Luigia Brancato.

During his years as a student athlete at Temple, Dr. Brancato was a member of the Eastern Intercollegiate Gymnastics League and set his record in rope climbing.

Dr. Brancato also excelled at wrestling, basketball, and track, according to his nephew.

Stationed in Hawaii and the Philippines with the U.S. Navy during World War II, Dr. Brancato conducted the Southwest Pacific Basketball and Baseball Championships and wrote daily sports columns for the Navy in the Honolulu Star Bulletin and for a paper in the Philippines, his nephew said.

He served as a gym teacher for 12 years before becoming a vice principal at South Philadelphia High, and during that time coached the junior varsity basketball team to 50 straight victories over three seasons.

Dr. Brancato was married to the late Monica (Bilas) Brancato and father of the late Lisbeth Stamoulis. He is survived by grandchildren Nicholas Joseph Stamoulis and Alyssa Ann Stamoulis; and son-in-law Nicholas John Stamoulis.

A Funeral Mass was said Saturday, Dec. 29, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Morton. Contributions in Dr. Brancato's memory may be made to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, 125 S. Ninth St., Philadelphia 19107