Monday, July 2, 2012

Don't fall off the scaffold on your way out the door

We’ve all had them. Those moments when you ask yourself, "What the heck am I doing? Is this what has become of my life?"
Sure, like most people, those thoughts occasionally bounced around the cranium, but anything along those lines was quickly forgotten Oct. 7, 2006 while covering a football game between Serra Catholic and Beth-Center in Fredericktown. (Remember, turn right at the butcher shop.) Both teams took unbeaten records into the game, and the winner would go on to claim a conference championship.
That winner was Beth-Center. The Bulldogs beat Serra Catholic, 13-6, on an unusually chilly Friday night and went on to win their first 11 games before stumbling against Clairton in the WPIAL Class A semifinals.
It was a major step in Beth-Center’s climb toward the upper crust of Class A football, a place the Bulldogs occasionally hang out.
It’s also the night I thought my life might end while covering a high school sporting event.
Normally, a big game at Beth-Center draws the likes of ... well, me. Maybe one other scribe, possibly a radio station. This Friday night was different as there was an unusually high media interest in the game, including a television crew. At a press box with the capacity of Beth-Center’s, accommodations needed to be made. So, for whatever reason, a 20-foot scaffold was staged behind the main spectator area.
I drew the assignment for the Observer-Reporter. Josh Yohe, the fine Penguins reporter for the Tribune-Review, drew the assignment for the McKeesport Daily News. As guys in the business go, we’re both pretty easy-going, not the type to throw a fuss over seating. So, when the press box became overwhelmed with people, the decision to look for other accommodations was made.
To the scaffold.
So, Yohe and I slung our belongings over our shoulders and made the climb. Twenty feet sure looked lower from the ground.
The conditions were far from ideal. In fact, they were a bit unsettling. But, at least, we figured a good story could be told.
As the game progressed, the wind picked up. The scaffold swayed. The temperatures dropped.
And that was only the first quarter.
Yep, this was going to be one long night, but the investment had been made and, maybe, the thought of getting down from the scaffold was more unsettling than actually being perched atop it.
Mercifully, the second quarter ended (only one half to go) and many of the game’s revelers headed toward the concession stand, located behind the scaffold and below the press box. Among those attending the game was a coworker and his son. The coworker stopped to chat during halftime. Actually, he came over to make fun of us for being on a scaffold. As the conversation continued, the coworker’s son began to rock the recently thrown together structure.
He wasn’t the biggest guy, but the scaffold wasn’t the most stable. What seemed like some innocent pushing on firm ground actually swayed the top of the scaffold with some serious movement.
Not sure what went through Yohe’s mind, but I pictured my immediate future including a rushed ambulance ride to Mon Valley Hospital.
This business, particularly at the grass-roots level, holds its share of surprises and difficult situations, but I sure hope it’s the last time an assignment involves scaffolding.
If it does happen again, it won’t happen as a member of the O-R sports staff as Tuesday night marks my last with the Observer Publishing Company.
Starting Monday, July 9, the main contributor to The Varsity Letters will be the sports editor of the Tribune-Democrat, located in Johnstown. It’s an exciting opportunity, one too good to pass.
The scaffold incident is one of many accumulated over almost 13 years working for the O-R, and definitely a favorite. One reason I waited so long to write about it is, well, I don’t find it necessary to write about myself.
Never considered myself part of the story.
Never will, this lame attempt an obvious exception.
Hopefully, after 13 years, readers realize my desire was to make high school coverage about the athletes. A novel concept, huh?
Made the occasional friend along the way. Made the occasional person(s) upset along the way. Cultivated sources. Worked hard. Every time a player, coach or parent complained about not being an Athlete of the Week, Player of the Year or Athlete of the Year, I felt validated.
When I arrived, Fort Cherry’s Mike Vernillo was ready to break the WPIAL career rushing record. Waynesburg football was set to establish a lasting legacy. Sports that rarely received coverage, were about to make some headlines.
These days, Twitter has become a popular vehicle for communication. Like many, I was hesitant in accepting social media. Like many, I no longer know how to do my job without it. (Yes, I will continue to track the future success of many student-athletes I’ve gotten to know in recent years via Twitter.)
It’s been one interesting ride, and one that lasted a lot longer than originally planned. Yet, it’s a stay I’ll always appreciate.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Five storylines from 2011-12

Early commits from Class of 2013
The Class of 2012 failed to produce a Division I scholarship player, but the same cannot be said for the upcoming senior group.
There are already three players committed to Division I programs.
Waynesburg native Scott Orndoff, the son of former Waynesburg and West Greene head coach Scott Orndoff and a big-time prospect from Seton-La Salle, was Pitt's first recruit after the hiring of coach Paul Chryst.
He'll be joined at Pitt by South Fayette's Zach Challingsworth, whose recruitment made headlines. Challingsworth recently attended a prospect camp at Pitt, and, after not receiving a scholarship offer that day, committed to Toledo. The day after Challingsworth committed, Pitt invited him back down to the football offices, where an offer was extended. Challingsworth waited a day and changed his committment to Pitt.
Monessen's Chavas Rawlins was also wooed by Pitt, but for the strong-armed quarterback, West Virginia and its high-flying offense was the choice. Rawlins had approximately 20 offers when he committed to WVU in May.

Strange twist to Spridik removal
Coaching positions are opened for many reasons. Bentworth volleyball didn't figure to be one of those positions, not after Greg Spridik compiled a 107-18 record with two PIAA playoff appearances in seven years.
Spridik, however, had his position opened in December - a result of Act 24 of 2011. Spridik's firing was traced to a drug arrest in 1980, a conviction which hadn't shown up on any previous clearances. Spridik also had clearence as a PIAA official.
Alyssa Dye was eventually hired to replace Spridik.

Dalton says "See ya" to Trinity, "Hello" to McGuffey
Ed Dalton and the Trinity School Board rarely saw eye-to-eye, and the battles between the two were well-documented, including having his football position opened on multiple occasions only to gain it back.
In February, Dalton put an end to the battle, at least for the foreseeable future, when he became the athletic director and football coach at McGuffey.
To many, the move was a curious decision. McGuffey's football program is not as stable as Trinity's, but, for Dalton, it was an easy decision. It gave him the opportunity to become an athletic director again.

Repeated excellence
Canon-McMillan wrestling, Peters Township girls soccer, Peters Township girls tennis and Chartiers-Houston softball and enjoyed championship seasons, something all four programs are accustomed to having.
C-M won its third straight WPIAL team title, and second straight PIAA team title at the individual tournament. PT girls soccer won a second straight PIAA championship and made a third appearance in the state title game in the last four years. PT girls tennis won its third WPIAL and PIAA championship since 2006. C-H softball won a second consecutive WPIAL title and the ninth in program history.

Tracking success
Was the 2012 track season the best in local history? The possibly exists. Historians would be hard pressed to find a better one.
At the PIAA championship meet, there were 11 top-three finishes. Washington's Dustin Fuller, Fort Cherry's Jessie Merckle and Waynesburg's Marissa Kalsey won state titles. WPIAL and school records books were assaulted this season, and the Washington boys track team were absolutely dominant in winning the WPIAL team titles.
Fuller won four golds at the WPIAL meet - the first time a male accomplished the feat since 1982.
Canon-McMillan's Shawn Johnson swept the jumps at the WPIAL meet - the first time the feat was accomplished by a male since 1986.
Canon-Mac's Mira Carrozza placed second in the girls Class AAA javelin, the highest placement by a Big Macs athlete at the state meet.

Washington's Josh Wise, Fort Cherry's Sean Darragh won WPIAL titles on the boys side. Wash High's Alyssa Wise, Waynesburg's Peyton Hampson, Kalsey, Merckle and Carrozza were WPIAL champs on the girls side.

Top 10 teams of 2011-12

1. Canon-McMillan wrestling
When it comes to tradition, few, if any, can touch Canon-McMillan wrestling, and the highly accomplished Big Macs may have had their best season to date. Winners of the Observer-Reporter Sports Headliner, Canon-McMillan easily won section and WPIAL team championships before winning PIAA team titles at the team and individual tournaments. The Big Macs produced four WPIAL champions, one state champion and eight PIAA medalists.
2. Peters Township girls soccer
No team from the western half of Pennsylvania had won back-to-back PIAA girls soccer championships until Peters Township accomplished the difficult task last fall with a 1-0 win over Pennridge in the Class AAA final. The Indians finished the season 20-3-1, and avenged two of those losses during the state playoffs a regular season setback to State College and against Upper St. Clair in the WPIAL championship match.
3. Peters Township girls tennis
Winning PIAA titles isn’t easy, the Indians just make it look that way. Peters Township compiled a 22-0 record on its way to a third WPIAL and state team title since 2006. Peters Township boasted talent and depth. The Indians’ No. 3 singles and both doubles teams went undefeated. PT wasn’t pushed until the PIAA final, when it beat Shady Side Academy, 4-1.
4. Wash High boys track
One of the premier dual meet teams in WPIAL history, the Prexies were particularly strong in the sprints, hurdles and jumps. They rolled through the WPIAL Class AA team playoffs and are believed to be the first team to score 100 points against three opponents in the team finals. Washington went on to finish second at the PIAA championship meet.
5. Chartiers-Houston softball
The Bucs pieced together win streaks of six and 19 games en route to winning a second consecutive WPIAL Class A title and a 25-2 record, the ninth district championship in program history. C-H won the championship with a hard-fought, come-from-behind win over Carmichaels. For the second straight year, however, the Bucs lost in the PIAA semifinals.
6. Canon-McMillan softball
WPIAL championships are nothing new for C-M wrestling, but the softball team never won one before this year. The Big Macs were carried by a slew of big bats, outstanding defense nand crafty pitching. A six-game postseason win streak included a win over Hempfield in the WPIAL Class AAAA final and got C-M all the way to the PIAA semifinals, where its season ended with an 18-6 record.
7. Peters Township girls lacrosse
The Indians won their first WPIAL Division I championship since 2009 and their fourth overall by scoring a season-high 21 goals in the championship match against Pine-Richland. Peters Township finished 16-5 after a loss to Penn Manor of District 3 in the first round of the state playoffs.
8. California baseball
The Trojans accomplished a rare feat this sping when the swept through the regular season with a 17-0 record, possibly a first in program history. California advanced through the WPIAL Class A playoffs, including an epic win over Bentworth, before losing to Neshannock in the finals. A loss to Bishop McCort in the state playoffs gave California a 19-2 record.
9. Monessen boys basketball
With an enrollment barely reach triple digits, Monessen was one of the big boys of Class AA basketball. The Greyhounds reached the WPIAL championship a second consecutive year, this time losing to PIAA runner-up Beaver Falls. Monessen reached the PIAA quarterfinals and finished with a 25-4 record.
10. Peters Township boys soccer
The Indians hit a few rough patches during the regular season before another typically lengthy postseason run. All-State midfielder Matt Venazni’s goal with 1.1 seconds left against top-seeded Pittsburgh Central Catholic forced overtime in the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals and ultimately helped PT, which finished 14-7-1, reach the title game for the sixth time in seven years.