Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Brumbach, Johnson enter Hall of Fame

Local sports fanatics will admit it would be a quite a challenge to list all the great athletes and coaches, and all the resourceful athletic directors and supportive administrators, who have been part of the rich history of the Ches-Mont League.

Well, no one can accuse league officials of not stepping up to such a challenge.

Two years ago, three men — Bob Boyer, Jack Byrne, and Chuck Carroll, longtime coaches and athletic directors at Downingtown, West Chester East, and Coatesville, respectively — were the first inductees into the Ches-Mont Hall of Fame. The list grew to seven last year with the addition of three retired athletic directors and one retired principal.

Last week, during the Ches-Mont League’s annual Spring Banquet at Coatesville Country Club, the newest class of inductees pushed the prestigious membership to an even dozen.

And for the first time, two individuals who made an impact in the league first as athletes and then as coaches were honored.

It was indeed a special evening for Marcia Brumbach and Alray Johnson … and for the Ches-Mont League.

Brumbach, the first female to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, was an outstanding athlete at Boyertown High School in the late-60s who would return to her alma mater to coach the field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse teams to countless championships. Like Brumbach, Johnson was an outstanding athlete at Pottstown High School in the late-60s, then took over the wrestling program at the former Downingtown High School and became one of the most successful coaches in the Ches-Mont and throughout District 1.

Ever since the Ches-Mont’s inaugural season (1950-51), few have matched their excellence as athletes and expertise as coaches.

“Marcia and Alray absolutely belong in the hall,” said Boyer.

No one had a better view of what Brumbach and Johnson accomplished. Boyer’s late wife, Kay, coached against Brumbach. And Boyer himself was the athletic director at Downingtown when Johnson was coaching the Whippets.

Brumbach is still regarded as one of Boyertown’s best athletes. Her field hockey, basketball, and softball teams dominated their Ches-Mont rivals, though the league didn’t begin sanctioned play in those sports until 1969-70, or after she had graduated. She went on to Concord College in Athens, W.Va., where she lettered in not just one, two or three sports, but six — basketball, field hockey, softball, swimming, track and field, and volleyball.

After two years teaching and coaching at York Vo-Tech, Brumbach returned to Boyertown … and her 33 years in the classroom and on the sidelines are legendary.

In 11 years as the girls’ basketball coach, Boyertown went 124-79. Her best season was 1983-84, when the Bears won 28 straight games en route to the Ches-Mont championship and second place in the District 1 playoffs. The following year, she became the head basketball coach at West Chester University, where she remained for four seasons.

Brumbach also led Boyertown’s lacrosse program for 21 years, compiling an eye-popping 245-67-12 mark that included a Ches-Mont record 14 league championships and six District 1 titles. Her teams won 56 straight games at one point, which was a state record, and more than 20 of her players earned scholastic All-American honors. Brumbach herself was named the Pennsylvania Girls Lacrosse Coach of the Year on seven occasions.

Eight years ago, Brumbach was inducted into the Concord College Hall of Fame. She was also a recent inductee into the Tri-County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, and this past February was inducted into the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the U.S. Lacrosse Association Hall of Fame.

Johnson starred in both football and wrestling and was also a member of the track and field teams at Pottstown. He had an outstanding wrestling career at West Chester University, even earning a spot in the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Soon after arriving at Downingtown, Johnson energized the wrestling program. The Whippets were the dominant program in the Ches-Mont League, pinning down seven consecutive league championships from 1981 through 1987 and winning 77 straight league matches (while tying another) from the 1980-81 season up into the 1987-88 season.

In his 16 years at Downingtown, Johnson’s teams were 198-50-6 overall. That mark included the seven Ches-Mont championships as well as five Section Four, three District 1-AAA North and two Southeast Regional titles. He also had 11 state qualifiers and one state champion.

Johnson still serves as a clinician at camps for high school and college wrestlers, and is active with the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Joining Brumbach and Johnson in this year’s Hall of Fame class were former Coatesville athletic director and league officer Mac Stuber; former Henderson football coach Mike Hancock; and former Coatesville principal and longtime league president Paul Chenger. … Last year’s four inductees were former athletic directors Al Como of Great Valley, Walt Funk of Coatesville and Jim Reichert of Henderson, and former principal David Cox of W.C. East. … The Ches-Mont League was formed in 1950-51 and featured three sports – basketball, baseball, and track and field. The league’s schools now compete in 21 sports.


Amelia Corney is always pushing forward

For the more than 500 eager seniors at Spring-Ford High School, the remaining week and a half of classes and final exams leading up to commencement may seem like a lifetime.

Especially for Amelia Corney.

But she will treasure sitting next to her classmates and taking all those tests as the academic calendar winds down, and she will cherish the moment she is handed her diploma — as much, if not more, than anyone.

Not so awfully long ago, Corney wasn’t at all sure she would ever graduate.

Or even live.

Eighteen months ago, about three weeks into her junior year, Corney was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia — cancer of the white blood cells. It was a form of cancer, she quickly learned, that could be fatal in weeks to months if left untreated.

Amelia Corney was confused, shocked. She was playing golf for Spring-Ford’s girls team every afternoon, swimming for the USS Tiger Sharks club team at The Hill School every evening, and all of a sudden she was admitted to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

But Monday night, after three bone marrow transplants, five surgeries, more than 50 blood transfusions and well over 100 hours of physical therapy — and a seemingly endless treatment plan that still includes another year of chemotherapy, monthly spinal taps and an unknown number of surgeries — Amelia Corney was presented the Most Courageous (Female) Athlete Award during the Summit Awards’ 10th annual program at the Sunnybrook Ballroom.

Next week she will graduate.

In 14 days, she will celebrate her 18th birthday.

And in just over two months, she will be attending Rider University.

“Amelia never asked why this happened to her,” said her mother, Sharon Corney. “She never looked back at what was left behind. She just bravely pushed forward, and she continues to push forward.”


Amelia Corney’s biggest fear, her mother recently revealed, was bugs. And yet it was a bug bite that may have saved her life.

On Sept. 21, 2007, she had blood drawn before going to school to identify an insect bite on her back. There was an infection, but antibiotics didn’t seem to be helping at all.

By mid-afternoon, doctors called her father — John, who was on a business trip in Italy — and informed him his daughter’s hemoglobin count was at a meager four (the normal count is 12-16). After several more calls, Sharon Corney was finally reached. Doctors, who couldn’t believe Amelia was able to walk let alone play golf and swim, told the parents to get their daughter to CHOP immediately.

“She was at the driving range when I picked her up, and she struggled to keep her demeanor on the ride to the hospital and whole time she was in the emergency room,” Sharon Corney recalled. “At two o’clock (the next morning), the attending physician told her she had cancer, and that she would not be going home.”

Amelia Corney was moved to the oncology floor and underwent the first of many blood transfusions.

“She was exhausted and scared when she was told of the diagnosis,” Sharon Corney explained. “And it was almost like she cried silently when the nurses began the blood transfusion that morning. But she never complained, never asked ‘Why?’ Then she bravely said to me, ‘Everything will be okay.’”

Little did Amelia Corney realize that CHOP would be her home for the next 57 days.

In addition to the blood transfusions, she underwent chemotherapy treatments. Surprisingly, her leukemia went into remission and doctors identified her as an “early rapid responder.” Despite just three weeks of treatments, doctors felt she could be released from the hospital early.

“Amelia had her books and school work brought to the hospital so she could keep up with her classes,” Sharon Corney said. “When she got the good news she could be released early, possibly in the next few days, she was so anxious to get to school and her teams. She wasn’t going to be allowed to go back into the (swimming) pool, but she was hoping to return to the golf team.”


Good news turned to bad the next morning, though, after Amelia mentioned a sore spot on the back of her right leg. Within hours, that sore spot was diagnosed as a fusarium — a fungus that can spread by the hour and find its way into the blood system.

Leukemia rapidly produces cancer cells in the bone marrow and hinders the marrow’s ability to produce normal blood cells. Chemo, of course, cannot discern between healthy cells and cancer cells, and literally kills everything in bone marrow. While red blood cells and platelet cells are provided by transfusions, white blood cell transfusions are very rare. And with no white blood cells, Amelia became susceptible to infections from organisms that aren’t normally a problem for individuals with healthy immune systems.

“Several surgeons were brought in to assess the best way to save her and, if possible, her leg,” Sharon Corney explained. “I was advised to prepare my daughter for the possibility that she could wake up (from surgery) without her leg.

“Amelia wasn’t hysterical, and there was no self-pity. Again, she told me, ‘I will be okay.’ ”

An orthopedic surgeon removed infected tissue found around her Achilles tendon and sent samples to the lab, and tests revealed more infections. She immediately underwent another surgery, and by week’s end two more followed.

Doctors stopped the chemotherapy to help gain control of the infections. Continuous infusions of antifungal and antibiotic medications, given to her four hours a day for six weeks, proved to be so harsh her body would rigor and shake uncontrollably. Throughout the period, her leg was bandaged to cover an open wound the size of her hand.

More medications were needed, and provided to her, but she developed cognitive problems. And the combination of the medications caused a reaction that left her lying in her bed much like a brain-damaged patient.

“Amelia had no short-term memory, no control of her emotions,” her mother said. “Her speech was slow and slurred, and she couldn’t follow a conversation.

“She also had difficulty with everyday self-care activities. She couldn’t feed or dress herself. But she kept fighting to reverse her condition. I could see her fighting to come back even though the doctors weren’t sure how to do it.”

But Amelia Corney did it … by refusing any further sedation or pain medication, by squeezing her mother’s hand as her only means to offset the pain.

“It was about 10 days when we started to see improvement,” Sharon Corney remembered. “She eventually went back to her school work (in the hospital) as a way to exercise her mind. It was a slow and very agonizing process, but she never once complained, never once showed anger … only determination.”

After almost two months since arriving at CHOP, doctors scheduled another surgery to close the wound on her right leg. They removed a large piece of her left thigh because of the need for skin, fat and blood vessels, then removed a small section of her left leg to attach it to her deteriorating right leg.

The pain was excruciating and she was put on morphine, until she requested doctors to again stop the medication.

Finally, 57 days after being admitted to the hospital — almost three full months into her junior year at Spring-Ford — Amelia Corney was allowed to go home.


Saying good-bye to other children fighting their own frightening battles with cancer at the hospital wasn’t easy.

Nor was getting adjusted to living at home again.

Amelia Corney’s weight was down to just 85 pounds, and she wasn’t able to stand unassisted let alone walk. The antifungal infusions continued with the help of her parents, and she resumed chemotherapy treatments as an outpatient. So even though she was at home, she was still visiting the hospital for chemo and physical therapy three to five days a week for the rest of her junior year, for seven long, long months.

“Her desire was to return to school, to golf and swimming, and that motivated her to push through the incredible pain of physical therapy and intense chemotherapy treatments,” Sharon Corney said.

Amelia Corney never lost sight of her goal — to return to sports, to walk the hallways with her classmates, to graduate.

Almost a year to the day since being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Amelia Corney returned to Spring-Ford High School and rejoined the Rams’ golf team. She wasn’t able to attend every practice or play in anywhere near the number of matches as before, but she was there. And two months later, she bravely rejoined the Tiger Sharks swimming team.

“She was still in chemotherapy and quite self-conscious about her baldness and terribly scarred legs,” her mother said. “But she wasn’t going to let that stop her from getting back to swimming.”

She hasn’t allowed anything to stop her from remaining in school, either — not the infections that forced her to be admitted to the hospital on two occasions, not the reactions from medications that have left her with migraine headaches and temporary loss of her eyesight, not the nausea from continuing chemotherapy treatments, not even the painful back spasms that usually follow her monthly spinal taps.

“None of that has stopped her from returning to school and sports,” her mother said. “She has such a positive attitude and determination to keep up with her peers. And she never shows anyone the pain she is in.”

What Amelia Corney does continue to show, though, is an engaging smile — in and out of school, on the golf course, and in the swimming pool.

“She is, without a doubt, one of the most courageous and most amazing individuals I have ever known,” said Mickey McDaniel, the athletic director at Spring-Ford High School. “What Amelia has gone through, what she continues to go through … she is one very, very incredible young lady.”

Something mom and dad have known for quite some time.

“Every day is so different, so challenging,” Sharon Corney said. “She never, ever, ever, ever asked if she was going to die. And the only time I ever saw her cry was when we were in the car together and she said, ‘Mom, today (Jan. 10, 2008) is the day I was supposed to take my driver’s test.’ She just wanted to be in school, in her classes, with her friends.

“She has never looked back. A big part of her success has been her ability to focus on her journey to get through all of this. We always knew we had a quiet, determined and hard-working child, but wasn’t until the last two years that we saw how strong and courageous she is.”


Local softball trio won't let season fade

This column originally ran in the May 30, 2009 edition of The Mercury.

(A little of this and a little of that … just had to mention them after nearly a week of showers, downpours and thunderstorms, and being locked in the office)

The high school sports year isn’t over quite yet. And who knows, it may have another two weeks of life – at least that’s what three softball teams and their faithful fans are hoping for.

Spring-Ford, despite finishing second in the Pioneer Athletic Conference and getting a less-than favorable seeding for the postseason, won the program’s very first district title Thursday afternoon with a win over Central Bucks South in the District 1-AAAA final. Mandi Rush came up with yet another gem on the mound, Alexis Karkoska set the offensive tone with a first-inning home run, and the defense was near-flawless. The Rams showed their resiliency in bouncing back from the disappointing runner-up finish in the PAC-10, and considerable character in the semifinals earlier in the week by blanking Pennsbury without head coach Tim Hughes, who left school before they boarded the bus because of a family emergency.

Owen J. Roberts, unquestionably the area’s dominant softball program in recent years and the PAC-10 champions this spring, wasn’t able to defend its district title. The Wildcats, who everyone knows has an ace of spades with Kelly Schymanski on the mound and a slew of gals who sure can swing the bat, self-destructed on defense – an overlooked strength of their game. But getting into

the semifinals earned them a spot in Monday’s opening round of the AAAA state tournament. If they mend their defensive ways, beware … they can play as well as anyone anywhere in Pennsylvania.

The area will have a third team in the state playoffs, too. St. Pius X, despite being idle for nearly two full weeks, swept the District 1-AA title Thursday that, along with Spring-Ford’s victory, gave the PAC-10 a daily-double.


Speaking of Pius, most are aware the Lions will be teaming up with Kennedy-Kenrick in two years at the new Pope John Paul II High School just outside Royersford in Upper Providence Township.

Mind you, no one is predicting any dynasties, at least not yet. But the baseball program got a little boost Thursday when Kennedy-Kenrick won the District 12-AA title with a 12-1 rout of Philadelphia Public League representative Neuva Esperanza.


Owen J. Roberts’ athletes are keeping the OJR Athletic Association on its financial toes. Four of the schools’ spring sports teams – baseball, boys lacrosse, boys track and softball – won Pioneer Athletic Conference championships.

Now the Owen J. Roberts Athletic Association (rest easy taxpayers, NOT the Owen J. Roberts School District) will be getting all the Wildcats’ sizes for their championship jackets.

Greg Gilbert’s ballclub ended Boyertown’s run in baseball, something Gilbert savors considering he is still regarded one of the best Bears to roam the infield at Bear Stadium. Eric Wentzel’s boys also ended Phoenixville’s impressive streak in track. And Jeff Neese and Kevin Kirby continued to do their thing in boys lacrosse and softball, respectively, by successfully defending their titles despite admirable challenges from around the league.


Both from Phoenixville, too.

First, earlier this spring, the Phantoms’ tennis team lost. That’s right, lost. Methacton dealt the Phantoms a 6-1 setback … it’s first Pioneer Athletic Conference loss since the league was formed back in 1986-87. If you’re wondering, the Phantoms won 196 straight matches in that span. And head coach Leo Scoda, who has defined class to the letter in every one of his 46 years coaching the Phantoms, had nothing but praise for the Warriors and their coach Cara DeCicco.

The second class act comes from Liz Jones, a senior student-athlete who back in April reached the coveted milestone of 200 career goals in lacrosse. While some will say acknowledging your teammates and coaches is what everyone does, well, try again. Not all do, especially in this me-me-me society. Jones did, lauding her teammates, head coach Jen Foresta and assistant Aamina Thornton. Then later this spring, get this – she sent a lengthy e-mail to The Mercury (as well as to sister-paper The Phoenix) and thanked the sports staffs for all the coverage they gave her throughout her high school career. Good luck in college young lady – you certainly have a lot of fans in the media.


It’s easy to pick up a newspaper, turn on CNN or sign onto the Web and read or hear every imaginable horror story, way too many about kids, too.

Tired of it? Want to hear some great stories?

If so, stop over at Sunnybrook on Monday night (7:30 p.m.) and sit in on the 10th annual Summit Awards program. It’s free … empty the wallet, don’t even bring a dime. The awards aren’t about top scorers and championships, either. But when you hear the stories, hear about the memorable moments, the individual achievements on and off and the playing fields, how some have overcome adversity, and learn about the commitment of coaches and others have made for so long to student-athletes, well, you’ll walk out of the ballroom feeling pretty darn good about this generation … and feeling pretty good about life.


Believe it or not, the “summer” baseball seasons are well underway. Yep, the li’l guys started playing before the infield grass turned green; all those Junior Legion and Babe Ruth leagues have almost two full weeks of play in already; and the Senior Legion and AAU ballclubs are breaking sweats now, too. Even the not quite over-the-hill guys down in the Perkiomen Twilight and up in the Tri-County adult leagues have been swinging away for almost two weeks, too.

American Legion baseball has moved up its postseason schedule a week, which means some leagues – like the Bux-Mont and Chester County – will be playing almost daily. Up in Berks County, a few feathers were ruffled when officials abandoned division play and went with one 16-team alignment, or a 15-game league schedule.

Boyertown manager Rick Moatz, incidentally, needs 17 wins – and he’ll get them – to reach 1,000 in his career with the Bears. Moatz may also have the biggest challenge of his 22 years in the dugout in trying to get the Bears back to the Mid-Atlantic Regional, something he’s done quite regularly the past decade.

Spring City and Boyertown will be hosting a couple of postseason tournaments, too. The Red Sox will entertain the Region Three field at Ram Stadium, just behind Spring-Ford High School, while the Bears remain home at Bear Stadium for the Pennsylvania State Tournament.

If you want a bang for your buck (even though they don’t charge to watch), catch the Pottstown PAL Spartans’ AAU ballclub over at Ringing Rocks. Head coach Jim Goodhart’s lineup can, in a word, hit.

Also, keeping the arms fresh and bats hot is something a lot of post-Legion and college players have been doing for a long, long time down for Collegeville in the Perky League. The other night, OJR graduate Adam Hartzell, who had a banner season for Elizabethtown College, fanned nine in six innings to help the Sox stop Lansdale.


The Pottstown area lost two outstanding men this week – Adam Sabuacak and Bob Eppehimer.

Sabuacak was just 26 when he died from an unknown pre-existing medical condition. He played sports at Pottstown High School, played them well, and was upbeat in victory and defeat … a class young man on and off the playing fields. And since graduating, no one was a bigger fan of Pottstown sports.

Eppehimer, “Golden Voice” as we knew him, was 86. Few knew he was the president and valedictorian of his Pottstown senior class back in 1941, and few knew he served with the U.S. Navy during World War II. But everyone, or so it seemed, knew that voice … the voice of WPAZ radio for 50-plus years. And to those of us who knew him just a little better than others, he was the “Ol’ Fella” who smiled, smiled and smiled, and had story after story after story to tell – especially those countless proud tales of his wife, four daughters and grandchildren. The “Ol’ Fella” loved helping people, especially those less fortunate than him, and he loved life … for 86 long years.

Both will be missed dearly.