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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What it took to be Berks' best

A quick glance at Boyertown’s opening-day roster would’ve revealed some slim pickings.

The only everyday starters returning from a year ago — when the Bears won a record 21st state championship, finished third at the Mid-Atlantic Regional and 53-3 overall — were catcher Ryan Zakszeski and shortstop Brandon Sullivan. A couple of pitchers, Nate Schnell and Aaron Wilkins, who provided some valuable innings and more than a few wins, along with the versatile Ethan Moser, were also back.

That was pretty much it, too.

But the no-name lineup wasn’t exactly easy pickings, not at first, mind you.

The Bears won 21 of their first 22 games this summer, and sure looked like they were well on their way to another Berks County League title.

Then they hit the skids ... or slid into a very, very uncharacteristic slump — losing three straight league games for the first time in at least 40 years — and five of six heading into the playoffs. And there wasn’t any one particular aspect manager Rick Moatz could put his baseball finger on, either. The Bears simply weren’t getting the pitching they’re accustomed to, weren’t playing the kind of fundamental defense they’re accustomed to, and they sure weren’t putting the ball in play enough or producing the offense they’re accustomed to.

“That was surely one of the longest streaks we’ve ever gone through,” Moatz said Friday.

It didn’t last beyond the week most prefer to forget about, because the Bears snapped out of their funk and back to their customary ways by running the table in the Berks County League playoffs — five straight wins to earn a trip into this morning’s (9:30) opening round of the Pennsylvania Region Two Tournament at Hostelley Field in Upper Gwynedd Township.

“We just noticed the kids were not playing aggressively,” Moatz said of the woeful week. “Maybe they were thinking too much. But they weren’t laying it on the line.

“So we talked to them about their attitude, about knowing where they were from, about our expectations. We talked, because we wanted to ingrain that into their psyche. We had a few tough practices, too. I think they responded in a very positive manner, too.”

Moatz admitted their response wasn’t perfect, and recalling those six errors in a 6-5 win over Muhlenberg would attest to that.

“But they battled through it, played through it,” Moatz explained. “They really showed some mental toughness.”

And won a 30th league title in the process, something neither Moatz nor anyone else on his staff may have thought was possible when pulling the gear out of Bear Den 2 and swinging into the season less than eight weeks ago.

“I know we got out to 20-1 or 21-1,” Moatz said, who won his 1,000th career game during that early stretch. “But I don’t know if we were playing well or the other teams were getting off to a slow start. Because of the new (league format, or reduced schedule), we didn’t get a lot of non-league games in. And there were a lot of rainouts, too. It was tough finding out exactly where we were.”

One of the reasons was because of the lack of experience. The coaching staff knew Sullivan and Zakszeski, were well aware of what Schnell, Wilkins, and Moser could bring to their team.

“But there was that inexperience,” Moatz said. “Even for Moser, who came back from college this year after pitching and playing a little outfield and first base for us last year. He never really developed into what he is now. It was a maturing process for most of our kids. It took time for a lot of them to understand what they had to do, too.”

Whatever they may not have understood before the early July skid, they sure understood after.

“Our pitching up to that point was very inconsistent,” Moatz explained. “We get a good game or two, then we’d throw a klunker. We just couldn’t put together a lot of good games.”

Couldn’t because of a defense that self-destructed at times, and an offense that didn’t bunt the ball well and put up an unusual amount of strikeouts — many of which came with runners in scoring position.

“We just lacked that ability to execute Boyertown baseball,” Moatz said. “We had to adjust. We had to work harder to get where I wanted them to be.”

For the record, the Bears did adjust ... and now they’re not only where Moatz wanted them to be, but where most Boyertown teams are at this juncture of the season -- at the state regional.

“In the beginning of the season, I was hoping we’d be where we are right now,” Moatz said. “I just didn’t want to go two weeks or so of not playing (until the state tournament at Bear Stadium on July 28). But I feel they’re ready to go now. We’ve had some good practices, and they’re focused on going out there to win.”

Boyertown (28-6) will likely go with Schnell (5-1) in this morning’s opener against Hatfield (23-4), which is expected to throw Eric Ruth, who may only be 4-0 this summer but was 12-1 and the ace of the North Penn High School team that won the PIAA-Class AAAA state title last spring. ... The Bears have won three straight Region Two titles and five of the last six.


NorChester is the Region Three Tournament’s three-time defending champion and will take a swing at four in a row when it debuts in today’s opening round against Narberth at Spring-Ford High School’s Ram Stadium.

The Bulldogs are unquestionably the area’s hottest team. They have won 23 games in a row — including fives straight en route to the Chester County League championship last week — and own an eye-opening 29-2 overall record.

“There was a time when NorChester would be happy just to make the playoffs,” said manager Corbin Stoltzfus. “But this is something we expect out of our kids now.

“We start every season with the intention of winning our league. We’ve won a few league titles, a few (Region Three) titles, so we certainly can’t hide from anyone anymore. The kids know that now.”

They’ve responded quite well, too.

Stoltzfus has a very good, and very deep, pitching staff with Jeff Kelly (8-0), David Vining (3-2), Tyler Setzler (5-0), Jeff Wiand (5-0) and unsung Tim Ponto. The Bulldogs can play defense behind every one of them. And they can hit ... boy, can they hit.

From one through nine, there just isn’t a weak spot. Brandon Engelhardt, who leads off and plays second base, may well be the MVP of this area’s summer baseball season. Catcher Ryan Chesler is an excellent leader behind the plate, and combined with designated-hitter Ryan Deitrich and Jeff Wiand, gives the Bulldogs quite an offensive punch from the third through fifth spots in the order.

“These guys have been through a lot with us, so they know what we expect from them and they never seem to be bothered by the pressure,” Stoltzfus said. “They’ve been through this, through the playoffs ... a lot of tough games. None of this is new to them.”

Spring City is serving as the Region Three host for the third time in 10 years. Manager Jamie Scheck’s ballclub is 27-7, well-rested and definitely a contender, too.

“You don’t want to look past that team,” Stoltzfus said last week. “I know we won’t.”

Scheck has a very respectable rotation that features Mike Haslam (8-1), Sean Larkin (7-0) and Matt Hamilton (4-0).

Also worth keeping an eye on is J.P. Mascaro, which features most of the players from the Methacton High School team that finished second to Owen J. Roberts -- or most of the NorChester players -- in the Pioneer Athletic Conference Final Four championship last May. The Haulers are coming off their seventh straight Greater Norristown League title run.

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

OJR board keeps all 7 coaches

This story originally ran in the June 30 edition of the Mercury.

BUCKTOWN —- The surprise play so many expected if not feared the Owen J. Roberts School Board would make never materialized.

At least not during Monday night’s special meeting of the board in the high school’s auditorium.

The board unanimously approved the seven fall sports head coaches as well as their assistants and entire middle school coaching staffs — 34 coaches overall.

The 9-0 vote drew a resounding applause from the crowd, which filled the 1,050-seat auditorium and included close to another 100 or so students and adults standing in the doorways and hallway.

Though most of the crowd was there to protest last week’s controversial firing of Superintendent Dr. Myra Forrest, there were a good number of supporters of the fall sports coaches — as well as a lot of the coaches themselves — in attendance.

Nearly two weeks ago, during a monthly work session, the school board approved the recommended list of fall sports coaches to be put on the agenda for the June 22 regular monthly meeting. The vote was 7-0. Edward Kerner and Debbie Bissland, the board’s president and vice president, respectively, were absent.

However, the list never made it on the agenda for the meeting.

According to two sources, the list was removed from the agenda a couple of days later by Bissland — chairperson of the Extracurricular and Interscholastic Activities Committee.

Bissland, who earlier in the evening during board committee reports said she “had nothing to report at this time,” didn’t explain why the list was pulled from the agenda despite questions and comments from fellow board members Barbara McMeekin, William LaCoff and Rosemary Bilinski, as well as a number of people attending the meeting.

McMeekin was very upset June 22 by the turn of events, asking how an issue could be approved to be added to the agenda by the majority of their board — or, in this instance, all seven of the board members present — and then removed from the agenda by “one or two” board members.

So it was no surprise that McMeekin was the first to speak Monday night after the motion to approve the list of fall sports coaches was made and seconded.

“I just hope this board is going to approve this (motion),” McMeekin said.

They did.

Quickly, too.

That means Owen J. Roberts High School will have its entire staff of head coaches back again in the fall. They are Tom Barr (football); Clarence Jannelle (field hockey); Joe Margusity (girls soccer); Dave Michael (cross country); Dave Rhen (boys soccer); Ted Snyder (golf); and Jerry Styer (girls tennis) — each of whom has lengthy terms of coaching service at OJR.

Barr, who guided the Wildcats to their first appearance in the District 1-Class AAA football playoffs and their first postseason win, returns for his 13th season. Jannelle, who has led the field hockey program to four straight District 1-AAAA playoff appearances, returns for his seventh season.

Margusity, unquestionably one of the most respected soccer coaches in Southeast Pennsylvania and throughout the state, and who owns more than 280 career wins -- including the school’s only state title (2005) -- returns for his 14th season.

Michael, a pillar in the cross country and track community and known as one of the district’s most devoted coaches, returns for his 32nd year. Rhen, who has guided the Wildcats to three straight Pioneer Athletic Conference boys soccer titles and six overall, returns for his 27th season.

Snyder, the only golf coach in the league to lead his team to four straight PAC-10 Final Four Tournaments, returns for his eighth season. And Styer, who has turned the girls tennis program around and led his last two teams to undefeated PAC-10 championship runs, returns for his 11th season.

“It would have been nice to have had all this done last week, but it’s over and done with now,” said a coach Monday night, asking to remain anonymous. “Some of us were worried because we just didn’t know what was going on. It’s time to move on ... time to focus our attention on our student-athletes and our teams.”


Even at OJR, board members must follow rules

KernerThe hiring, rehiring or even firing of high school coaches follows a rather standard procedure in most, if not all, area districts.

Well before each of the three scholastic sports seasons — fall, winter, and spring — athletic directors meet with their high school principals to review the list of coaches for each sport, then submit their recommendations to either the district superintendent or director of human resources. Barring any objections, which there rarely (if ever) are at that juncture, the list is forwarded to the school board’s extracurricular or athletic committee, or to the board in general, for final approval.

That final approval, for the most part, is more often than not just a formality.

But Monday night, during the regular monthly meeting of the Owen J. Roberts School Board, Edward Kerner and Debbie Bissland — the board’s president and vice president, respectively — turned the entire process into a farce. And if not for four other board members, or admirable voices of reason from Rosemary Bilinski, John Dutton, William LaCoff, and Barbara McMeekin, almost a dozen Owen J. Roberts coaches and close to 50 of their supporters would’ve thought they were sitting in on a Kerner-Bissland Two Ring Circus.

The fact Kerner and Bissland late last week decided to remove the list of recommended coaches for the 2009 fall season from Monday night’s agenda is a joke. And nearly everything they said in an attempt to defend their decision drew its share of laughter.

None more than one of Bissland’s responses, “I like all the coaches, and I want all the coaches back.”

Hip, hip, hooray … then why pull their recommendations from the agenda?

“This is a complete travesty,” a high school coach, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said moments after the board voted to meet prior to next Monday’s special meeting to discuss, and hopefully reinstate on the agenda for approval, the list of coaches for the fall sports season.

For now, though, Owen J. Roberts does not have a single coach for the fall sports season. That means not having one single coach to be part of or oversee the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) approved weight-lifting, conditioning and other related practices or drills that officially began this past Monday.

“Which means our kids, our teams, are already falling behind because every other school has started,” said another high school coach, who requested anonymity.

Owen J. Roberts’ head coaches for the fall sports — Dave Michael (boys and girls country), Clarence Jennelle (field hockey), Tom Barr (football), Ted Snyder (golf), Dave Rhen (boys soccer), Joe Margusity (girls soccer), and Jerry Styer (girls tennis) — were the respective teams’ head coaches last year. They have a combined 105 seasons of coaching those sports at Owen J. Roberts … and all own exemplary resumes.

That is why they were recommended to continue coaching this fall by Dave Strock, the athletic director, and Richard Marchini, the high school principal. And, as Strock noted Monday night, that is why Antonia Cramp, director of human resources, forwarded the recommendations to Bissland — chairperson of the school board’s Extracurricular and Interscholastic Activities Committee that also includes Dutton and Eric Scheib.

“All seven coaches are very good people, and all seven are very successful coaches,” Marchini said in a brief message to the school board Monday night.

Seven members of the school board recently voted unanimously (Kerner and Bissland were absent from the meeting) to put the fall coaches list on Monday night’s agenda for approval. But Kerner and Bissland last Thursday removed it from the agenda.

Sure enough, when it came time for Bissland’s committee report Monday night, she responded, “I have nothing to report at this time.”

Later, during the portion of the meeting reserved for individuals or delegates to address items or issues on the agenda, Steve Raught — president of the Roberts Education Association — spoke to the board.

“The administration provided the (school) board with their recommended list for all fall coaching positions,” Raught said. “At this past Monday’s (June 15) Personnel Committee meeting, the entire coaching list was moved by Mr. Dutton to the full board for approval. There were no objections.

“That meeting was attended by two of the three members of both the personnel and extracurricular committees. In fact, only Mr. Kerner and Mrs. Bissland were absent. Yet the fall coaches are not on tonight’s agenda.”

Raught, who drew resounding applauses from the crowd, wanted to know who made the decision to remove the coaches list from the agenda, when they did it, and why they did it. “Perhaps Mr. Kerner or Mrs. Bissland could provide us with a rational explanation,” he said.

Neither did.

McMeekin was displeased, to say the least, and very upset when neither Kerner nor Bissland were able to provide any “rational explanation.”

“Once again, the incompetence and ineptness of this board is now going to be a detriment to our children,” McMeekin said. “We’re a board of nine, yet two can decide what goes on the agenda?”

What really irked Dutton was the fact Kerner and Bissland removed the coaches lists from the agenda, but the Extracurricular and Interscholastic Athletic Activities Committee had a recommendation for the approval of a weight room supervisor on the agenda — a position that previously didn’t exist because coaches handled those responsibilities, and handled them without any additional salary.

“We’re being asked to hire someone so (the student-athletes) can utilize the weight room opportunities,” Dutton said. “The coaches did it before, so now there’s a need to hire someone?”

Marchini — the high school principal, remember — admitted he wasn’t even aware of the recommendation for a weight room supervisor being on the agenda.

“I just know that our coaches put in a lot of extra time, that they work for the benefit of our kids, and we haven’t even hired them yet,” Bilinski said. “It’s very important to get these coaches hired as soon as we can.”

Dutton made the motion to meet just before next Monday night’s board gathering to discuss putting the recommendations of all fall sports coaches back on the agenda — including the weight room supervisor position — so a vote can be taken during the regular meeting. Scheib seconded the motion, and it was approved.

“Let’s just hope that list (of coaches) gets back on the agenda next (Monday) and gets approved,” the mother of an Owen J. Roberts student-athlete said.

“We have a couple of board members, perhaps, with personal agendas,” added the father of two Owen J. Roberts student-athletes. “They’re worried about one, two, or three kids, maybe their own kids? They’re supposed to be concerned about all of the kids at Owen J. Roberts.”

They are indeed supposed to.

Strock, Marchini, and Cramp, as well as Superintendent Dr. Myra Forrest (fired very late Monday night) and seven members of the school board — Bilinski, Dutton, Eugene Endress, Karen Zelley, LaCoff, and McMeekin — showed that concern from the very beginning on this issue. Now it’s time for Kerner and Bissland to do the same.


District 1 tournaments reduced to 2

Sometimes – not all the time, mind you – reverting back to the old way of doing things is the good way, or right way, to go.

That may have been the District 1 Wrestling Committee’s collective mindset, especially when thinking of the Class AAA postseason lineup in recent years.

The committee recently voted to revert back to a two-district tournament format, which had been in place from 1974 through 2005 before expanding to what became a somewhat unpopular three-district format in 2006.

For the last three years, the district had hosted the North (Section Two and Three qualifiers), Central (Section Four and Six qualifiers), and South (Section One and Five qualifiers) tournaments. Last year, the top four finishers in each weight class in each of those three district tournaments then teamed up with the top four finishers in each weight class from District 12 – the Philadelphia Catholic and Public leagues – at the Southeast Regional, creating 16-man brackets in each of the 14 weight classes.

“The coaches felt the 16-man bracket days before the state tournament needed to change,” explained Dennis Kellon, chairman of the district’s Steering Committee.

“Returning to two districts also eliminates the coaches’ concern of so many repeat meetings (in sectionals and again in districts).”

Beginning next season, the top five finishers in each weight class from the District 1-North and District 1-South tournaments, as well as the top three finishers in each weight class from District 12, will advance to the Southeast Regional. The fifth-place finishers in each weight class from the two District 1 tournaments will meet in a pigtail – or qualifying bout – to move into the 12-man bracket. The district champions will be seeded, with the remaining qualifiers placed accordingly in the brackets.

District officials also agreed to continue moving the Southeast Regional site each year to accommodate travel concerns for both the wrestlers and spectators. Two years ago, the regional was held at Council Rock South, and this past March it was hosted by Oxford. Next year, the regional is set for Council Rock North.

Kellon pointed out the sectional alignments will remain the same for 2009-10. However, they’ll most likely change when the new PIAA enrollment classifications are released for 2010-2011.

The Steering Committee also announced its postseason sites for next season. The sectionals will be hosted by Abington (Section One), Upper Perkiomen (Two), Perkiomen Valley (Three), Boyertown (Four), Ridley (Five) and Garnet Valley (Six). The District 1-North Tournament, featuring qualifiers from Sections One, Two and Three, is set for Quakertown. The District 1-South Tournament, featuring qualifiers from Sections Four, Five and Six, will be at Oxford. The District 1-Class AA Tournament will be hosted by Harriton.

District 1 held its inaugural wrestling tournament in 1934. It remained an all-inclusive tournament through 1973 with no enrollment classifications. The following year, the North-South alignment, with an additional Class B (later changed to Class AA) tournament, began.


Matt Martoccio and Andre Petroski, along with Rob D’Annunzio, were the only District 1 wrestlers to advance to the Junior Division finals of last weekend’s Pennsylvania Freestyle Championships, held in Shippensburg University’s Heiges Fieldhouse.

Martoccio, who will be a junior at Council Rock South next season, was blanked 6-0, 6-0 in the 135-pound showdown with Josh Kindig, a recent Blue Mountain graduate and PIAA champion three months ago. Petroski, already a two-time state medalist heading into his senior year at Springfield-Delco, didn’t fare much better in a 6-0, 6-1 setback to Penn State-bound Ed Ruth, a former PIAA champion and a National Prep champion last season at Blair.

D’Annunzio, who will be a junior at Methacton, had a much easier time at 98 pounds … he was the only entry. The lightweight standout, who was a sectional champion, district runner-up and regional qualifier last winter, still advances to next month’s national championships in Fargo, N.D.

As expected, the Dylan brothers – Andrew and Dylan – won their finals at 140 and 145, respectively. The twins will be seniors at Central Mountain next season. A two-time state champion, Andrew has won his last 89 bouts and takes a 131-5 career mark into his final season. Dylan, who won his first PIAA title last March, is 133-8. Both are currently the nation’s No. 1 ranked scholastic wrestlers in their weight classes.


Council Rock South’s Trap McCormack has been named Wrestling USA Magazine’s National Assistant Coach of the Year.

McCormack, who teaches health and physical education at CRS, has been a member of head coach Brad Silemperi’s staff for six years. A graduate of Bald Eagle Nittany High School, McCormack was a three-time PIAA state champion and graduated with a 138-4 career mark. At Lock Haven University, he was a two-time Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference champion, four-time NCAA qualifier, and an NCAA Academic All-American.


Pennsylvania had four first-team selections and a national-high 19 overall wrestlers named to the 24th annual ASICS All-America wrestling team. The Commonwealth was represented on the first team by the Alton twins from Central Mountain and Central Dauphin’s Marshall Peppelman (152) – all juniors – and by Hempfield senior Jake Kemerer. Blair Academy’s Ed Ruth, a former PIAA champion and native of the Harrisburg area, was also named to the first team.

Headlining the selections was St. Paris (Ohio) Graham senior David Taylor. The 135-pound Taylor, a four-time state champion, was selected to the first team for the third consecutive year.


Two District 1 graduates – Norristown’s Tim Harner and Central Bucks West’s Pete Ferrara – were recently named to the National Wrestling Coaches Association’s annual Division I All-Academic Top 30 team for the 2008-09 season.

The 141-pound Harner, graduated from Liberty with a 3.3 average as a sports management major. The 149-pound Ferrara, graduated from Virginia with a 3.6 average as a kinesiology major.

For the second straight year, American University took home top team honors . Head coach Mark Cody’s team, which featured senior Anthony Fuschino – an Owen J. Roberts – led the Division I teams with GPA of 3.3 after tying with Duke University in 2008.


Delaware Valley College’s Brandon Clemmer, an Upper Perkiomen graduate, was named to the 2009 NCAA Division III Wrestling Coaches Association Scholar All-American team. Clemmer, who capped his career with a 33-8 record and seventh-place finish at the NCAA Championships back in March, was a business major.


Ursinus head coach Bill Racich’s new class of wrestlers will include three recent graduates – Perkiomen Valley’s Hassan Elghawy, Perkiomen School’s Eric Pfeiffer, and Great Valley’s Myles Tornetta. … Four other District 1 graduates have unofficially joined the Division III ranks for next season. Abington’s Max Barsky and Penncrest’s Andrew Mariani will wrestle for Elizabethtown, while Ridley’s Mark Burkhart and Downingtown East’s Amro Elansari will compete for York. … Muhlenberg has announced that Mike Kocsis will replace Tom Schleicher as its new wrestling coach next season. Schleicher, who guided the Mules for 13 years, was the head coach at Upper Perkiomen High School before Tom Hontz took over the program.