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, August 9, 2011

Bears find solace off season-ending loss

There was no joy in Boyertown on Monday.

Even an exhilarating, ninth-inning rally – a six-run rush that revived both the Bears and their usually voluble hometown crowd after nearly two hours of absolute gloom and doom – couldn’t mask the frustration or conceal the agony of a season-ending loss.

Digging out of a 9-3 hole is one thing, doing it all in one inning – the ninth and last inning, no less – is an excavation miracle.

Very few teams over the last thirty-some years have pulled off anywhere near as many of them as Boyertown has. And no Boyertown team ever came from so far back so late like the Bears did in Monday afternoon’s Mid-Atlantic Regional game against Brooklawn N.J.

Unfortunately, the game – and the season – would cave in on the Bears in the bottom of the ninth.

And even though this was a team that didn’t win a state title a week ago, or a team that didn’t win a national regional tournament and advance to the World Series, it may well be remembered as a team that, against all odds, played with as much energy, resolve and grit as any of the more-celebrated Boyertown teams before it.

“We didn’t roll over and we didn’t quit … we were like that all year,” said Boyertown left fielder Cameron Ferreri.

The Bears sure could have surrendered after Brooklawn scored five times in the fourth inning to create the 9-3 deficit. And considering there was little if any life in their bats – only five baserunners and 10 strikeouts from the fifth through the eighth – few would’ve blamed them if they opted not to even step to the plate in the ninth inning.

But they did, and after RBI singles by Josh Schnell and Cameron Ferreri bookended around two-run basehits by Chris Werner and Andrew Gehringer, they were back to even.

At least until the bottom of that ninth, when a one-out walk, stolen base, infield grounder and wild pitch ended it.

And when the postgame ceremony that was awfully difficult for the Bears to sit through finally ended, no one found any consolation in the comeback that came oh so to forcing a Game 15 … and, who knows, a possible trip south to the World Series in North Carolina.

“Losing 9-3 or 10-9, either way hurts,” Ferreri said. “But I prefer the 10-9 because if shows how hard we fought. No one gave up.”

Boyertown manager Rick Moatz, who in his 24 seasons with the Bears has seen his share of comebacks among those 1,101 career wins, seemed to digest the loss considerably better than most of the Bears.

“(The comeback) epitomizes what this team is all about,” he explained. “Win or lose, they never quit, and they never quit the entire season. I certainly didn’t expect them to go down easy in the ninth inning. But, honestly, I didn’t expect them to score six runs, either.

“These guys had every reason to roll over and quit. (Brooklawn) hit a lot of chinkers, a lot of ground balls just through the holes. Things just weren’t going our way. But they just never quit.”

Not quitting was indeed the Bears’ modus operandi all summer. They could have given up against West Lawn during the Berks County League playoffs; could have given up against Pennridge in the Pennsylvania Region Two Tournament; could have given up after their first loss to Bristol in the state tournament knowing a spot was already reserved for them as hosts of the Mid-Atlantic Regional; and, of course, they could have given up after the first loss to Brooklawn last Friday night.

Instead, they played through …earned their way to the national regionals, finished with 45 wins, and was just one of 16 teams in the country still playing American Legion baseball on Monday.

Not bad at all.

“We’re definitely proud of them for what they accomplished,” Moatz said. “There were times this season they could have given up, but they didn’t. Their goal was to get to the World Series.”

They came so close, too.

“What makes this (loss) a little easier to accept is that this team played better and better every week,” Moatz said. “I thought they played as well this week as they had all season, and played as well as they could’ve played.”

Boyertown, with nine regional championships, has now finished second in the Mid-Atlantic Regional six times. … The last meeting between the Bears and Brooklawn in a regional final at Bear Stadium was 11 years ago, and the New Jersey rivals put that one out of reach early on in a 14-0 romp. … Brooklawn, which won its 12th Mid-Atlantic title and 13th national regional overall for ageless manager Joe Barth – in his 60th season guiding the program – opens World Series play Friday afternoon against Northwest Regional champion Waipahu, Hawaii.

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A rare fish story

Josh Carmean will tell you he's caught just about everything imaginable from the area's lakes, ponds and rivers.

But when the avid 22-year-old angler had no idea what he reeled in from the Schuylkill River late Monday night, well, it wasn't as fishy a story as most would think.

Soon after dropping his line in behind the Quoit Club just over Hanover Street in North Coventry Township, Carmean got a noticeable hit. And with chicken liver on the hook, he had every reason to think he caught what he normally does — a catfish.

And in this case, he thought he had a sizable catfish on the other end of the line.

What he had instead, though, was a pacu — one of several species of omnivorous South American freshwater fish that are related to the piranha.

"I'm always catching catfish," Carmean explained. "And the way this one was pulling (on the line) I thought I had at least a two-pound catfish.

"But when I got it in and first looked at it, all I could say was, 'What the heck is it? What did I just catch?' I've caught walleye and pike before, but at first glance I didn't know what I had. I never saw anything that had teeth like this thing had."

Forgive Carmean if he didn't have a library of Fish Illustrated.

"I kept looking at it, saw the bottom fin, those teeth and that mouth," Carmean said. "It sure looked like a piranha."

Although he once had a small piranha in the family fish tank as a youngster, Carmean still wasn't 100 percent sure. So Tuesday morning he called the Pennsylvania Game Commission. An officer came out to his Pottstown residence later in the day.

"He told me it was a pacu," Carmean said.

Pacu and piranha have similar teeth, but their jaw alignments are different. The piranha also have pointed, razor-sharp teeth with a pronounced underbite, while pacu have squarer and more straighter teeth with a less severe underbite.

Also, sources reveal, the pacu are much larger than piranha, some reaching up to 60 pounds or more in the wild.

Pacus are also known to "eat anything," according to Deep Sea World zoological manager Matthew Kane. Though not the aggressive carnivores like piranha, the pacu's crushing jaw system can be hazardous. They are often sold to home aquarium owners as "vegetarian piranhas."

The pacu may have gotten a bad name as a result of owners illegally releasing them into wild waterways. Once in those waterways, like the Schuylkill River, they can dominate other species vying for available food and other resources, even displace some by introducing exotic parasites or diseases.

Not all's bad with the pacu, though. Former President Theodore Roosevelt wrote of catching and eating pacu in his book, "Through the Brazilian Wilderness." "…delicious eating," Roosevelt wrote.

"I was told (pacu) go for vegetation," Carmean said. "I was surprised to hear that after knowing it went for (the chicken liver bait).

"But the game commission people told me someone must have had it and released it in the water. They told me it must have been in the water for a while, too. It had features that kind of showed it had been in the water for some time."

Not anymore.

"I love going fishing, and I fish all over the place," Carmean said. "I don't think I'll forget the other night, though."

Follow Don Seeley on Twitter @DonSeeley1


Highlights and lowlights from national regional play

Either the pitching and defense is that good or the offense isn’t all that good.

Take your pick, but up at the Northeast Regional at Old Orchard Beach in Maine, no team has yet managed to put double figures in the scoring column. Only 86 runs had been put up on the board through 10 games, or going into Game 11 on Saturday night. With a little elementary math, like addition and division, that equals a total of just 8.6 runs a game.

It’s no surprise Bedford is the lone unbeaten now, too. Bedford’s Lucas Olen allowed four hits and one run in the first round; Joe Maher threw a one-hit shutout in the second round; and Tom Hudon and Spencer Damon combined on a six-hitter in a 4-2 winners’ bracket fional win over Norwalk on Saturday night.

It’s a completely different story down at the Mid-South Regional in Minden, La., where one has wonder if the pitching and defense is that awful or the offense is way, way beyond the norm.

Take your pick, because in Thursday’s opening round, the four games produced a total of 94 runs (an average of 23.5 runs a game), all that despite a 7-5 thriller that saw Gonzales (La.) edge Emporia (Kans.). And in Friday’s second round, the four games produced a total of 89 runs (a paltry, just kidding, 22.3 runs a game). Things calmed down a bit Saturday, with just 28 runs in the two games prior to the winners’ bracket final featuring Columbia (Tenn.) and Tupelo (Miss.).

The Mid-South Regional’s eight teams – in the first round alone now – combined for 107 basehits (including 15 doubles and 15 home runs), 54 walks and 19 errors. The overall earned run average that first day? An embarrassing 10.88.

The game a lot of those Louisana fans were talking about was Thursday’s nightcap, when host Minden held off the Ada Braves (Okla.), 26-16. Minden drew 12 walks, had 22 hits and scored at least two runs in every inning before it ended after seven due to the 10-run rule.

Minden’s leadoff batter, Kirby Moore, was 3-for-3 with four walks, four stolen bases and seven runs scored. Teammates Bob Parker, Reco Mitchell and Preston Gray, the third through fourth hitters in the lineup, were a combined 10-for-14 with 16 RBI.

Ever hear how good pitching beats good hitting? Those same Minden folk have now. In the second round, Tupelo put a 20-5 pounding on their hometown team.

The boys are swinging the bats out at the Western Regional in Fairfield, Calif., too.

At least League City (Tex.) and Las Vegas (Nev.) are, that is.

Thursday, League City ran all over Taylorsville (Utah), 22-2, then on Friday put up 20 more runs against Las Vegas, but – you guessed it – lost 23-20 to the Nevada state champions. The Texas state champions came back Saturday to stay alive, though, putting up a dozen runs to double up Chico (Calif.).

But back to that 22-20 affair…

League City led 4-3 after an inning of play, but fell way behind when Las Vegas put up 10 in the second and five more in the sixth. Hold on, because League City came back with an eight-spot in the seventh and three more in the eight to close within 21-19 before Las Vegas spoiled the comeback with two runs in the top of the ninth. T.J. White was 6-for-7 – three singles, two doubles and a home run – with six runs scored and five RBI for Las Vegas, which won despite seven errors.


If there was a pitchers’ dual – or combined gem – it came in the opening round of the Western Regional that saw Fort Collins (Colo.) edge Chico (Calif.), 1-0, in 10 innings. Fort Collins’ Jess Amedee threw all 10 innings, allowing just two hits while walking six and fanning 14. Chico’s hard-luck loser Luke Barker went 9-1/3, scattering six hits while walking just one, striking out 10 and allowing that unearned run. … The 10-inning affair took just two hours and 10 minutes to play.

Eden Prairie (Minn.), a two-time American Legion World Series runner-up (2004 and again last year), apparently has some pitching back, too. Adam Brey threw a two-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts in round one’s 6-0 win over Grand Island (Neb.), and teammate Tyler Ruemmele allowed just six hits and a walk while fanning seven in round two’s 12-2 rout of Mandan (N.D.). … Eden Prairie played Carroll (Iowa) in the winners’ bracket final Saturday night. Carroll surprised Omaha (Neb.) on Friday, scoring twice in the ninth to tie it at 4-4 and adding a run in the 10th to win it.


At the Northwest Regional in Billings, Mont., the host Billings Royals were playing their crosstown rival Billings Scarlets in Game 9 late Saturday – a meeting pushed back because of heavy rains Friday night. The two teams finished one-two in the Montana state tournament last week. … The Royals bounced back from a 10-inning, 8-3 opening-round loss to Salem (Ore.) by outlasting Cheyenne (Wyo.), 19-13, in the second round. The Scarlets won their opener over Boise (Idaho), 3-1, on Max Tolstedt’s three-run homer in the sixth inning, but fell to Waipahu (Hawaii) in the second round.


The regionals’ eight hosts went 4-4 the first day and 4-4 the second day, but only those from the Great Lakes (Midland, Mich.) and Western (Fairfield, Calif.) regionals went 2-0 to get into their respective winners’ bracket finals Saturday night.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mid-Atlantic tourney a bright spot in stormy Legion summer

American Legion baseball, at least in the Berks, Chester and Montgomery county areas, will get a much-needed dose of drama – or excitement, if you prefer – when the Mid-Atlantic Region Tournament gets under way this morning at Bear Stadium.

Yes, as the game’s envious whiners always remind anyone willing to listen, Boyertown is hosting yet another postseason extravaganza. Funny, no one’s filling up the state or national headquarters’ mailboxes with bids to host any tournaments themselves (other than Boyertown and West Lawn, according to a few sources). Other than NorChester and Spring City, which have held and successfully run their share of tournaments, there really aren’t any other American Legion organizations with the manpower that gears up summer after summer with the energy and commitment like Boyertown and West Lawn does. And other than NorChester and Spring City, there really aren’t any other facilities like Bear Stadium and Owls Field, either.

Then again, all that’s a moot point when remembering Boyertown – like it has so often in the past – earned its way into today’s opening round by finishing second in last week’s state tournament (hold off that runner-up finish argument, too, because Pennsylvania happens to be among the Top Five nationwide in total number of American Legion teams and has been sending its runner-up into national regional play for 30 some years or more.

But bringing Bristol over from Bucks County and Blackhawk in from the western side of the state to fill out the regional lineup card with the Bears, New Jersey’s top two teams – including longtime rival Brooklawn – and state champions from Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia, well, what a great way to end the summer baseball season that has otherwise been one of disenchantment and disappointment.

And there has been enough of both, too, locally as well as throughout the state.

More than enough.

Like PIAA-Class AAAA state champion Conestoga as well as Pottsgrove not fielding teams in the Chester County League; like Gregg Post – once one of the most successful teams in the entire state with a storied history that dates back nearly 80 years – dropping out of the Berks County League, itself as respected an alignment as any in the state (or country, perhaps) before all those teams’ mass exodus north to the former Schuylkill County League; and like Silver Creek dropping out of the Bux-Mont League. And State College, which had made a name for itself on the national level, not having a team this season was absolutely disheartening. Plus, hearing how a couple of very proficient managers, and a few of their very capable assistants, have already stepped down (or plan to soon officially call it quits) has been rather upsetting as well.

So, yes, it’ll be quite refreshing to sit in on one, two or more of this week’s Mid-Atlantic Regional games.

Fans will likely see good pitching, good defense and, yes, good hitting.

What a great way to end a summer of baseball (except for those fortunate to get yet another five days of it all next week at the American Legion World Series down in Shelby, N.C.).

Twenty-nine years ago, when Bear Stadium’s gates were opened for the first time for the 1982 World Series (which the Bears happened to qualify for and, believe it or not, won), a lot of folks said it would soon be nothing more than a white elephant – as in a very expensive facility with no one to play in it and no one to care for it.

Hmmm … guess Bud Garber and Don Specht, before their passings, and still energized brothers Ken and Bob Ellis (along with an endless line of tireless volunteers) proved those folks wrong. After a while, or a handful or so visits, Bear Stadium – and what it offers for the ballplayers as well as the fans – is often taken for granted. But it still remains one of the country’s most stately amateur baseball facilities.

The proof is in the 11 state tournaments, 10 Mid-Atlantic Regionals and three World Series held there – and nary a complaint in any one of them.

So, hats off to those who turned the rolling farmland into their Field of Dreams … and to those who have maintained as well as enhanced it since.

The last time Bear Stadium played host to the Mid-Atlantic Regional was seven years ago, and what a memorable finish it was for the host Bears – beating Chester (Md.) twice on the last day to advance to the World Series out in Corvallis, Oregon. … Rockland County (N.Y.) won the previous regional at Bear Stadium in 2002, while Brooklawn (N.J.) swept the previous two in Boyertown back in 2000 and 1998. … Other Mid-Atlantic Regional champions to come out of Bear Stadium and advance to the World Series were Rockland County (1993); Glen Allen, Va. (1989); Boyertown (1986); eventual national champion Midlothian, Va. (1985); and Boyertown (1983).

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Bristol enjoys a memorable month

Forgive Matt Petrizzi for not quite grasping what he and his Bristol teammates achieved in the month of July.

Perhaps he will, or they all will sometime today, the last day of the month and, quite possibly, the only day of the month they’ve been off and nowhere near a baseball field.

They certainly earned the break, as brief as it will be, after bouncing back from their first loss in nearly three weeks – a 5-1 setback to Boyertown in Game 14 of the Pennsylvania American Legion State Tournament – with a no-doubt-about-it, 11-3 bombing of the very same Boyertown ballclub in Game 15, or Saturday’s final.

“I don’t know if this is the biggest shock for us,” Petrizzi said as his teammates and fans celebrated along the third-base line of Owls Field. “But there are a lot of good teams in Pennsylvania, and to be the best in Pennsylvania … I guess that’s not bad.”

Not bad?

First of all, the state title is the first in the history of Bristol’s program, which began long, long before Petrizzi or even his parents were born. How it was won, well, let’s just say the new kids on American Legion’s baseball block obviously weren’t intimidated by anyone along the way.

And there sure were some imposing opponents to deal with.

What would become a now memorable postseason began just over two weeks ago, when Bristol swept Yardley Western, 15-7 and 6-1, for the Lower Bucks League title. Yardley Western, for those who have forgotten (or didn’t know), has won three state titles and finished second in three others, and even won the World Series back in 1996.

Last week, Bristol scored 81 runs in five straight wins, the last a 10-inning, 16-15 marathon over Spring City for the Region Three Tournament title. The sweep ended a run of five straight championships by Chester County League teams. Oh yeah, Spring City, for those who have forgotten (or didn’t know), was both the defending regional and state champion.

This week, Bristol used a little bit of pitching, defense and hitting – in other words, not just the bats – to beat West Hempfield (12-1), West Lawn (8-1), Boyertown (5-2) and Blackhawk (10-5) to get to the final day. And after Boyertown ace Steve Price did what few if any pitchers did in the first game Saturday (limiting Bristol to just one run that, incidentally, snapped a 12-game winning streak), the Region Three champions came back with a near-flawless finale to bump the Bears for that still coveted state title. Boyertown, for those few who have forgotten (or haven’t followed American Legion baseball for the last fortysome years), was hoping to catch the organization’s record 23rd state title his weekend.

Neither Petrizzi nor anyone else on the Bristol roster, which consisted mostly of Conwell Egan High School players, could have possibly envisioned such a run. This past spring, they were ousted in the second round of the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs. Less than a week later, their season ended in the first round of districts.

Bristol owned a good but not necessarily watch-out, here-they-come, 16-5 record going into the Lower Bucks League playoffs.

“All we heard during the state regional was people saying Spring City and (NorChester) were supposed to win,” Petrizzi said. “But we played well, and we came in here (to states) in a positive frame of mind. We didn’t relax, though. We played hard.”

Bristol didn’t exactly blow away the opposition, at least not as it did the week before over at Owen J. Roberts. And after losing to the Bears in Game 14… considering Boyertown was 22-3 overall in state-final games since winning the first of those 22 titles back in 1969, the odds weren’t exactly favoring a Bristol comeback in Saturday’s nightcap.

But talk about making all the right moves.

Manager Tim Monaghan sent Steve Arthur to the mound. The right-hander, who received the Outstanding Pitcher Award, gave up 13 hits, but no more than two in any inning and never wavered despite throwing 153 pitches over nine innings. The defense behind him was anything but generous, turning three double plays. The first was certainly a momentum-changer, ending a potentially big second-inning Boyertown burst. Petrizzi, the shortstop, and third baseman Zach Philippi took care of everything hit to the left side of the infield. Even catcher Brian Beyer, who received the MVP Award, contributed by throwing out a Bear runner on an attempted steal of third.

And those bats?

Back to the Bristol Stomp – as in 18 against three Boyertown pitchers. Sprinkle all them in between four errors and, well, that was way too much for the Bears to overcome.

“The bats… it was weird,” Petrizzi said. “We put up a lot of runs last week, but when we came in here (the bats) weren’t as hot. But our defense was on. Defense has been our strength all year.

“We had been winning a lot, so that first game (Saturday) was a wake-up call for us. We had no doubts we could come back. And when we got our bats going again…”

Enough said.

Boyertown manager Rick Moatz, who like Dave Specht and Dick Ludy did before him, had to be thinking Saturday Sweep after Price’s eight-hit, six-strikeout effort in Game 14.

“We felt very good,” said Moatz, whose team will join Bristol – and third-place Blackhawk – in this week’s Mid-Atlantic Regional at Bear Stadium. “We hit the ball, played excellent defense, and with Price shutting (Bristol) down like he did.

“But (Bristol) is a very aggressive team. They hit the ball well. They don’t let up. They’re a very good team.”

Moatz admitted it was a bit of an up-hill climb after falling behind 2-1 in the third, then 6-1 in the sixth.

“It isn’t easy playing come-from-behind when you’re going up against a pitcher who wins the pitching award and a catcher who wins the MVP award,” Moatz said. “They definitely put us behind the eight-ball. (Arthur) threw strikes and worked ahead in the count for the most part. (Bristol) just did a good job.”

The Bears, who fell to 42-11, will close out Thursday’s opening round of the Mid-Atlantic Regional against the West Virginia state champion.

“We’ll be confident going into the regional,” Moatz said. “We actually played really well all this week. I thought we played better this week than we did last week (at the Region Two Tournament). The kids picked it up.”


Boyertown catcher Josh Schnell was presented the Batting Award after hitting .476 (10-for-21) with 10 runs scored in the tournament. … The state title has been won by a Region Two or Three champion eight straight years now – or since Region Six power Blackhawk defeated Paoli (5-2) in the 2003 final. The two regions have also swept 27 state titles since 1981.


Pitching took a big hit in American Legion state regionals

WEST LAWN – There was no shortage of offense in last week’s Pennsylvania American Legion Region Two and Region Three tournaments. Actually, there was no shortage of offense in the state’s other five regionals, either.

Forget about what’s usually a quick postgame add-them-up, even with a little help from the fingers (and toes). If you didn’t have a calculator, or a doctorate degree in statistics and an air-conditioned room to do the math, odds are the numbers weren’t going to be anywhere near accurate.

Don’t assume the metal bats, the dreaded nine-inning games, or the hard-pan (if not concrete-like) fields most of the tournaments were played on – or even the oppressive heat – as the reason or reasons for the exorbitant numbers, either.

The bottom line – and not to hit (pardon the pun) on any individual nor any team’s staff – was pitching, or the lack of it.

First, the area’s very few exceptions:

In Region Two, Boyertown’s pen of pitchers held four opponents to a combined 13 runs. That’s an average of just over three runs a game, and when the Bears are able to do that, as the history of their programs reveals, they win. They sure did last week – despite a Game 14 shootout with Pennridge – running the table for a record 22nd title. In Region Three, NorChester’s two top arms allowed a measly two runs in first- and second-round romps, but the staff surrendered 28 in the next two and, that quickly, the Bulldogs’ season was over. And it was pretty much the same scenario for Spring City. There were a couple of very respectable showings in the first and fourth rounds, but surrendering 47 runs in the other three – including 31 in a pair of matchups with eventual champion Bristol – was too much for even the reliable Red Sox bats to overcome.

Statewide, there was one exception – Region Eight, where only 180 runs were scored in 15 games.

Mind you, even 180 runs may sound a bit high. Well, hold on to your baseball hat.

In three of the state regionals – Regions Three (22.3), Five (20.3) and Seven (20.1) – teams combined to average more than 20 runs a game. Three other regionals – Region Four (17.2), Two (17.0) and Six (16.7) – weren’t far back. They all made Region Eight (with an average of just 12 combined runs a game) seem like a pitcher’s paradise.

And for the baseball purists who don’t particularly care for the 10-run rule? Nearly one-quarter of all the games played last week, 24 of 103 to be specific, ended – mercifully – early.

So if you’re still not convinced pitching and defense wins baseball games, you’ll likely find 48 coaches – the fellas who last week packed up the gear for the summer – who will be happy to discuss that issue.

The big question today is if the pitching – or lack of it – will continue when the state tournament begins in West Lawn.

Red Land and Blackhawk open the affair, followed by Bristol and West Hempfield. The second doubleheader features Boyertown against Plains, while Millcreek takes on host Owls in the nightcap.

If there is an interesting opening-day matchup, it would be Bristol against West Hempfield. Though getting some help from eight Spring City errors in Game 14 last Wednesday, Bristol still produced an incredible 81 runs in its five-game sweep. West Hempfield’s pitching staff, on the other hand, permitted fewer runs than anyone who survived last week to get into the state tournament.


Boyertown, Blackhawk, Plains and West Lawn are the only teams in today’s opening round that have won state titles. Boyertown tops the list of course with its record 22, while Blackhawk won it all eight years ago. Plains’ lone championship was 76 years ago, or way, way back in 1935. West Lawn made its run in 1962.

Boyertown and Bristol, just on history alone, would have to be considered among the favorites this week. Region Two or Region Three champions have won the state title the last seven years and all but three times in the last 30 years, or since 1981. Other than Blackhawk, the others breaking that otherwise impressive streak were State College (2001) and Hanover (1999).

Shaler, the only team other than Boyertown to win back-to-back state titles in the last 51 years, saw its season end last Wednesday following an 11-9 setback to Blackhawk in the Region Six final.

Boyertown headlines the list of repeaters, capturing four in a row on three occasions and three in a row twice. The only other back-to-back champions were Shaler (1979-80), Coplay (1959-60 and 1945-46), Loudenslager (1957-58), Gregg Post (1932-33), Unionville (1929-30), and York (the very first two titles in 1926-27).

State College, one of Pennsylvania’s best American Legion programs, did not – repeat – did not have a team this summer.

According to a story by the very reputable and always accurate Guy Cipriano of the Centre Daily Times, longtime State College manager Terry Godwin said his staff had trouble filling out a roster because of a lot of players opting to commit to travel teams in the Altoona and Johnstown areas.

Sad? That’s an understatement considering since 1985 the State College program had won 951 games, appeared in 15 state tournaments – winning the one title – and advancing all the way to the 1998 American Legion World Series.

Even sadder is the fact Conestoga didn’t field a team this summer, either.

Last month, Conestoga High School won the PIAA-Class AAAA state title, defeating Spring-Ford in the final.

Too many games condensed into the spring and summer? Kind of makes you appreciate – and truly respect – the commitment Boyertown, NorChester and Spring City programs get summer after summer after summer.

Don’t forget, three teams will advance out of this week’s state tournament to next week’s Mid-Atlantic Regional at Bear Stadium. Because of changes, or realignment nationwide by the American Legion Baseball Committee, the state champion as well as the runner-up will continue playing in Pennsylvania this time.

Boyertown is in as the host, which means if the Bears finish among the top three, the remaining top two also move on. If the Bears don’t get to the final, then both the state champion and runner-up advance.

Three teams from the Commonwealth advancing to national regional play isn’t unprecedented. Seven years ago out in Fredericksburg, Boyertown defeated State College for the state title. Boyertown was automatically in the national regional as the host. So the following day, Baldwin defeated French Creek Valley, 10-1, in a special playoff game for third place. State officials sent State College to Bear Stadium – joining Boyertown in Mid-Atlantic Regional, while Hanover headed west to the Great Lakes Regional.

The reason all three Pennsylvania teams will be in the Mid-Atlantic Regional this time around is because of the aforementioned realignment. State champions from New York and Virginia will be competing in the Northeast and Southeast regionals, respectively, next week.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional field, in addition to the three Pennsylvania teams, will include both the New Jersey champion and runner-up as well as the champions from Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia.

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Minich, Clark will realize how great they are .. in time

This column was originally published in the March 15, 2011, edition of The Mercury.

There are times when the frenzied media needs to step back, provide a little space for a minute or two before bringing out all the pad and pencils, microphones, flip-cams and cameras, before starting their seemingly endless stream of questions.

One of those times was last Saturday night, during the final hours of the PIAA-Class AAA Championships in the Giant Center out in Hershey, when Boyertown’s Jeremy Minich and Methacton’s Brandan Clark needed an inch or two away from everyone, a moment or two alone, to collect themselves.

Anyone who has ever been blessed to get within six minutes of living their dream — to get oh so close to what they worked so hard for and given up so much for — only to have it end so quickly…

The visuals — bowed heads, slumped shoulders and tears they desperately seek to hide — are, for the most part, beyond words. And inside, there simply are no practice room drills or warm-up routines — all geared toward winning and winning only — that prepare them for the agony that digs deep, deep into the gut.

Minich and Clark, absolute class acts in victory and defeat, on and off the mat, were hurting Saturday night after coming up short of winning a gold medal. Few can honestly describe the pain, the emptiness, of getting so, so close – and not winning – the most treasured prize a kid could ever want, or any kid who’s grown up wrestling in this state.

Few expected Minich and Clark to be under the Saturday spotlight.

Yes, Minich did make two previous trips to Hershey, but going 1-for-3 both times didn’t lend much to any argument he would be in the final this time around. Yes, Minich did run the table at sections, districts and regions, but so did a lot of others around the state. And yes, Clark was in Hershey a year ago, too, even won a seventh-place medal.

Past weeks and past seasons, however, mean nothing when the final three days of the wrestling season unfold in Hershey … absolutely nothing.

So Minich and Clark didn’t just beat the odds, they beat whoever and whatever was thrown up and at them for two straight days. District and regional champions, some without a loss and others with just a loss or two, couldn’t beat them, couldn’t stop them from rightfully earning their spots in the Parade of Champions and spots in two of the 14 finals on Saturday night.

And even though all that began well didn’t end well, neither Minich nor Clark found any comfort finishing second.

Minich didn’t want to hear about losing to a three-time state champion and four-time state medalist – who also happened to be ranked No. 1 in his weight class in the entire nation. Clark didn’t want to hear about recovering from a third-place finish at his own regional, about beating three other regional champions who had over a 100 wins and just one loss between them to get to the final, or about losing to the first freshman state champion over 152 pounds in the history of the PIAA Championships.

Winners never accept losing, even on one of high school sports’ biggest stages – as wrestling in the Giant Center (and the Hersheypark Arena before it) – is.

Neither Minich nor Clark were about to accept it Saturday night.

But in time, hopefully sooner rather than later, both will realize how good they really were for four years at Boyertown and Methacton … and both will realize just how good they were for the biggest three days – and final three days – of their high school careers.

Minich’s second gave Boyertown a state medalist for the 11th straight year – an area record. The previous mark was nine, set by Upper Perkiomen (1999-2007). … Clark, along with teammate Rob D’Annunzio (fifth at 112), combined for seven wins last week in Hershey, the most any group of Methacton qualifiers mustered at states since the school-record 10 back in 1998. Clark, the Warrior program’s first state finalist since Dan Covatta in 1993, finished up with 146 career wins to break Covatta’s mark (145). … And last but not least, Pottsgrove’s always energized T.J. Demetrio became his school’s first Class AAA medalist (sixth last week) and only the second overall (Chris Beasley was third in AA back in 1991). Overachiever as some said? “I think that may have come up more because he’s from Pottsgrove, because you don’t think of state qualifiers or state medalists from Pottsgrove,” said Falcons head coach Jeff Madden. “T.J. worked extremely, extremely hard, and earned everything he won.”


Wayne Armstrong was Interboro’s sixth state qualifier, but only the second to ever win a bout at states – and first since Adam Parcell did en route to finishing eighth in 2003. … Marple-Newtown had two state qualifiers for the first time since Kyle Rosenbloom and Bob Savino made the trip in 1994. … Souderton’s Joe Stolfi, who finished third at 215, had 10 career wins at states to break his school record of eight, set by Chad Clemens (1988 and 1990). … Unionville’s Mason Popham was third at 135, the best finish in the history of his school’s program. He is also Unionville’s only two-time state medalist. … Upper Moreland’s John Bolich, who was third at 189, will graduate as his school’s winningest wrestler at states and its only two-time state medalist.


During Saturday night’s award presentations, it was announced Council Rock South brothers Rick, Mike, Mark, Matt and Billy Rappo became the state’s First Family of Wrestling. The fivesome, thanks to junior 103-pound Billy’s title, have accounted for five state titles and 11 medals overall (as well as a 39-14 record) at the PIAA Championships. … Rick was first and second with an overall record of 7-1; Mike was a two-time champion with a spotless 8-0 mark; Mark was sixth, second and first and 10-4 overall; Matt, who improved from seventh last year to fourth this past weekend, was 8-6; and Billy, with a year to go, was eighth a year ago and, combined with his first on Saturday night, is now 6-3 going into what he hopes to be a similar 2012. One of head coach Mark Silemperi’s assistants, by the way, is Pottsgrove graduate Derick Lynch.


Council Rock South had three medalists to push its overall total to an amazing 23 in its nine years of existence. The Hawks are now second only to Upper Perkiomen (25) in total state medals. … The former Council Rock and Norristown – which had three last weekend, too – are tied for third with 22 each, while the former Downingtown, Methacton – with its two last weekend – and North Penn share fifth place with 21 each.


In the PIAA-Class AAA Championships last weekend, Southeast Regional champions went a combined 40-22, while runners-up went a combined 31-27. After that, the numbers literally dropped off the chart, with the third-placers from regional going 15-26 and the fourth-place finishers going just 4-27 (Boyertown’s Jon Neiman owned one of those four wins). … District 1 wrestlers went a combined 78-92. Add in District 12’s efforts from LaSalle and Father Judge and the total individual bout won-loss mark was 95-106. … The 78 wins ranks as only the sixth-best in AAA Southeast Regional history, while the 95 overall wins are second only to the 104 back in 2005. … The 215-pound weight class produced the most wins (12), and along with 103 shared the region-high in medals (three each). … District 1 went 10-9 in Saturday’s finals – 2-2 in the championship finals; 3-4 in the third-place finals; 3-1 in the fifth-place finals; and 2-2 in the seventh-place finals.


District 1 had just one state qualifier – who went 0-2 – in last weekend’s Class AA bracket. It was only the fourth time since the two-classification format began in 1974 that the district didn’t win at least one bout in the small-school division. Eight years, there were no qualifiers, thus no wins. Back in 1985 (three qualifiers) and 1986 (two qualifiers), the district record was 0-3 and 0-2, respectively. … It was also the first time the district was denied an AA medal since 2003.


Wrestler of the Year in District 1? Without question, Plymouth-Whitemarsh senior John Staudenmayer, who capped an unbeaten season (43-0) and outstanding career (168-12) with a no-doubt-about-it, 15-2 major in the 171-pound final Saturday night. … Apparently too many “fans” were content getting results from a computer instead of from a seat in the Giant Center this year. Attendance for Saturday was good (21,427) despite live cable coverage from PCN. But for the three days (49,643) not so good, not when considering the tournament year after year after year drew well over 60,000 fans.

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Keys to beating cancer are in faith, family and friends

From the Boyertown Relay for Life Survivors' Ceremony speech by Don Seeley. Don Seeley is The Mercury sports editor and a cancer survivor.

February 17th, 2005 … around 10:40 that morning, I received a telephone call that my sister — who had been battling cancer for four years — had died. Exactly four hours and five minutes later, I listened to a doctor tell me I had stage four cancer of the throat and neck … listened to him tell me "It doesn't look good."

That very moment — like every one of you here this evening who have or had cancer — my emotions ran the gamut. The next few hours are still a blur to me, but I do recall getting in my car and taking a ride just to think.

I have no idea why, but I remembered being so sick when I had the chicken pox, the measles and the mumps growing up, remembered the pain when I broke my arm in first grade, broke my collarbone in fourth grade, and then when I had blood clots removed from my leg in fifth grade.

I remembered being so worried about playing basketball my senior year in high school after I had a tumor removed from my neck, remembered being so worried about not being able to play baseball for a good part of my last year in college when I tore a tendon in my throwing arm.

I thought, "Isn't it funny how a short 'before-I-go-to-sleep' prayer, your mother's and father's care, and all those doctors and nurses get you through all the sickness, get you through all the injuries. I remembered smiling then, after admitting to myself that cancer — especially stage four cancer — was going to be a bit more than a high fever, aching muscle or broken bone.

I realized I was scared … scared as hell.

But over the next seven months, that fear — the fear of going through what I'd seen so many others go through, and that fear of

dying — vanished.

Vanished … thanks to my faith, my family, and my friends.

I found a lot of comfort in prayer when nurses were poking needles in me every Monday for eight weeks of chemotherapy. And when I sat there for hour after hour, at times feeling like I was frozen to the bone, I found a lot of comfort in my fiancée covering me with warm blankets, in holding my hand, in just talking to me.

I found a lot of comfort in prayer when the technicians strapped me on a table and lined up this and that machine for 40 minutes of radiation, Monday through Friday, for eight weeks.

I found comfort in prayer throughout all those treatments — which, like so many of you know, make us sicker than what most people can even begin to imagine.

The treatments did get the best of me physically. Thanks to the chemo, nearly everything I put through my feeding tube came back up; thanks to the radiation frying my throat and burning up my salivary glands, I couldn't even take a sip of water.

I lost 79 pounds.

Then, thanks to surgery, I lost a jugular vein and most of the muscle mass in the right side of my neck.

The chemo and radiation, all those pills, the surgery … all of it, sure did get the best of me physically. I was a mere shadow of myself.

But cancer did not get the best of me mentally. Cancer did not come close to touching my heart and my soul, thanks to my family and my friends.

Every day, from Day One, my fiancée — Kathy — was there for me, making sure I took my medications, making sure I had the right formula for my feeding tube, making sure I was hooked up for my overnight feedings, and she was up with me throughout many nights I became ill, and up first thing in the morning to clean up all the messes I made.

Every day, from Day One, my daughters Brenda and Alison either called me or stopped by to see me — their visits made my heart smile. And my grandson Dane, four years old and full of life, gave me a dose of medicine during our Fourth of July family picnic that energized me on a day I may have been at my worst and has inspired me, to this day, to continue fighting cancer.

I didn't feel well that Fourth of July, was down in the dumps because I couldn't eat any of the food, and then I got sick. While half-asleep on the sofa in the living room, I felt someone grab my hand — it was Dane, who looked at me and said, "Pops, I want you to see me graduate from high school."

Every day, from Day One, friends called on the phone asking me how I was doing, mailed me short notes or letters of encouragement, stopped by to see me and talk with me. Their calls, their letters and their visits strengthened my soul. I was overwhelmed by their kindness and their sincerity.

It's been six years, four months and 11 days since I was told I had stage four cancer and given little hope of beating it, and there isn't a day that goes by I don't think of all the caring doctors and nurses. It's been five years, nine months and 10 days since I underwent surgery and told I was cancer free, and there isn't a single day that goes by that I don't think of my faith, family and friends.

You see, the doctors and nurses, everyone in the medical field, can kill cancer. Our caregivers help us through all the pain, all the suffering. But it's your faith, your family, your friends that can cure you — yes, cure you — of cancer.

As the theme for this Relay states, MAKE A DREAM COME TRUE — ONE LAP AT A TIME. But you cannot make a dream come true with a lap around the track, with a financial donation, with a commitment to fight cancer one weekend a year.

Do what the true meaning of this event is … RELAY.

Relay prayer, relay the love and care of family … even if you're not related — and relay friendship. Relay with a passion. That will make a lot of dreams come true; that will help cure us of cancer.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

Relay for Life of Boyertown
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