Please visit our kind sponsors
Chris Snee and Rich Thompson made progress toward reaching the top of their chosen sports.
Teresa Covert returned to her sport and regained the promise she showed in high school.
The highlight of the year in local sports is the performance of former Susquehanna County high school athletes, including those who have moved hours away to continue their athletic careers.
Snee, Thompson and Covert are just the biggest examples. David Van Nort, Jeremy Pierson, Nicole Zapolski and Courtney Parvin also made an impact on national sports at smaller schools while several more county athletes settled into starting roles on their college teams.
Snee will be the last one in action during 2003 and only time will tell whether it is the Boston College lineman or another Montrose graduate who made the biggest steps this year.
A first-team Big East all-star guard, Snee will play for Boston College in the 10:30 p.m. New Years Eve Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl against Colorado State. The 6-foot-3, 331-pound junior appears headed toward a National Football League draft selection possibly even in an early round.
Thompson may make it to Major League Baseball in the 2004 season.
It was an eventful year for the speedy outfielder, who was traded twice and selected in the Rule 5 Draft. His status as a Rule 5 Draft pick encourages the Kansas City Royals to keep him on the active 25-man major-league roster for the entire 2003 season or lose him back to the Pittsburgh Pirates for just $25,000.
The Royals project Thompson as a fifth outfielder and pinch runner heading into spring training. His task in spring training will be to convince the team that the projection makes sense when the season starts in April.
Thompson batted .293 and stole 48 bases while playing for two Class AAA and one Class AA team this year. He helped the Nashville Sounds to a Pacific Coast League division title and berth in the championship series. He followed it up by leading the Arizona Fall League in runs scored, triples and stolen bases while hitting .346.
Covert returned from a two-year layoff for family obligations to reach the NCAA Division I national track and field championships in the 100-meter hurdles while competing for the University at Albany.
At Susquehanna, Covert won more state high school medals than any athlete in Susquehanna County history and came within one point of single-handedly lifting the Lady Sabers to a state track championship as a senior. She started her college career at Temple and resumed it last season at Albany as a junior.
Covert was named Albanys Female Athlete of the Year after setting school records in the hurdles, 100-meter dash, long jump and 1600 relay. She qualified for NCAA East Regionals in the 100 and the long jump but passed up those events to concentrate on becoming the first Albany woman to reach Division I nationals.
Van Nort was the Citys leading tackler in the Dream Game before heading to Lycoming College where he started every game at defensive tackle as a freshman for the NCAA Division III quarterfinalists. Montrose teammates Joe Cosmello and Dan Snee joined him in the Dream Game win and were also reserve running backs at Lycoming.
Elk Lakes Pierson and Mountain Views Zapolski were National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association All-Americans at Keystone College.
Pierson led the nation in earned run average for most of the year and finished at 1.44. He was Region 19 Player of the Year for a season that included a 13-strikeout, no-hitter.
Zapolski was selected as the schools top female athlete primarily for her All-American effort in basketball where she averaged 13.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 1.9 assists last season.
Parvin, from Montrose, was one of the key subs as a freshman at Springfield College where she played in the NCAA Division III womens basketball tournament. She is starting now as a sophomore.
HIGH SCHOOL HIGHLIGHTS
The players who are still performing at local high schools also had plenty to celebrate, especially at Elk Lake where Seth Button helped continue what Pierson helped start in baseball.
Button led Elk Lake to its third straight division title and all the way to the state championship game. He was named Lackawanna League Division III North Player of the Year, won two state tournament games and struck out six in 3 1/3 innings of the state final where the Warriors lost 2-1 to Bellwood-Antis. He was also selected in the 50th round of the baseball draft by the Cleveland Indians.
Button was also one of three Elk Lake basketball players who scored their 1,000th career points in a little over a week. Tony Rezykowski, who joined him in leading the Warriors to the all-season division championship game, and Nicole Nasser were the others.
For his senior season, Button averaged .523 and produced a 2.13 ERA.
Elk Lakes distance runners also brought the school state success.
Jessica Squier finished third in the state Class AA girls cross country championships. Her brother, Robert Squier, was sixth and teammate Ryan Place was 18th as the Warriors finished eighth in the state as a boys team.
Robert Squier also took fifth in the state in the Class AA boys 3200-meter run in track season.
Elk Lake also won a District 2 softball title with the help of a 5-4, eight-inning upset of Blue Ridge in the semifinals.
After reaching the state final the year before, Blue Ridge defended its softball division title. The Lady Raiders wrapped up an unbeaten league season with back-to-back, no-hitters by Brittany Pavelski and Heather Franks.
The Lady Raiders won Lackawanna League and District 2 volleyball titles by going unbeaten against local competition for the third straight year.
Blue Ridges wrestling team turned in the best performance ever by a Susquehanna County team in the District 2 tournament when it tied for second place in Class AA behind titles by Chris Lewis and Justin Herbert.
Lewis, who set the school record for career wins, went on to reach the state quarterfinals at 135 pounds where he finished seventh in the state.
Montroses Bob Dean had the best state finish by an area track athlete.
Dean was fourth in the state Class AA discus, a week after finishing 1-2 in District 2 with teammate Larry Lundy as both qualified for the state meet. The two Montrose throwers, Robert Squier and Blue Ridge 3200-meter runner Rachel Hall represented the county in the state meet.
Montrose had more state competitors in the fall.
Mike Stranburg finished second in District 2 golf on a playoff then finished 20th in the state. He led a golf team that had an unbeaten division championship season and was the only team to send all six golfers to the District 2 boys championships.
The Montrose girls cross country team went 21-2 to win a Lackawanna League Class AA title. The Lady Meteors qualified for the state meet along with the Elk Lake boys, Jessica Squier and Blue Ridges Katrina Rinehimer.
Earlier in the year, Montrose sent its girls basketball team all the way to the second round of the state Class AA tournament.
Montrose and Forest City, which ran its string of Class A district titles to five, each won District 2 championships and first-round games in the state tournament.
Montroses Coleen Walsh and Forest Citys Amanda Vitzakovitch scored their 1,000th career points along the way.
Vitzakovitch reached the milestone as a junior and was named third-team Associated Press Class A all-state. In the fall, Vitzakovitch averaged more than a goal per game to lead all county girls soccer players in scoring.
Mountain Views Ashley Twining is another girl who hit the 1,000-point mark while playing for a championship team. Twining hit the milestone in style, scoring 36 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and making 12 steals for a triple-double in a 61-47 District 2 playoff victory over Blue Ridge.
Mountain View won the Lackawanna League Division II North all-season title in a playoff with Forest City.
The Mountain View boys soccer and volleyball teams also won championships.
The Eagles went 9-1 in the division and 14-1 in the league in soccer while allowing just four goals. They went unbeaten in volleyball to win the Lackawanna League.
The biggest off-field news came when Susquehanna and Blue Ridge agreed to a cooperative sponsorship in football. The addition of Blue Ridge athletes added depth to the Susquehanna roster and made the team more competitive but the Sabers, once perennial contenders, still suffered through their second straight winless season.
Several county athletes also performed well in the annual Keystone State Games. Included in that group was Brad Conklin, a 6-foot-7 junior from New Milford, who attends school at Seton Catholic in Binghamton where he is attracting attention from college scouts.
CLOSE TO HOME
For those who step outside the county for their sporting interests, there was plenty to see in professional sports between Binghamton and Wilkes-Barre.
Craig Stadler became the first PGA Champions Tour member to win on the PGA Tour when he shot a final round 63 to win the B.C. Open at En-Joie Golf Club in Endicott, NY.
Seven-time, all-star and two-time National Basketball Association Player of the Year Alonzo Mourning appeared to be building his latest comeback when the New Jersey Nets played the New York Knicks in the first NBA exhibition ever at the Wachovia Arena in Wilkes-Barre.
Mourning had 13 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots in 18 minutes to help the Nets to an 84-75 win.
"Ill continue to work to get in basketball shape and get my body right so that I can contribute," Mourning said just weeks before having to retire from the NBA in preparation for the kidney transplant he underwent earlier this month.
Binghamton made a successful return to the American Hockey League under an ownership group led by Montroses Tim Smith and Tom Bolles. The Senators reached the Calder Cup semifinals and had three of the American Hockey Leagues seven all-rookie performers in goalie Ray Emery and forwards Jason Spezza and Antoine Vermette.
Binghamtons biggest rival, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, extended their league record home sellout streak beyond 100 games. The Penguins also made a coaching change, bringing in former Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien.
Three former regional athletes made big impacts on March Madness.
Gerry McNamara, from Bishop Hannan in Scranton, hit six three-pointers in the first half of Syracuses 81-78 victory over Kansas in the national championship game.
Bobby Gonzalez, from Binghamton North, coached Manhattan into the mens tournament.
Amber Jacobs, from Abington Heights, hit late game-winning baskets in each of the first two rounds of the womens tournament for Boston College.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached on-line at RobbyTR@aol.com.
The World Knows Who CALE Is
When the name, "Cale" comes up in NASCAR racing circles, theres never any doubt whos being referred to. Its Cale Yarborough, an acknowledged legend in the world of stock car racing. Year after year from his first victory in 1965 to his last in 1985, capacity crowds came to see the Timmonsville, SC native race because of his fast pedal-to-the floor, hard-charging, driving style.
Cale Yarborough has stood in victory lane 83 times, set on the pole 68 times and is the only driver to have won three consecutive Winston Cup Driving Championships. In spite of his impressive record, one incident has gone down in history as the most talked about in his 31-year career as a driver.
Most racing fans recall Cale from the 1979 Daytona 500a race that was won by Richard Petty.
On the last lap, Donnie Allison was leading Yarborough as they went down the backstretch. Yarborough attempted to get by Allison on the inside, but Allison dropped down and closed him off. Both cars banged against each other several times before they spun into the infield.
Petty went on to take the checkered flag, while Donnies brother, Bobby finished the race, and then roared back around the track to help Donnie. Helmets were off, and fists were flying as television cameras beamed the fracas to a world-wide audience of millions.
"I had planned my move and was in a perfect position to shoot past underneath," said Yarborough. "But he kept coming down and cutting me off each time I tried to pass. Finally we both just lost control and ended up in the grass. But it looked worse on films than what really happened. It was more of a scuffle than anything else."
Cale Yarborough was born, March 27, 1939. His father, Julian was a farmer, but also a racer. His early years were spent on a tobacco farm, but he longed for the Saturdays when his family might go to Darlington and he could glimpse the speedway. He attended the first Southern 500 held there in 1950. Lacking ticket money, he crawled under a fence in order to get inside.
"I grew up on a farm," says Yarborough. "And I guess that is why I learned to drive so early. My first endeavor at racing was a Soap-Box Derby car. I made it when I was 13. By the time I had turned 15 I had already built a car in the barn. My first race was in Sumter, SC I guess that was in about 1954 or 55. I dont remember where I finished, but it wasnt too good."
Yarborough does not deny that his first love was the Darlington Speedway. "Darlington really turned me on," he says. "I dont know why. As a boy, I would sneak in to watch the races. Later, I would sneak in and beg to drive a car. I just wanted to race."
"When I was 15 and 16, I could drive a car well enough to race, but they wouldnt let me out on the track," he said. "So, sometimes drivers would let me take a lap or two in their car when NASCAR inspectors werent looking. Sometimes they caught me and took me to the gate, but I knew all the places to get back in, and sometimes I would be back in someones car before the inspector got back. I didnt look at it as anything bad or wrong; I just had a desire to race."
Before his career as a driver ended, Cale Yarborough earned almost $5 million. But it didnt come easy. In the early years, he tried dozens of different ideas to raise money. Turkey farming, logging, a junkyard, and many odd jobs helped finance his racing dream. Even after he married, money was still tight.
"Most of the time I could find a car to drive, but often, we didnt have enough money for gas to get us to the track. Im telling you things were tough during those early years."
After filling in as a replacement driver in a car owned by Holman-Moody, he went to work in their shop in Charlotte in 1964. His pay was $1.25 per hour.
His first official year of competition in what we know today as the Winston Cup Series was 1965. His first victory came that year, in the Valdosta 100 at Valdosta, GA. Holman and Moody rewarded him with a small hourly raise.
In 1967, he was hired by the Wood Brothers to drive one of their Fords in the 1967 Southern 500. Even though he finished 11th, the association with the Wood Bothers team lasted four more years and brought him the success he had sought.
"Winning the Southern 500 in 1968 is the one racing event that stands out in my mind," he says. "That was the last year of the old track, and thats where my real racing career started. Even though I tamed it four more times, the 1968 Southern 500 was my biggest racing win."
In 1971, Ford pulled out of factory-backed racing, and Yarborough spent two years on the Indy Car circuit before returning to team up with Junior Johnson in 1973. Johnson had an engine builder named, Robert Yates.
"Junior was running Chevrolets," Yarborough said. "But the thing that was impressive about their operation was Robert (Yates). He had worked for Holman-Moody as a young mechanic, and he had learned something about those big-block Chevy engines that would make Juniors cars fly. They were looking for a driver. After testing one of their cars I knew that was the team for me."
It was with the Junior Johnson team that Yarborough probably had the most success of his racing career. He spent eight seasons behind the wheel of a Junior Johnson Chevrolet. He won fifty-five Winston Cup events as well as the Winston Cup Championship in 1976, 1977, and 1978.
After leaving Junior Johnson, Yarborough teamed up with Harry Rainer for fourteen more victories.
Driving a Monte Carlo prior to the 1983 Daytona 500, he became the first driver to officially break the 200 mph mark in a NASCAR stock car. Moments after establishing the new record, his Monte Carlo became airborne and wound up as a scrap heap of metal. Miraculously, he escaped injury, and went on to win his third Daytona 500.
Yarborough continued to drive for Rainer until the end of 1986. In 1987, he purchased Jack Beebes team and competed in 26 Winston Cup races as owner/driver before retiring in 1988. He ended his driving career with 424 total NASCAR starts.
Buddy Baker, television announcer and close friend, said, "The whole story about life is to know where life is trying to push you and hold on until it gets you there. Cale had this burning desire inside him. It was a passion for life. He followed this passion or dream all his life. Folks can say what they want to, but not many people have followed their true dream. Cale Yarborough did and in doing so he earned his fans respect. It wasnt something that was just handed him. And thats what makes him a hero."
Racing Trivia Question: Which team will Jeremy Mayfield drive for in 2004?
Last Weeks Question: Who is the youngest driver to win a NASCAR Winston Cup championship? Answer. In 1995, at the age of 24, Jeff Gordon became the youngest driver ever to win a Winston Cup championship.
If you would like to read additional racing stories by the Gerald Hodges/ the Racing Reporter, go to: www.race500.com.
News | Living | Sports | Schools | Churches | Ads | Events
Military | Columns | Ed/Op | Obits | Archive | Subscribe