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Few years have passed that match 2004 for top-level accomplishments by Susquehanna County athletes.
Montrose High School graduates Chris Snee and Rich Thompson launched major-league professional careers, the Blue Ridge softball team gave the county its first girls' state high school championship team and three individual athletes came away with state silver medals in Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association championship events.
Pole vaulters Joe LaBarbera of Montrose and Amber Gaffey of Susquehanna and cross country runner Jessica Squier of Elk Lake were the state silver medalists.
Snee, who was selected in the second round and broke right into the starting lineup with the National Football League's New York Giants, and Thompson, who made his major league debut by making the Kansas City Royals Opening Day lineup, were not the only athletes to find success on the national level.
Susquehanna graduate Teresa Covert qualified for the National College Athletic Association Division I track and field championships for the second straight year.
Snee played the first 10 games, all as a starter at guard, as the Giants got off to a 5-5 start. He missed the remainder of the season because of an illness that led to his hospitalization.
Thompson's only run was a game-winner as a late-inning pinch runner. He appeared in six games and was 0-for-1 with a stolen base before the Royals returned him to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Thompson is currently listed on Pittsburgh's Class AAA roster with the Indianapolis Indians.
Mountain View wrestler Matt Panasevich finished third in the national scholastic Greco-Roman Wrestling Championships and helped Pennsylvania's state team win the USA Wrestling National Duals in Freestyle.
Blue Ridge defeated Sto-Rox, 2-0, for the state softball title behind a three-hit shutout from Brittany Pavelski and two hits by Brittany Welch.
Welch came back from an injury in time to go 6-for-10 in the state playoffs, including two hits in the state final. She drove in the first run and scored the second.
LaBarbera and Gaffey capped an impressive performance by local track athletes, who combined to win four District 2 titles.
LaBarbera and teammate Larry Lundy set District 2 records while winning gold, Gaffey tied a district mark and Elk Lake's Robert Squier ran away to win the 3200 run by more than 34 seconds. Lundy broke the discus record set by former Miami Dolphins center Tim Ruddy of Dunmore.
Jessica Squier finished third in the state in the 3200 while Lundy took fourth in the discus and Robert Squier took seventh in the 3200.
Local athletes were also impressive in high school wrestling.
Blue Ridge's Justin Herbert led the way, winning a medal by finishing sixth at 160 pounds.
Montrose's Jeff Snyder, Blue Ridge's Louis Villella and Mountain View's Panasevich won District 2 Class AA titles.
The Montrose girls won their first District 2 title in soccer.
In regional professional sports, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins became the first American Hockey League team to win two Game Sevens in overtime on the road. The Penguins reached the Calder Cup finals before being swept by the Milwaukee Admirals.
WEEK IN REVIEW
Montrose's Snyder and Mountain View's Panasevich each finished second in the 20-team Tunkhannock Kiwanis Wrestling Tournament.
Snyder was second at 119 pounds where he was pinned by Wyalusing's Matt Lee in 4:52. Snyder had pinned eventual third-place finisher Roman Crescimanno of team champion Delaware Valley in the semifinals.
Panasevich lost a major decision in the 189-pound final against Honesdale's Josh Arnone, a state Class AAA runner-up last season and one of only four, four-time champions in the 27-year history of the tournament. Panasevich reached the final by avenging a Times Leader Invitational Tournament loss with a 5-1 decision over West Scranton's Dave Dozack.
Snyder led Montrose to an eighth-place finish with 97 points.
Jeff Olienacz (112) was fourth for the Meteors while Larry Lundy (275) was sixth and Anthony Sellitto (145) was eighth.
Mountain View finished 15th.
Greg Nixon (145) and Levi Matulevich (171) were sixth and Dustin Conroe (130) was seventh for the Eagles.
In girls' basketball, Montrose remained unbeaten through 10 games by emerging as the champion of a Taylor Lions Holiday Tournament that featured four teams with winning records.
Erika Brown scored a game-high 19 points as Montrose defeated Old Forge, 56-35, in the championship game Wednesday at Riverside.
Brown made the all-tournament team.
Chelsey Parvin was named tournament Most Valuable Player after scoring 18 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing out five assists in the final.
Kate LaBarbera added eight points and five steals.
Montrose beat Scranton, 62-41, in the semifinals.
Parvin led the team in scoring in the semifinals and finished the tournament with 32 points and 21 rebounds.
Blue Ridge defeated Bishop O'Hara, 37-32, for third place in the Lady Mohawk Classic at Wilkes-Barre Meyers.
In boys' basketball, Mountain View won its second tournament title of the year.
The Eagles defeated Forest City, 71-55, in the finals of the Forest City Rotary Tournament.
Robbie Johnson scored 18 points to make the all-tournament team and tournament MVP Tim Bennett added 11 for the Eagles.
Matt Pisarcik scored 25 points and Dave Shollock added 11, including the 1,000th of his career, for Forest City. Both made the all-tournament team.
Mountain View reached the final with a 66-55 double overtime win over Western Wayne.
Chris Gardner had six points and Chad Lasher five in the second overtime when the Eagles outscored the Wildcats, 14-3. John Evans had a team-high14 points.
Mountain View played four tournament games in four nights. The Eagles also finished third in the Honesdale Jaycees Tournament when they beat the host Hornets, 62-52, behind 15 points by Gardner.
Montrose came within a point of defending its Honesdale Jaycees title.
The Meteors lost to Wallenpaupack, 59-58, in the championship game.
Chris Strohl scored 22 points and Kyle Adriance added 16 in the loss.
Montrose reached the final with a 77-54 victory over Honesdale.
The Meteors jumped out to a 29-6 lead in the first quarter of the semifinal.
Strohl led the win with 18 points. Adriance added 17. Tom Burgh had 16 points, six assists and steals while Brandon Pipher had 12 points and Kyle Stoddard added nine points, four assists and four blocked shots.
Mountain View fell to Wallenpaupack, 53-35, in the semifinals.
Susquehanna lost both games in the Zephyr Holiday Classic at Whitehall. Kevin Lee was named to the all-tournament team.
In professional hockey, the AHL named Jason Spezza of the Binghamton Senators as Player of the Week for the period ending December 26.
Spezza had two goals and three assists in two Binghamton wins. The second overall pick in the 2001 NHL Draft leads the league in assists and is third in scoring.
Spezza's selection comes one week after Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins center Kris Beech was honored.
Beech had two goals and five assists in three games during the week that ended December 19. The seventh overall pick in the 1999 NHL Draft has moved into the league's top 10 in assists and points.
Stephanie Dolinak of Forest City was in the starting lineup for five of Marywood University's eight women's basketball games before the holiday break.
Dolinak, a 6-foot-2 junior center, is in her first season at Marywood after transferring from Lackawanna College.
In the last game before Christmas, Dolinak was one of three Susquehanna County high school graduates in the starting lineup when Marywood defeated Keystone, 77-75.
Dolinak fouled out of that game with six points, five rebounds and three steals.
For the season, Dolinak is third on Marywood in scoring (7.1 per game), rebounding (4.4 per game), blocked shots (four) and steals (seven). She is 21-for-59 from the floor and 15-for-29 from the line.
Keystone's two Mountain View graduates, Julie Lasher and Nicole Zapolski, combined to shoot 16-for-20 in the loss to Marywood.
Lasher had her best game of the season, going 10-for-13 while scoring 28 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Zapolski added 13 points and 11 rebounds.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Lackawanna League wrestling action opens Wednesday, including a Division II match that has Mountain View at Elk Lake.
Elk Lake will then be the host Saturday for the annual Zurn-Bush Memorial Tournament.
In boys' basketball, Lackawanna Trail is at Susquehanna Friday in a meeting between two of the four teams that were tied for first in Division III of the Lackawanna League at the holiday break.
In girls' basketball, first place in Division III could be at stake January 10 when Lackawanna Trail plays at Montrose.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached online at RobbyTR@aol.com.
ROBERT “RED” BYRON: NASCAR’s First Champion
Red Byron will always be remembered as NASCAR’s first champion. Byron drove in five races in 1949, winning two and beating Lee Petty by 117.5 points for the championship.
ROBERT “RED” BYRON
Even though Byron is considered one of the pioneers of NASCAR there is much more to his life than just his NASCAR career.
He actually started racing in the early 1930’s, in Talladega, Alabama, but joined the U.S. Air Force when World War II broke out. He completed 57 successful missions as a tail gunner. On his 58th mission, his plane crashed and his left leg was crushed.
Many wondered if his damaged leg would ever allow him to walk again much less continue racing. Byron spent 27 months in military hospitals where doctors worked on healing his leg. He beat the odds and returned to racing in February of 1946 at the Seminole Speedway in Florida.
With his left foot in a steel stirrup bolted to the clutch of a car owned by Raymond Parks of Atlanta, Byron won the race ahead of Bob and Fonty Flock, Marion McDonald, Roy Hall and Bill France.
In 1947, after a brief career in the American Automobile Association cars, Byron finished third in AAA points. He competed in less than half of the races and won half of the 18 he did start.
In the first NASCAR sanctioned beach race on February 15, 1948, Red Byron crossed the finish line first. He had 23 top three finishes and 11 wins.
On the way to the 1949 championship, he won the Daytona Beach Course and the Martinsville 200. He became NASCAR’s first Grand National Championship winner earning 842.5 points beating drivers Lee Petty, Bob Flock, Bill Blair, and Fonty Flock, who placed in the top five.
His last NASCAR start was the 1951 Southern 500 at Darlington, SC. He started 54th and finished 25th.
Poor health forced him out of driving but not out of racing. He worked for a time with Briggs Cunningham, who was trying to develop an American sports car that could win Grand Prix races, and then became manager of a Corvette team that had the same goal.
Neither project succeeded, but Byron enjoyed sports cars. When he died of a heart attack at the age of forty-four, he was managing a team in Sports Car Club of America.
In November of 1960, Robert “Red” Byron passed away. He was 44 years old. He was inducted into the National Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1966.
In 1998 he was named one of NASCAR’s top-50 drivers.
HERMIE SADLER SELLS CUP TEAM
Hermie Sadler has sold SCORE Motorsports, his Nextel Cup team to Peak Fitness.
But Sadler, who owns SCORE with former NBA player and childhood friend Bryant Stith, will drive the new team's cars in the full 2005 Cup schedule.
Veteran mechanic James Ince, who engineered Johnny Benson and MB2 Motorsports' first Cup victory, in 2002, will be the Nextel Cup crew chief.
SCORE Motorsports, which competed in the full Busch Series and virtually the entire Nextel Cup schedule last season, will continue to race in the Busch Series with Sadler driving.
"We have been searching for the right vehicle in order to move our corporation into a multi-national franchise," Peak Fitness CEO Jeff Stec said. "I believe that the powerful branding associated with NASCAR marketing affords us that opportunity.
"It makes a lot of sense to partner with a talented, professional driver, top engine builder, championship car manufacturer and Nextel Cup crew chief James Ince.
"We find ourselves in rather a unique position as both Nextel Cup team owner and primary sponsor and we are actively seeking strong partners that want to reap the benefits of a national marketing program."
Sadler, the 1993 Busch Series Rookie of the Year, will have his first full-time Cup Series ride after struggling to run limited schedules the past few seasons.
"This is very exciting for me and my family," Sadler said. "To partner with a strong corporation like Peak Fitness and a proven winner like James Ince as crew chief is my best opportunity to make it in Nextel Cup racing.
"I will retain an interest in the new corporation, Peak Performance Motorsports, and will continue to be involved in the daily operations. I feel confident this team will surprise many people.”
Racing Trivia Question: Former NASCAR driver Pete Hamilton once said, “racing is not a sport, but rather a passion or disease.” What year was Hamilton named, NASCAR’s Grand National Rookie of the Year?
Last Week’s Question: Who was the only driver to run full time in both the Busch and Cup series in 2004? Answer. Greg Biffle, and he says he will never again attempt to run both series in the same year.
Gerald Hodges/the Racing Reporter is a syndicated NASCAR columnist. You can read additional racing stories by Hodges at www.race500.com.
Patrick Bayer, a sophomore at Montrose Area High School, won the Boy’s 16 Division of the USTA sanctioned Birchwood Holiday Classic tennis tournament held at the Birchwood Racquet Club in Clarks Summit on December 27-28. Bayer defeated Adam Sopko of Scranton Prep 6-1, 6-0 in the final. Bayer faced David Comstock of Abington in the semifinals. The semifinal match between Bayer and Comstock was the highlight of the Division. It was a well played, back and forth match that lasted 2 hours and 35 minutes with Bayer winning 6-7(2), 6-2, 7-6(7). Bayer is a member of the Montrose High School Tennis Team.
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