By Tom Davidson
MERCER COUNTY AREA —
There are great things to be said for somebody who’s Mercer County born-and-bred.
Those who live here are of hearty stock, hard-working, tough as nails, with an inate athletic ability and championship attitude that’s made a name for all of western Pennsylvania.
The bloodlines of champions can be traced here, and among them are the members of the Mercer County Hall of Fame.
The hall added another stellar class to its honor roll during its induction ceremony Saturday at Park Inn by Radisson in Shenango Township.
Bill Bestwick, Doug Butler, Bob Gruber, Blasé Iorio, Andrea Jackson, Sue McLaughlin, Phil O’Mahen, Dave Palmer, Rande Stottlemyer, Mary Jo (Vodenichar) Staunch, and the late Steve Klaric and Joe McMullen, were honored by the world’s oldest local hall of fame.
But, as the hall’s longtime emcee and cajoler Lanny Frattare would say, there was no doubt whose star was shining brightest on this night as Marlin Jackson, a Super Bowl champion with the Indianpolis Colts who came of age in Sharon, brought down the house with an inspiring speech.
Jackson, who was raised in a broken home said he found “the grace of God in my life through sports.”
As a child, he remembered struggling emotionally inside and having trouble dealing with things until he stepped onto a football field.
“You’re an entire different person on the field,” people would tell him, Jackson said.
He spoke about the importance his Mercer County roots mean to him.
“To come from Quinby Street and play at Sharon High School for Jim Wildman,” he remembered. “Sharon was in my heart.”
Athletes with western Pennsylvania roots are similar.
“We’re all cut from the same cloth, we’re the same breed,” he said.
Football and the blessings it bestowed upon him have made him successful in life.
“You can see how it was much more than a game for me,” he said.
“It warms my heart to be in a room” with folks from the Shenango Valley, he said.
“It’s so important to me, where I come from,” he said. “How awesome is that!”
Jackson spoke to a packed house that was warmed up by jokes by Frattare, who again mused about the choice of chicken instead of steak at the dinner, although this year’s “Chicken Hall of Fame” was somewhat different than the birds of year’s past.
Following Frattare, longtime Sharon High tennis and swimming coach and otherwise notable booster of Shenango Valley Athletics Sue McLaughlin spoke for this year’s inductees.
McLaughlin remembered in “poring over” the biographies of previous years’ inductees and said she “secretly” hoped that a day like Saturday would come, when she joined the ranks of the hall.
“What an honor it is to be here tonight, representing our community, who made us into the adults we are today, and becoming part of the world’s oldest local hall of fame, with such illustrious Hall of Fame members,” she said. “On behalf of the class of 2013, thank you for this wonderful, humbling honor; something that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. We look forward to continuing to set a good example and being a proper role model.”