SHENANGO TWP. – Being an athlete can be glorious. It also can prove discouraging and depressing. So to gain enshrinement into a Hall of Fame – “the oldest local hall of fame in the world” – requires exceptional fortitude and self-belief.

Ellen Banick-Kellar considered that concept in addressing the Mercer County Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 Saturday evening. Serving as spokesperson for the 11 lnductees, Banick-Kellar said,

“When I reflect on the journey of what it takes for an athlete to be recognized at this level for their athletic achievements, a quote from former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz comes to mind:  ‘ …. Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.’

“To excel in the world of athletics, one does require ability, motivation and the right attitude,” Banick-Kellar continued. “As successful athletes, we learned early on to be self-disciplined and internally motivated. We learned to accept instruction and praise, as well constructive criticism. We learned to prioritize and set goals for ourselves, then to put in the work and make the necessary sacrifices to achieve those goals. We learned to overcome adversity, injury, disappointment and defeat, as well as to be gracious and grateful in victory and success.   

“And most importantly,” she emphasized, “we learned to never give up or settle for anything less than our absolute best.”

During the 72nd event, which took place at The Park Inn by Radisson, Banick-Kellar was accompanied by Gary Douglas, Joe Evans, Pat Forese, Jim Leetch, Marty Mattocks, Steve Riley, Greg Slatcoff, Michael “Jerry” Misik, Jerry Pacifico, and (posthumously) Andrew “A.J.” Janosko.

To date, there are 579 individuals inducted.

“It is an honor and it is humbling,” admitted Mattocks, who joined older brother Mont – Mercer High basketball standouts – as a Hall-of-Famer. “Jesus Christ wrote my script, and it’s just like I showed up. ... I’m very, very grateful for the era in which I grew up, the community I grew up ... “

Lakeview High teacher/coach Greg Slatcoff led Lady Sailors’ track & field athletes for 2 dozen years, including Mercer County Hall-of-Famer Ginny Wilson. After a standout Slippery Rock State College football career he taught in the Lakeview school district for 34 years, being hired by Wilson’s father, Superintendent Sam Wilson. 

“I thought, my entire career was gonna be coaching football,” said Slatcoff. “I thought I’d be at Lakeview for a few years, and move on. But you know, it didn’t work out that way. Sometimes we’re given a path to follow. But hey, it’s got all kinds of turns, takes different directions, but it always leads you back to where you belong if you give it that chance. Lakeview was that end for me ... that was my path.”

“Growing up in Sharon was great. A lot of athletics, very sports-oriented,” related Evans, who completed in the heyday of the WPIAL’s Section 3 basketball wars. “I just feel blessed ... very, very fortunate. “ ... (As a St. Joseph parochial school student) I would go to the Sharon High games Tuesday and Friday nights and thought, ‘Wow, this is great!’ And I wanted to be a part of that. It all worked out very well.

“I’m humbly excited ... I’m flattered,” Evans admitted, “because I grew up in this area and I know a lot of the basketball players who are in (the Hall of Fame). And to have my name included ... I know that top-echelon player, those really good ones. I’m not sure that I’m in that group, but whomever the next guys are, I feel like I belong, and I’m just flattered to be involved.”

“It’s kind’ve surreal, it’s a heck of an honor. I didn’t know what to expect. I got the call, and I was shocked!” Douglas 

admitted. “What an honor! Very humbling, very humbling.”

“I don’t know about (being a legend),” said a smiling Pacifico, “but it’s a heck of an opportunity to be recognized in a group like the Mercer County Hall of Fame. ... Very humbling. To be around all of these people, to be part of the history in Mercer County, it’s a great feeling,” added Pacifico, who joins his Reynolds High football coach, Frank Amato, as Hall-of-Famers.

Riley grew up in Greenville and morphed into a matman of epic proportions, winning a pair of PIAA championships. As with Evans, who competed in the legendary Sharon-Farrell basketball rivalry, Riley recalled the Greenville-Reynolds wrestling rivalry:

“We had super-competition between the two schools, but, you know, we were all friends, even on the mat. But we created a great competition between the two schools ... probably an unmatched rivalry.

“We all still friends,” continued Riley, who relocated to the British Virgin Islands approximately 22 years ago. “It was wonderful, back in the day, to have two, little towns that were that close together, to be ranked (numbers) two and three in the state. We all loved it. But we all swam in the same pool in the summer, we all hung out, played Little League together, our fathers worked together, we all knew each other. It was a lot of fun.”

Growing up in Grove City, early on, Forese forged a close relationship with his kid brother, Nick. Ultimately, they became Slippery Rock State College baseball teammates. Recalling his youth, Forese said, “It was a safe place, it was nice. We could go out and play all day long and not have to worry about anything. It was fun. It was a great place to grow up.

“ ... All the coaches I had and some of the teachers, but really it was my mother (Theresa), who had the biggest influence on me, of anybody. ...” Forese continued,  later adding in regard to his induction, “Yes, humbled. But I do the things I do ‘cause I want to do them – not for any accolades. My getting this is another nice honor on top of everything I’ve done.”

In assembling an athlete, Banick-Kellar is keenly aware of the significance of a support network. She cited family, coaches/mentors, teammates, and even past Hall of Fame inductees, upon whose shoulders this year’s class were carried to their own honor.

“As the Mercer County Hall of Fame Class of 2019, we stand before you representing more than ourselves and our own personal achievements; we are also here to honor all of the individuals who have supported, encouraged, coached and played with us along the way,” Banick-Kellar said. 

“As we progressed beyond the athletic arena, we then realized these same character traits which helped us thrive as athletes, transferred out into the real world, and helped us prosper in life.

“Our own personal experiences have not only led us to become role-models, mentors and coaches for younger athletes, but have also driven us to be successful in our personal relationships and professional careers,” Banick-Kellar continued, concluding,

“We can think back on some of the unforgettable moments we’ve been part of, such as epic Section 3 battles, winning state championships, playing in the NAIA Elite 8, being named an all-star several times over, and returning two fumbles for touchdowns to upset a state-ranked team. These moments are just some of the memories we have from the sports that are so much a part of our lives. We will carry the memories with us and pass them on to younger generations in the hopes of inspiring them to create their own treasured moments.

“I’ll end with a quote from United States Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks and say to my fellow inductees, Banick-Kellar concluded, “ …. you were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is your’s.”

Some other highlights from the annual event, which is sponsored by Mike Erme, Cottonwood Associates, ComDoc and Mel Grata:

• Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports columnist Gene Collier served as the featured speaker.

• Hickory High was presented with the Si Lyman Award as the Mercer County school district’s athletic program with the highest cumulative winning percentage. Hermitage School District has won or shared the award 9 times since 2004,

Commodore Perry, Farrell, George Junior Republic, Greenville, Grove City – which had its 3-year Si Lyman reign ended – Jamestown, Kennedy Catholic, Lakeview, Mercer, Reynolds, Sharon, Sharpsville and West Middlesex join Hickory in comprising the county contingent.

Those student-athletes chosen for the annual Thomas W. Burns Academic All-Star awards for 2018 included:

Commodore Perry (Julia Mozes, Keegan McCann); Farrell (Christie Chesser, Isaac Clarke), GJR (Oliver Francis); Greenville (Abigail Ciasullo, Ben Kozminski); Grove City (Jennifer Baglia, Tanner Strange); Hickory (Michaela Burkhauser, Branden Myers); Jamestown (Allysa Reinhart, Jacob Rhoades); Kennedy Catholic (Emily Coglio, Danny Bonomo); Lakeview (Sierra Demarsh, Donovan Mouck); Mercer (Madeline Rowe, Marcus Ryder); Reynolds (Taylor D’Urso, Matthew Gosser); Sharon (Natalie Perry, Peter Stigliano); Sharpsville (Lill AbiNader, Ethan Tractman), and West Middlesex (Delaney Dogan, Marshall Murray).

• PIAA champion coaches Jarrett Samuels (Farrell football), Casey Taylor (Reynolds wrestling), and Rick Mancino (Kennedy Catholic boys’ basketball) were recognized. 

Kennedy Catholic has captured 3 consecutive Class 1A commonwealth crowns, while Reynolds is the reigning 2-time Class 2A kingpin. Taylor recently was recognized by the state’s wrestling coaches association as its coach of the year.

• The program booklet was dedicated to long-time board member Brad Palmer, who has served in various capacities, including coordinating credentials/applications for the Si Lyman Award.

• Lanny Frattare, who has devoted decades to serving the Mercer County Hall of Fame as the induction banquet’s master of ceremonies, was cited. He recently received the Chuck Tanner Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rotary Club of Pittsburgh. Frattare was “the voice of the Pittsburgh Pirates” for 33 years (1976-2008), and presently serves as a Wayneburg University communications professor.

• Hall of Fame president Jim Tamber, assisted by Brian Hills, presented the inductees with their plaque. ... Board members John Weaver and Jim Patterson presided over the program’s “Let us not forget” segment, remembering Mercer County athletes who passed during the previous year. 

The bell tolled in memory of each individual has been dedicated to Hall-of-Famer Denny Eckles and donated by Carol DiPace and Cookie Backelman and courtesy of board member Sally Ward. Dr. James G. Kollar has chaired that committee 

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