By Pete Chiodo
Sixty-some Saeger-town High School student-athletes stand crowded together on a patch of grass by the school’s football field. Near the front are the softball players. Behind them and to the left are the members of the baseball team. And to the right is the volleyball team.
They wear their respective athletic uniforms, each one is blue and gold (with the exception of the volleyball team’s libero). And around each neck is a red, white and blue ribbon with a championship medal hanging from it, earned after all three programs won a District 10 championship during the past week.
They all try their best to maintain a proud smile as they squint upwards towards the bright Thursday afternoon sky where a photographer, standing on the top level of the football bleachers, snaps a few photos from overhead.
“Okay,” the photographer eventually says, “Now everyone intermingle so you’re not all grouped together.”
The quiet gravity of the situation instantly evaporates as sixty-some high school student-athletes seemingly try to occupy the exact same space with a lot of bumping and squeezing and confused route-taking and giggling and chattering.
The school administrators monitoring the situation from atop of bleachers slowly shake their heads.
These athletes may be champions. But they are also kids. And they are having fun.
“It’s great,” said Dustin Pavlik, a senior with Saegertown’s volleyball team. “It’s just great. It’s a great atmosphere.”
The school’s spring trifecta has garnered a lot of attention both inside and outside of the school halls.
“The whole school has been very supportive,” said Shane Rigby, another senior on the volleyball squad.
He said the team members have been hearing a lot of, “Good job. Good game. Keep it up.”
After their photo shoot, the team captains from all three teams have interviews with both a newspaper and a TV station waiting for them.
“It’s fun,” said senior Arianna Hanley, the pitcher on the school’s softball team. “It’s definitely a different experience. It’s enjoyable, though. It’s an enjoyably different experience.”
“I agree,” said Rachel DiBartolomeo, the softball team’s catcher. “It’s weird. It’s different. This has never happened before.”
No, it has not ever happened before, at least not locally.
Saegertown’s baseball and softball teams both won D-10 titles last season, which was only the seventh time that had happened in the district’s history.
Adding a D-10 trophy in volleyball this season puts Panthers athletics on a whole other level.
“We can’t find a time in District 10 where something like this has happened,” Saegertown athletic director Greg Molnar announced to the teams right before yesterday’s photo shoot. “McDowell and (Cathedral) Prep, you know, they have their tennis and lacrosse, and sports in which (District 10) has a few teams and they’ve got to win it.
“But we can’t think of a time ... or another school of this size that has won three District 10 titles at the same time. We know that it has never happened here at PENNCREST (School District).”
That’s when Brian Hanley, watching from the bleachers, chimes in, “We think it all falls back on your elementary phys ed.”
He’s the Saegertown Elementary School physical education teacher.
Most of the crowd laughs. Not Arianna Hanley, Brian’s daughter, who instead cups her forehead and moans, “Oh my God!”
Well what does explain it? How did all this athletic talent converge on small community (population 996) all in one season?
Well, it seems to be a combination of years of hard work and some fortunate timing.
“This group of kids, we’ve all been together for awhile,” said Stephen Sada, a senior shortstop on the baseball team. “We’ve all been athletic kids, same with volleyball, same with softball. We’ve all had good coaching. We learned the fundamentals and were able to hone our skills all the way up through high school.
“This group of kids has been together all our lives.”
They may have been together even longer than that, according to Molnar.
“If you go through the history of Saegertown, a lot of these names you can trace back to some really good athletes in the past,” Molnar said. “It just seems like all these great players from the past got together and must have decided that they were going to have kids like right now, because all of their kids are coming through. So, you’re talking about a span of about 15 years worth of athletes that have their kids coming through right now. And so we have what’s happening.”
Saegertown High certainly has had its share of success on the playing field this school year. This past fall, the cross country team won its first D-10 championship and finished third in the state. The boys soccer team made the playoffs for the first time ever. The boys basketball team was a region champ. And the wrestling team won a section tournament and made it to the state team championship tournament.
And now the spring programs pull off the sweep.
“It’s called a run of athletes,” said Molnar. “You can’t swing a dead cat in the hallways without hitting a very good athlete up here. A small school like this, we’re going to enjoy it right now. And they’re just a great bunch of kids to be around.”
All this success. All this hardware. These kids have got to be strutting around like they own the place, right?
“No,” said senior Luke Carter, who pitches and plays first base for the baseball team, “We’re staying grounded. I feel like our goals are a lot higher than this.”
A District 10 trophy, it seems, is not the end for these teams.
There is still a state championship to fight for.
“We still have a way to go,” said DiBartolomeo. “Districts is only one of our goals.”
The volleyball team has already taken one step towards that goal, sweeping Our Lady of Sacred Heart in the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals on Wednesday. The Panthers spikers will try to take it another step further on Saturday at noon at Slippery Rock High School when they take on WPIAL champion Ambridge in the state semifinals.
The baseball and softball teams, meanwhile, begin their state runs on Monday. The softball team opens the Class A bracket against Carmichaels at 1 p.m. at Penn State-Behrend. The baseball team faces Quaker Valley at 6 p.m. at Jerry Uht Park in the Class AA first round.
And at every step, each team will have two others cheering them on.
“When it comes to the other teams, we all came together to support each other,” said DiBartolomeo. “We don’t cheer against them, like, “Oh, I want to do better than them.’ We want everyone to be successful.”
“We push each other,” said Rigby.
“We’ve always been friends with them,” said Carter. “We’ve always encouraged each other to do the best they can. They’ve found their niche, we’ve found our niche and it’s worked out. Now we all want each other to go as far as possible.”