High School Sports

BEA had one of its best years ever in athletics. Here’s what contributed to its success

Bald Eagle Area girls’ volleyball finishes season undefeated

Bald Eagle Area girls' volleyball players Grace Hugar and Madison Rockey, and coach Larry Campbell talk about the excitement and commitment to the undefeated season and PIAA title win.
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Bald Eagle Area girls' volleyball players Grace Hugar and Madison Rockey, and coach Larry Campbell talk about the excitement and commitment to the undefeated season and PIAA title win.

It was a golden year for Bald Eagle Area athletic teams, even though it ended in silver. Call it the Year of the Eagle.

It started with a District 6 title in football and a district and PIAA title in girls’ volleyball, and wound up with a district title and PIAA runnerup trophy in softball. And in between was basically a district crown and PIAA championship in Unified Bocce, a newly formed sport sanctioned by the PIAA.

If you tally it up that’s two PIAA titles, a PIAA runnerup trophy and four district championships.

Not a bad year for a school that had 394 students in the top three grades and is the second largest in the state with a 345 square-mile footprint.

The only year comparable in the school’s history is 1999, when the wrestling team won both the PIAA team and Individual titles, was named No. 1 in the country in two polls and became the only public school to ever win the Beast of the East tournament. The BEA track team win a district crown and shared the PIAA title to cap that year.

So what’s in the water that flows from the hills and hollows in the district?

According to Doug Dyke, the man who oversees the programs as the athletic director, what’s in the aquifers has nothing to do with it.

“Part of it is community involvement,’’ he said. “We’re able to keep the community involved. Part of it is the athletes who come from families where they are taught from a young age how to be teammates, how it’s more important to win as a group than as an individual. And they have parents who played sports and who are involved. They don’t’ just drop the kids off and run.

“Plus we haven’t reached the point yet where our coaches have gotten the ‘O, pity us, we’re just a small school,’ mindset. Our coaches, even at the younger levels, are not afraid to play against better competition. They want the kids to learn how to win and lose against the better competition.’’

That’s at the ground level. But unless there is support from higher up the food chain, winning programs are not going to develop. And, according to Dyke, his teams have that.

Bald Eagle Area softball celebrates beats Chestnut Ridge in the District 6 3A championship game on Friday, May 31, 2019 at Saint Francis. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

“The administration and the school board hold sports in maybe a higher regard than some others in terms of keeping the community involved,’’ he said. “Some people may have the opinion that they hold it higher than they should.

“But sports get kids in school more. And sports gets them notoriety.’’

The support of the administration and school board is more than providing opportunities to students. It has a financial component as well.

“I believe we are the only school in the area that provides free sports physicals,’’ Dyke added. “And there are not many schools around who run activity buses for kids after school. ‘’

Without those late buses that transport the students from Wingate to all of the towns that make up the far-flung district, participation would take a significant hit.

“This fall we will have close to 350 students involved in either athletics or the marching band,’’ Dyke said. “I think we will have close to 100 students in our band this year.’’

That means there are roughly 250 students, male and female, participating in sports from junior high through varsity. Clearly, sports matter to them.

And, as Dyke pointed out, there are fringe benefits that come from having successful athletic teams. With its central location and excellent facilities, Wingate is a favorite destination for PIAA playoff events. The field and track at Alumni Stadium are in the process of being replaced. Last year the press box at the stadium was rebuilt. And the school has two gymnasiums capable of handling playoffs.

There was also one other benefit that came with the softball team’s’ success earlier this month.

“One of our students, Blaine Eagan, was asked to sing the national anthem at the PIAA championships at Penn Sate,’’ Dyke noted. “That came from our team being successful.’’

Bald Eagle Area’s Jack Nesmith takes his turns during the unified bocce match against State College on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

And while the volleyball team was 23-0 and only lost three sets all year, the softball team posted a 22-4 record on its way to the finals and the football team was 11-3 and lost to WPIAL power Sharon in the PIAA playoffs, no team caught the attention of the school and the fans like the Unified Bocce team last winter.

The sport, born of the Italian lawn game, is only in its second year state-wide and first year at BEA. It’s made up of a combination of students with special needs as well as those from the general student body. From the top down, BEA embraced it.

“Our administration believed in it,’’ Dyke said. “I can see it growing every year. Pennsylvania is just in the early stages of having it. Our school embraced it. From the beginning we included the kids on the bocce team in our sports. We had a saying, ‘You’re one of us,’ They got jackets just like volleyball and football thanks to the athletic booster club. Our other varsity sports took an interest in them. People outside of our school were amazed at how we included those kids.’’

Now those championships are in the books and the trophies and medals are already gathering dust. What about next year?

The volleyball team had no seniors on its roster last fall, while the softball team had only one this spring.

The football team returns a solid nucleus and the wrestling team will get a boost as Gage McClenahan, who was a PIAA runnerup in 2017 but missed last year with a knee injury, is cleared to return to the mat again.

Given all of that, the future is bright with promise at Wingate. Golden perhaps?

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