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Scholastic programs find new conference homes, top athletes emerge with gold | Sports

Scholastic athletic programs continued to find the best conference for themselves, while area student-athletes soared to new heights at the state level in 2022.

Forest Hills senior wrestler Jackson Arrington claimed his third PIAA title in March, while Conemaugh Township junior Ethan Black earned gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter dashes in May. The Central Cambria boys cross country team earned its first PIAA team crown to accompany the girls program’s five state championships.

These are just a few of the top sports stories over the past year.

The Tribune-Democrat sports staff highlights the best of the year – the highs and lows. The “Year in Local Sports” chronicles the games, events and stars considered to be the top sports stories of the year in Johnstown and the surrounding region.

Scholastic shuffle: What started as a late-winter exodus of five Somerset County schools from the WestPAC to the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference took multiple turns throughout the spring of 2022 with dominoes crashing down in all directions to produce shifts in the region’s athletic landscape with area schools finalizing plans to depart the WestPAC to join either the Heritage and Inter-County conferences starting in 2023-24 academic year, while the Laurel Highlands added nine schools from Districts 6 and 9 to its membership starting in 2023-24, building a 22-school super conference that spans seven counties.

In February, school boards at Conemaugh Township and Windber had approved petitions to seek slots in the LHAC, joining Berlin Brothersvalley, Meyersdale and North Star as possible new members. The conference’s 13 member schools voted to invite up to 14 new members in March.

By April, all five Somerset County schools had withdrawn their interest in the LHAC with Conemaugh Township setting its sights on the Heritage Conference along with fellow WestPAC defector Conemaugh Valley, making them the 11th and 12th schools to be a part of the conference, which already boasted Cambria Heights, Homer-Center, Marion Center, Northern Cambria, Penns Manor, Portage, Purchase Line, River Valley, United and West Shamokin.

Berlin Brothersvalley, Meyersdale, North Star and Windber joined Rockwood, which has a cooperative agreement with Berlin Brothersvalley in football, in a push to join the Inter-County Conference, swelling that league to 21 schools, with 16 football-playing members.

The Inter-County Conference will have 21 schools in 2023-24: Berlin Brothersvalley, Meyersdale, North Star, Rockwood (non-football) and Windber locally; and current members Claysburg-Kimmel, Curwensville, Everett, Glendale, Fannett-Metal (non-football), Forbes Road (non-football), Juniata Valley, Moshannon Valley, McConnellsburg (non-football), Mount Union, Northern Bedford, Southern Fulton (non-football), Southern Huntingdon, Tussey Mountain, West Branch and Williamsburg (non-football).

While it didn’t add any schools with The Tribune-Democrat’s coverage area, the LHAC’s will welcome Bald Eagle Area, Bellefonte, Bellwood-Antis, Clearfield, Hollidaysburg, Huntingdon, Penns Valley, Philipsburg-Osceola and Tyrone in 2023-24. All but Hollidaysburg will be football-playing members of the league, joining Bedford, Bishop Carroll Catholic, Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic, Bishop McCort Catholic, Central, Central Cambria, Chestnut Ridge, Forest Hills, Greater Johnstown, Penn Cambria, Richland, Somerset and Westmont Hilltop.

The WestPAC evacuation, which was started by Portage’s plan to join the Heritage for the 2022-23 academic year, leaves the conference at six members – Blacklick Valley, Ferndale, Salisbury-Elk Lick, Shade, Shanksville-Stonycreek and Turkeyfoot Valley – none of which field active football programs, though all had cooperative arrangements with other schools for student-athletes to participate in football.

Swinging for the fences: The West Suburban Little League 14-under team earned a state title and came within two victories of advancing to the Junior League Softball World Series. The Red Rage became the first West Suburban team, baseball or softball, to win a state championship. West Suburban went 4-0 and outscored their opponents 48-10 to win the state title. At the East Region tournament in Orange, Connecticut, West Suburban went 4-0 in pool play. The Red Rage defeated state champions from Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and New York. In bracket play, West Suburban topped New York and Delaware in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, to advance to the championship series, in which Milford, Connecticut, won 9-8 and 8-6 decisions to sweep the best-of-3 series and advance to the Junior League Softball World Series in Kirkland, Washington.

Those we lost in 2022:

Stephanie Skiles, 35, on Jan. 8. A 2004 graduate of Richland High School, Skiles stood out in basketball, softball and volleyball, earning a volleyball scholarship to Slippery Rock University.

Kevin Weatherly, 62, on Jan. 26. A former Greater Johns- town Vo-Tech basketball standout. Known for his athletic ability on the court for years of playing in local leagues, he also coached youth teams. His son Paul Weatherly starred at Greater Johnstown and Pitt-Johnstown.

Maverick Baker, 16, on Feb. 11. The Northern Cambria High School and Bishop McCort Catholic standout athlete played football and baseball with the Colts and was on the Crimson Crushers’ championship hockey team as well as the Johnstown Warriors program.

William “Billy” Grech, 63, on Feb. 12. Grech was a standout cross country and track runner at Greater Johnstown Vo-Tech. Grech later was known throughout the area for his roles as an assistant coach in basketball, a long-time chain gang worker in football and scorekeeper in multiple scholastic sports at Ferndale, Richland and throughout the area.

Richard “Dick” Rigby, 94, on Feb. 17. Rigby graduated from Dale High in 1945, where he played basketball and football. Rigby coached the boys basketball team from 1957-69, leading the Yellow Jackets to the 1966 District 6 Class B title. He also served as assistant football, golf (24 years), gymnastics (23 years) and softball coach. Rigby was Ferndale’s athletic director from 1965-79 and was one of the founders of the Appalachian Conference. He was Ferndale’s assistant principal from 1969-79 and then served as principal until his retirement in 1987. Rigby was the gymnastics coach at Turner’s from 1960 to 1976.

William Kory, 83, on April 2. Kory taught at Pitt-Johnstown from 1971 to 2020. Kory coached in the Greater Johnstown Parochial League. He led St. Clement Church from 1983-88 and posted a 42-8 (.840 winning percentage) record on the gridiron. From 1989 to 2012, he racked up a 163-32-3 (.823 winning percentage) mark while leading the Bishop McCort junior high football program.

Calvin “Moose” Andrews, 46, on April 5. A member of the Greater Johnstown’s District 6 Class 4A championship basketball teams in 1992, 1993 and 1994. The ‘93 squad advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals before losing in overtime to New Castle.

Garrett “Rocky” Burnett, 46, on April 11. The former Johnstown Chiefs physical forward and fan favorite who went onto play an enforcer role with the Anaheim Ducks in the National Hockey League.

John Stofa, 79, on April 24. The Cambria County Sports Hall of Famer graduated from Johnstown Catholic High in 1960, played quarterback at the University of Buffalo and had a professional career in the American Football League, National Football League and World Football League with the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals. Known as “the original Bengal,” as the first player signed on the franchise’s roster during the 1968 inaugural season.

Sue Minchau, 73, on May 11. The longtime Westmont Hilltop tennis coach led the girls program for 29 years and boys team for 26 seasons. A 2006 inductee of the Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame, Minchau had a combined record of 575-140 at Westmont Hilltop. The girls team had a winning record in each of Minchau’s 29 seasons while winning 12 league titles. The boys team had one losing season, but has won 18 of the past 26 league championships.

Havert “Tojo” King, 79, on May 22. Was the 1961 Point Stadium Award winner as a member of the Greater Johnstown football team. He attended UCLA college and served in the United States Army.

Bob Hay, 74, on June 23. He managed the 1997 Sani-Dairy AAABA Tournament team. Hay was an important presence on the region’s baseball scene for many years, especially in Somerset County.

Robert “Gunner” Gleason, 86, on July 24. A 1953 graduate of Southmont High School, where he played basketball and football. Gleason was a lifetime player, coach and fan of basketball in the Johnstown area. He earned the moniker “Gunner” for long-distance shooting prowess. He sponsored “Gunner’s Great Johnstown Shootout,” an alumni and youth basketball tournament that ran from 1989 to 2002 at Bishop McCort and the War Memorial.

John Austin Jr., 79, on Aug. 23. The longtime Altoona franchise president and executive director was inducted into the AAABA Hall of Fame in 2000. Austin had a lead role on the franchise committee and was the driving force in the Altoona AAABA franchise. Previously, he had served as AAABA national president during two terms in 1998-99 and 2016-17.

Frank Cignetti Sr., 84, on Sept. 10. The collegiate football mentor coached at West Virginia from 1976-79, going 17-27. Over 20 seasons at Indiana (Pa.), Cignetti went 182-50-1 with 13 Division II playoff appearances and 15 playoff wins. He retired after the 2005 season as the third-winningest active coach in Division II and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2013.

Nunzio Johncola, 80, on Oct. 3. Was a former Johnstown City Council member and city public works leader. Helped maintain Point Stadium in his role in public works and was a staunch supporter of the facility and local sports throughout his time on City Council.

Tom McCreary, 60, on Oct. 4. Known as “The Voice of the Trojans,” McCreary served as the public address announcer at Greater Johnstown High School’s Trojan Stadium, Doc Stofko Gymnasium and other school athletic venues for more than two decades. McCreary also was a scorekeeper for the Trojans softball program for many years and was part of teams that had success on the conference and district level in the early and mid-2000s. An employee in The Tribune-Democrat mail room, McCreary served as the announcer and scoreboard operator at Sargent’s Stadium at the Point during the Johnstown Collegiate Baseball League’s 2022 season and playoffs.

Tony Joseph, 84, on Oct. 5. Member of the 1956 Hahn Packing team that became the first Johnstown squad to play in the AAABA Tournament championship game. Pitched in the Detroit Tigers minor league system from 1959-62. Longtime successful manager in the Johnstown Junior League/AAABA League and was inducted into the AAABA Hall of Fame in 2010.

Keith Garman, 33, on Oct. 11, a Greater Johnstown High School graduate who served as the chef of the Boston Bruins in the National Hockey League.

Jim Clark, on Nov. 26, a Bedford Area graduate who guided the Chestnut Ridge wrestling program for 31 seasons, amassing a 342-158-3 record in dual meets while mentoring 56 District 5 champions, 40 Southwest Regional place-winners, six regional champions, 30 PIAA qualifiers and nine state medal winners, including the school’s first PIAA state champion, Gary Pfahler, in 2008.

A look at some of 2022’s key events in local sports:


• Bishop Carroll Catholic boys basketball coach Cosie Aliquo picked up the 250th win of his career on Jan. 7 when the Huskies topped Forest Hills. Bishop Carroll went on to win its eighth District 6 championship in 14 seasons under Aliquo in March.


• Bishop McCort Catholic girls basketball coach John Hahn netted the 400th win of his career during the Crimson Crushers’ victory over Penn Cambria in a Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference semifinal on Feb. 16.

• Bishop Carroll Catholic junior Emily Bennett (564) finished in second place in smallbore at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic 3-Position Smallbore and Precision Air Rifle Championships in DuBois.


• Forest Hills senior Jackson Arrington captured his third state title at the PIAA Class 2A Wrestling Championships. The North Carolina State freshman pinned Bishop McDevitt’s Andrew Christie in 1:45 during the 152-pound final bout. Arrington became the ninth wrestler in District 6 history to win three PIAA titles. Among local grapplers, Arrington joined North Star graduate Nick Roberts and Richland product John Rizzo as three-time state champions. Arrington finished his career with a 146-8 record and 84 pins, four District 6 titles and three Southwest Regional crowns. Arrington went 39-2 with 26 pins as a senior with his only losses being injury defaults at a December tournament.

• Bishop McCort Catholic eighth-grader Bo Bassett tied a state record by winning his eighth straight Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling title at 117 pounds at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial. Bishop McCort’s Sam Herring (124) and Jax Forrest (132) earned state crowns in their respective boys brackets while Greater Johnstown’s Sayona Harris-Haye (135) and Bedford’s Mylah Steinbuch (185) also claimed championships in the girls tournament.

• Bishop McCort Catholic won its second straight Laurel Mountain Hockey League title with a 7-0 victory over rival Westmont Hilltop in front of an estimated 1,200 fans at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial.

• Pitt-Johnstown junior forward John Paul Kromka became a two-time Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West Division first-team basketball selection and garnered his third straight defensive athlete of the year award, while junior guard Fred Mulbah joined him on the first team.


Portage Area High School’s Lance Hudak was named Class 1A girls basketball coach of the year. Hudak, who earned his 250th career victory in January, led the Mustangs to the PIAA semifinals for the second time in program history. Despite a trio of players suffering season-ending injuries, the Mustangs went 24-6 and won their second District 6 title. Shade junior forward Jenna Muha was the lone girl named to the Pennsylvania Sports Writers’ first team as she earned a spot in Class 1A.

• Portage senior Kaden Claar earned a spot on the Pennsylvania Sports Writers Class 2A boys basketball first team. Claar totaled 1,242 career points and led the 28-2 Mustangs to the PIAA quarterfinals. Portage won its second straight District 6 title.

• After 25 seasons, 411 wins, four Penguin Cup championships and two Pennsylvania Cup crowns as head coach, coach John Bradley announced his retirement from the Bishop McCort Catholic hockey program. The Crimson Crushers capped Bradley’s career behind the bench with back-to-back Laurel Mountain Hockey League titles.


• Conemaugh Township junior Ethan Black earned two PIAA gold medals at the PIAA Class 2A championship meet in Shippensburg. The sprinter won the 100- (10.78) and 200-meter (21.45) races. Richland sophomore Logan Gossard won gold in the pole vault, clearing 14 feet, 6 inches. Central Cambria’s Alaina Sheehan, Abigail Sheehan, Annaliese Niebauer and Abbie George combined to win 3200 relay gold in 9:30.53.

• Forest Hills junior Delaney Dumm earned silver in the 1600 and 3200 races. Bedford junior Autumn Becker won silver in the 300 hurdles. The Conemaugh Township 400 relay team consisting of Asia Zwick, Izzy Slezak, Ellie Speigle and Mary Hostetter took second place.

• Bishop McCort Catholic eighth-grader Jax Forrest overcame a technical-fall loss and rebounded with two straight victories to earn a Cadet World Team Trials 17-under freestyle title at 55 kilograms. Forrest finished in second place during the world tournament in Rome, Italy.

• The Johnstown Tomahawks finished second in the East Division during the NAHL franchise’s 10th anniversary season and suffered a first-round playoff loss to the Jamestown Rebels, dropping Game 5 at home, 4-3 in overtime. Three of the five contests went into overtime. The Tomahawks suffered two overtime setbacks.

• The St. Francis University softball team defeated Long Island 9-0 to claim its fifth straight Northeast Conference Tournament title. St. Francis lost to No. 3 Virginia Tech and Miami (Ohio) in the Blacksburg Regional. Mekenzie Saban was named NEC player of the year and Rachel Marsden was selected pitcher of the year.

• Mount Aloysius College won its first Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference baseball title at Penn State Behrend. The Mounties defeated Penn State Behrend 10-4 and 10-5 to clinch its first berth in the NCAA tournament. Tyler Quade was named AMCC player, pitcher and newcomer of the year. Bishop McCort Catholic graduate Kevin Kime was named coach of the year.

• The expansion Bedford County Buffaloes went 7-4 and advanced to the Great Eastern Football Association playoffs in the eight-man semipro league. Area graduates helped the Buffaloes surprise many people across the league in their first season.


• Conemaugh Valley softball coach Paula McCleester earned her 300th career victory when the Blue Jays defeated Glendale 2-0 on June 1 in the District 6 Class 1A title game.

• University of Virginia and Richland High School graduate Ethan Dabbs won gold in the javelin at the USA Track & Field (USATF) outdoor championships in dramatic fashion. Dabbs saved his best attempt for last as he unleashed a throw of 81.29 meters (266 feet-8 inches) to claim the national title. The javelin thrower claimed his third straight Atlantic Coast Conference championship and finished second at the 2022 NCAA Division I meet. He set ACC and ACC championships records at 82.93 meters (272 feet).

• University of Tennessee golfer Bryce Lewis won the Sunnehanna Amateur Tournament for Champions by one stroke. Lewis edged out second-place finishers Maxwell Ford and Kelly Chinn.

• Thomas Facciani edged two-time defending winner Derek Hayes by one stroke in the City Golf Championship at Berkley Hills Golf Course.

• Conemaugh Township Area Elementary School rising fifth-grader Tennyson Keafer competed among 25 riders from across the country at the Youth Equestrian Development Association (YEDA) National Championship Show in McDonald, Tennessee.


• After 33 seasons in professional hockey, Johnstown native Dana Heinze retired from his post as equipment manager for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Heinze, a Westmont Hilltop graduate, logged time with the Johnstown Chiefs (ECHL), New Jersey Devils (NHL), Detroit Vipers (IHL) and Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL) before joining the Penguins’ equipment staff in 2006. He was a part of four Stanley Cup winners with the Lightning winning it all in 2004, and the Penguins hoisting the Cup in 2009, ‘16 and ‘17. In November, it was announced that Heinze would be a member of the ECHL’s 2023 hall of fame class, which is scheduled to be inducted on Jan. 16.

• Conemaugh Valley’s Anna Gunby was named Class 1A softball player of the year by the Pennsylvania High School Softball Coaches Association. Gunby was one of four Blue Jays to be listed by the PHSSCA, as Katie Ledwich, Delanie Davison and Bella Grecek also were named to the Class 1A first team. Meyersdale’s Zoe Hetz and Isabella Donaldson were also a part of the Class 1A first team while similar honors in Class 2A were given to Ligonier Valley’s Maddie Griffin, Chestnut Ridge’s Alyssa Henderson and Maya Wingard, along with Conemaugh Township’s Olivia Weyandt.

• Johnstown Collegiate Baseball League regular-season champion Paul Carpenter Capital Advisors topped Martella’s Pharmacy in four games, claiming the franchise’s third consecutive JCBL playoff crown. Paul Carpenter won three straight games to claim the best-of-5 series over Martella’s Pharmacy, which also qualified for the 77th AAABA Tournament as the Johnstown-2 entry.


• The Johnstown Mill Rats earned their first Prospect League playoff appearance in their second season. Johnstown (29-31, 17-12 second half) finished in second place in the Ohio River Valley Division standings and lost to first-half champion Chillicothe (38-22, 17-12) in a one-game division playoff game.

• Paul Carpenter Capital Advisors reached the championship game of the 77th AAABA Tournament, falling 5-1 to New Orleans in front of 2,148 fans at Sargent’s Stadium at the Point. It was the third time that Paul Carpenter had reached the tournament final, also falling short in 2016 and ’17. New Orleans claimed its 18th AAABA crown.

• The PittBull/Rebels went 2-2 at the Pony League World Series in Washington. It was the second straight year and the 11th time a team from the Johns- town Recreation league represented the city in Washington.

• Westmont Hilltop hosted Central Cambria in the first night football game at the renovated, state-of-the-art Price Field on Aug. 26. The Hilltoppers came back to prevail 21-19 in front of an estimated 3,000 fans. Price Field hosted a few PIAA soccer playoff games on the artificial turf surface in November.


• The Mount Aloysius men’s soccer team was crowned AMCC champion for the second straight season at No. 1 seed Penn State Behrend, winning 1-1, 5-4 in penalty kicks.

• The Central Cambria boys cross country team brought home its first PIAA championship, topping the Class 1A field in Hershey with three runners in the top 14. The Red Devils boys had taken second in 2019, while the girls program had boasted five state crowns since 2007.

• The Northern Cambria football team picked up its first District 6 championship by topping Heritage Conference rival Penns Manor 12-6 at Mansion Park. The Colts bowed out in the PIAA Class 1A quarterfinal against District 4 power Canton.

• Bedford junior Cole Taylor, Conemaugh Township junior Dylan Giffin and Windber senior Anna Steinbeck were named to the Pennsylvania Soccer Coaches Association all-state team.

• Villanova junior middle blocker Kiera Booth was named to the all-Big East volleyball team. The Berlin Brothersvalley graduate was one of 18 players selected to the all-league team, and the only one from Villanova. The 6-foot-2 athlete led the Wildcats with 86 blocks and a .336 hitting percentage, which was third-best in the conference. Booth ranked second on the team with 287 kills. Booth, a three-time Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association all-state pick at Berlin, has compiled 603 kills and 215 blocks over her three collegiate seasons.

• St. Francis sophomore outside hitter Maggie Hogan and Bloomsburg junior middle blocker Liz Bopp were selected to the Northeast Conference and Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference East Division second teams, respectively. Hogan graduated from Northern Cambria, where she helped the Colts win two PIAA volleyball titles. Bopp is a Central Cambria product.


• Berlin Brothersvalley girls basketball coach Rachel Prosser earned her 300th career victory when the Mountaineers defeated Bishop Carroll Catholic on Dec. 3 at Pitt-Johnstown’s Sports Center. Prosser led the Mountaineers to the 2018-19 PIAA Class 1A title and was named coach of the year.

• Nine area players were named to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association all-state teams. Berlin Brothersvalley junior Lynndee Ickes, Conemaugh Township senior Hannah Swank and Shade senior Jenna Muha were named to the Class 1A squad. Bedford junior Laney Lafferty, Central Cambria senior Mikalah Kim, Chestnut Ridge senior Belle Bosch, Forest Hills junior Lia Konchan and sophomore Mya Colosimo and Somerset senior Shawna Walker were Class 2A selections.

• Richland junior running back Evan McCracken and senior linebacker Jordan Nichols, Berlin Brothersvalley junior defensive back Pace Prosser and Ligonier Valley senior offensive lineman Colin Smith were Class 2A selections on the Pennsylvania Football Writers all-state teams. Cambria Heights senior cornerback Tanner Trybus, Northern Cambria senior linebacker Cody Dumm and Windber senior running back John Shuster were named in Class 1A, and Penn Cambria senior quarterback Garrett Harrold was selected as an athlete on the Class 3A squad.

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