The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

November 12, 2013

Playing from the heart

Tigers did it for their teammates

By Melissa Klaric
Herald Staff Writer

SHARON — As the entire Sharon Tigers football team knelt in a circle chanting and singing after everyone else left the field, they showed their heartbreaking loss in the last 13 seconds of the playoff game Monday didn’t matter.

Though two senior teammates were dead and two still hospitalized after a crash Friday night, many people at the game in Erie agreed that the night was not about winning.

“Win, lose, or draw – it’s the way they wanted to do it,” Sharon Athletic Director Paul Torr said of the boys. “When you have the families and the kids adamant, you let them do it and just be there to support them.”

“I drove up here tonight because of the boys,” said Tony Molinari, a former Sharon football coach and newly elected board member.

“It ain’t about winning or losing, it’s all about the boys.”

During a moment of silence in honor of the three people killed in the accident in Sharon, all that could be heard was the sideways icy rain tapping onto umbrellas in Veterans Stadium.

Senior players Corey Swartz and Evan Gill, both 17, along with John Zdelar, 50, a Brookfield family man, lost their lives after the SUV driven by Swartz crashed head-on with Zdelar’s truck.

The rain that turned into snow toward the end of the first quarter of the playoff game between the Tigers and the Girard Yellow Jackets could not stop family, friends, and even rivals of the team from showing their support for the boys who lost their friends a few days earlier.

Family, including both Swartz’s and Gill’s, were in attendance, Torr said.

Setting aside a longtime rivalry with Sharon, Hickory Hornets football players took a bus from Hermitage to Erie to show their support for the Tigers.

It was not the first outpouring of support for the Sharon High family since the crash. Aaron Weese, a Sharon Middle School English teacher, said most districts in Mercer County sent or offered to send their school counselors to Sharon Monday morning.

“Hermitage sent over food and lots of cool stuff,” Weese said.

In the high school cafeteria hangs a large banner painted by cheerleaders at Hickory expressing their support.

In Erie, a lot of pent-up emotions poured out of the Tigers – fans and players. They broke out with a couple touchdowns in the first 20 minutes of Monday’s playoff game.

The rest of the game was no less emotional as the snow continued and kept piling up on the artificial turf.

“There’s something about this senior class, how they pulled the team together with a new coach,” said schools Superintendent Mike Calla. “They are a special group.”

Calla said Saturday that school officials decided not to hold any in-school gatherings on a big scale. His reason was that counselors learned that emotions swell in large groups.

The accident was another in a string of tragedies the schools and community have endured this year.

In January, student Leangelo “LeeLee” Ford was shot to death at a party in Sharon. Jontae Barnes, 20, of Sharon, was sentenced in September to 1 to 2 years in Mercer County jail for involuntary manslaughter.

On Aug. 11, a day before football camp started for the Tigers, newly named Head Coach Jim Wildman was attacked in his home by a former player, Joseph Koscinski, 39, who is awaiting his day in court on aggravated assault charges.

On the eve of the long-awaited opening of the new Case Avenue Elementary school, sixth-grade teacher Linda Haines, 56, died unexpectedly.

Police Chief Mike Menster said Monday that he did not have a lot of new details to report about the accident.

“I still can’t officially confirm that they were speeding, or if they were wearing seatbelts, until the investigation is completed.”

He said he expects to have more details later in the week.

“I can tell you that Evan Wallace was released from the hospital last night,” Menster said. “The Osmon brothers are still at St. E’s. Their conditions are improving.”

The Osmons, twins Craig and Greg, 17, who also are senior football players, were passengers in the Swartz SUV. Evan Wallace, 10, was a passenger in his stepfather’s truck.