By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
The Mercer County Hall of Fame isn’t so much about making memories — although the annual event furnishes numerous memorable moments — as much as it is about preserving the sanctity of the past.
“It’s so wonderful to be able to reflect,” said Sandi Bittler, who served as spokesperson for the Class of 2014 during Saturday evening’s event at The Park Inn at Radisson.
During the 67th annual event Saturday, the newest inductees were Bittler, Robert “Buddy” Martin and Dave Hoye, multi-sport standouts Merrilynn Giles, Walter McKeithan, George Mitru and Bill Sham, Greenville wrestling legend Rick Stuyvesant and cross country and track & field coach John Kokoski, long-distance running competitor and coach Jim Waldorf, and (posthumously) Bob Mayberry Jr.
This year’s inductees into “the oldest local Hall of Fame in the world,” increased to 524 those who have been enshrined since the 1947 founding of its predecessor, the Shenango Valley Oldtimers Baseball Assn. (Mercer County Old Timers Baseball and Athletic Assn.).
“Welcome to our Mercer County Hall of Fame family,” board president Jim Tamber said.
“Timing is an amazing thing,” offered Jack Bauerle, University of Georgia swimming coach and one of the evening’s guest speakers. “It makes coaches’ careers, timing does, and athletes’, too, but it’s not just the athlete,” Bauerle noted “My own career is attached to a couple of my former swimmers, in that, we were both in the right spot at the right time — and I’m probably more thankful.”
But Bittler took that stance a step further, noting,
“The success of everybody that’s being inducted is not our own success. We’re here because of the hard work and sacrifices of others, and I just want everybody to know how much we appreciate that,” said Bittler, former Mercer High and Princeton University basketball standout.
Bittler and one of her early coaches — Waldorf — made a memorable Mercer County Hall of Fame induction banquet moment as they became the first athlete and coach to be simultaneously enshrined in the same year.
Encapsulating the evening’s relevance, Bittler said, “It’s so wonderful to be able to reflect because our lives are busy lives and we come from different places. But we all are united in sports and it’s nice to have this weekend to be able to think back to those times that were so important to us.”
“There’s nothing more special,” echoed Bauerle, referencing his induction into his high school and Montgomery County halls of fame.
In addition to the honorees, the evening was highlighted by remarks from Bauerle, as well as former Pittsburgh Pirates’ utilityman-turned-broadcaster John Wehner.
“I’m humbled and honored, but I think you’ve been cheated,” Wehner quipped regarding the Hall’s invitation to him to offered his remarks.
As always, the Hall recognized those Mercer Countians from the athletic arena who passed away during the preivous year in the tribute, “Let us not forget,” conducted by board members Dr. James Kollar and John Weaver.
One of the event’s favorite speakers of recent vintage, former Major League Baseball umpire Wally Bell, was part of that ceremony. Bell, 48, was felled by a fatal heart attack.
Master of Ceremonies Lanny Frattare, in his 31st year serving as “The Voice of the Hall of Fame,” offered an apropos anecdote.
While the Pirates broadcaster during what proved to be a World Series-winning season in 1979, Frattare, who had previously befriended Bob Mayberry Jr., honored a promise he had made in September of that year to make a personal appearance at Mayberry’s Hermitage auto dealership. The day after the Pirates defeated the Orioles in Baltimore in Game 7 — Oct. 18 — Frattare and Pirates World Series heroes Phil Garner and Kent Tekulve appeared at Mayberry’s dealership.
Frattare also noted that Mayberry’s alma mater, Clemson University, had raised a $1 million endowment — plus $74 in honor of Mayberry’s football uniform number — in his honor. Mayberry’s widow, Cheryl, accepted his Hall of Fame plaque.
Other memorable moments from the 67th annual gathering:
“Coach” Don Bennett reprised his role, offering his rendition of both The National Anthem, as well as “The Hall of Fame Song,” accompanied by pianist Jim Sankey. The legendary Bennett noted he has been serving on the Hall’s board of directors for 38 years.
The Thomas W. Burns Academic All-Star awards were presented to a pair of representatives of each Mercer County secondary school (Commodore Perry, Farrell, George Junior Republic, Greenville, Grove City, Hickory, Jamestown, Kennedy Catholic, Lakeview, Mercer, Reynolds, Sharon, Sharpsville and West Middlesex).
Also, the annual Si Lyman Award was presented in recognition of Mercer County’s winningest athletic program from the past school year. For the 5th consecutive year (7th time in the last 11 years), Hickory High School earned the honor, and Athletic Director Barb Dzuricsko noted the Hornets’ 16 interscholastic teams compiled a composite 75 percent success rate.
The program booklet was dedicated to Hall-of-Famer Sally Ward (‘’06), who served as Hickory High girls’ basketball coach for 22 seasons.
The Rev. Matthew Strickenberger of St. Bartholomew’s Roman Catholic Church in Sharpsville offered the invocation and benediction.
Such is the unique nature of the athletic arena, Wehner related an interesting anecdote.
As a 1991 Pirates’ rookie he was ordered by then-manager Jim Leyland — an honorary Hall of Fame board member — to take one for the team in a minor beanball scuffle with the Philadelphia Phillies. Wehner was plunked in the ribs by a 95-miles-per-hour fastball, and the home plate umpire who was required to warn both teams to cool it that day?
Bauerle, a Philadelphia-area native, related he had developed a pen-pal relationship with former Phillies’ pitching legend Robin Roberts.
“This is a neat feeling,” Bauerle told the Mercer County crowd. “Sports brings people together … sometimes people who ordinarily might not be brought together.”
And Bauerle recalled Roberts’ last letter to him, with this thought:
“Sports sure do give us a lot to talk about.”
That perspective is exemplified annually by the Mercer County Hall of Fame.