CARL KOLOGIE: Wirt was real hero at banquet
You could have heard a pin drop.
Josh Wirt was speaking from a wheelchair using a hand-held mic giving his acceptance speech after being inducted into the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame last Sunday evening.
More than 300 people in the banquet room at the Rustic Lodge listened intently as the Brush Valley native, who lost the use of his legs in an auto accident at age 13, spoke about his career and how sled hockey turned his life around.
Without a script, the United High grad spoke about the positive events in his lifetime that have resulted in a successful athletic and business career.
There were at least 20 relatives and friends in attendance to witness the honor bestowed upon Wirt, which was well-deserved. His sled hockey competition resulted in a gold medal at the 2002 Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City when his team defeated 1998 golf medalist Norway in the finals.
At age 17, he was a golf medalist.
When questioned about being a motivational speaker, Wirt did say he had spoken at several high schools but never really thought about it on a regular basis.
If a poll had been taken at the event Sunday evening, there is no doubt it would favor Wirt telling his story, especially to teenagers in a similar situation or those in need of an inspirational boost.
One of those in attendance was a fellow sled hockey player who has been close to Wirt since he joined the sport, Dan McCoy. McCoy, a 2014 gold medalist from Pittsburgh, was on the team this year when the Americans claimed gold in Sochi, Russia.
Following the banquet Wirt was surrounded by family and friends. And they stayed to enjoy the moment.
Why not, as one of those in attendance who had not known about Wirt prior to the event, stated, “He is the real hero of the evening.”
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Jesse Reed, a basketball player and a member of the American University team that was invited to the NCAA Tournament this year, was one of this year’s honorees.
Reed, a native of Mooween, went to Saltsburg High School before transferring to Greensburg Central Catholic, then Kiski Prep School.
When we asked him about playing in the NCAA tournament, he said it was one of the most exciting times of his basketball career.
“It was a really great experience,” said the personable athlete, who was the leading scorer this year at American U., “and we hung in there for 10 minutes,” he noted with a smile.
American lost to a strong Wisconsin team.
In attendance at the banquet was possibly the only other player from Indiana County who has played in the NCAA tournament: Herm Sledzik of Elders Ridge.
Sledzik played for Penn State and retired from Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he was a former head basketball coach and athletic director.
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Congratulations to my good friends and college classmates Gib and Joan Zilner of Diamond Drugs Inc., who were honored recently with the Distinguished Alumni Award from Duquesne University.
They are the first husband and wife team and the first ever dual recipient of this prestigious award.