Hall of Fame adds eight newest members
The aura of Indiana County was thick Sunday evening, filling a room already packed with some of the area’s best talent — past, present and future.
The gratitude, emotion and camaraderie between those being recognized and their supporters was great inside the Rustic Lodge’s Groveside Room at the 31st annual Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame banquet.
“The people are what make Indiana County special,” inductee John Chakot said. “Indiana County is a very unique place. … Indiana County is founded on faith, family and friendships, and that’s what’s most important.”
[PHOTO: THE CLASS OF 2014: First row, from left, Mike Berzansky, Lindsey Stefan, Sue McMurdy and Josh Wirt; and second row, Joe Renosky, John Chakot, Bill Wilt and Steve Neal.]
Nearly 300 people gathered to honor the eight inductees, 18 honorees and 18 scholar-athletes. The relationships and friendships that were built over the years was the prevalent theme in the eight induction speeches.
“I’d have to say that involvement in sports was very instrumental in providing me with the opportunities to experience both success and failure at a young age,” said inductee Mike Berzansky, who was a four-sport high school athlete at Pine Township. “The responsibilities that come along with that, I’ve carried throughout my life. I have always attempted to apply the principles of teamwork and individual excellence that were fostered in me by my coaches, teachers and mentors, who I am fortunate to have in my life.”
Jack Benedict was the master of ceremonies, and Dr. Merle Stilwell was recognized as the special honoree.
Steve Neal, who was inducted for his record-setting performances as a quarterback at Indiana, offered a few words of encouragement to the younger honorees and student athletes.
“I’m sure there are some bright futures here, and I would imagine that some day, some of you are going to be recognized like we are tonight, and I wish you the best of luck,” he said.
Lindsey Stefan, a track and field state champion from Homer-Center, was a scholar athlete in the spring of 2000.
“It’s wonderful to see so much young talent sitting in front of me, and most of you have no idea what moments lie ahead of you,” she said. “It wasn’t that long ago since I was sitting there, but it’s been a great ride.”
Paralympic gold medalist Josh Wirt was inducted as the youngest to be welcomed into the hall of fame. The 28-year-old was just 17 when the U.S. sled hockey team won the Paralympics in Salt Lake City. He was injured in 1994 car accident.
“If someone would have told me 20 years ago after my accident that I would be sitting on this stage, a hall of famer with a gold medal around my neck, I never would’ve believed it,” Wirt said.
Longtime United wrestling coach Bill Wilt, like all of the inductees, gave most of the credit for his accomplishments to his friends, family and supporters.
“My father and mother gave me a strong foundation to work with,” Wilt said. “My wife sacrificed and did all the things so that I could be away coaching. I couldn’t have done any of this without my family.”
Other inductees were Joe Renosky, who was an innovator in the fishing lure business, and Sue McMurdy, one of the top amateur golfers locally and in the state.
Chakot summed up the feelings of all eight inductees, saying, “It’s not about the accomplishments, it’s about the relationships. Look around.”
[ALTERNATE PHOTO, click through to view: FEMALE SCHOLAR-ATHLETES: First row, from left, Samantha Wargo, Apollo-Ridge; Marissa Lawton, Blairsville; Jill Overman, Homer-Center; and Natalie Cignetti, Indiana; and second row, Jennifer Irvin, Marion Center; Cassandra McCoy, Purchase Line; Ashton Battistelli; and Eden Bloom United. Absent from photo: Sarah DaBella, Penns Manor.]
[ALTERNATE PHOTO, click through to view: MALE SCHOLAR-ATHLETES: First row, from left, Jesse Zelonka, Apollo-Ridge; Jacob Shirley, Blairsville; Mike Newhouse, Homer-Center; and Matt Holuta, Indiana; and second row, Adam Gordish, Marion Center; Taylor Antisdel, Purchase Line; Steven Richards, Saltsburg; and Tyler Mack, United. Absent from photo: JT Horwat, Penns Manor.]
[ALTERNATE PHOTO, click through to view: HONOREES: First row, from left, Mark Zerfoss, Blairsville High School baseball coach; Greg Page, Homer-Center High School footballcoach; and Dr. Merle Stilwell, special honoree; and second row, Greg Lezanic, Indiana boys’ basketball coach; Bob Rado, Homer-Center boys’ basketball coach; and Dave Woodall, Indiana girls’ basketball coach.]
[ALTERNATE PHOTO, click through to view: HONOREES: First row, from left, Drew Doak, Blairsville wrestling; David Zimmerman, Indiana soccer; Tiara Stossel, Seton Hill University women’s basketball; and Luke Lewandowski and Camden Lydick, Mid-State Mustangs, hockey; and second row, Jacob Miller, Mid-State Mustangs hockey; Kevin Stapleton, Juniata College basketball; Jesse Reed, American University basketball; Darrious Carter, Indiana football; and Tyler Oliver, United wrestling. Absent from photo: Brandon Heberling, Marion Center wrestling; and Scott Thompson, Blairsville wrestling.]