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Lebanon County Bicentennial Sports Extravaganza 008BY JEFF FALK

PRESCOTT – Pat Flannery was in the stands in Beijing when Jamie Beyerle-Gray competed for the United States in the 2008 Summer Olympics.

There was a time when renowned executive Bob Engle played baseball for player-manger Lyle Krall.

Separated by half-a-century and two generations, Dick Shiner has never met Jared Odrick, but can certainly empathize with what it takes to play football at the highest level.

So what do those individuals have in common? Sports. Or more accurately Lebanon County sports.

And what they also share is the fact that Lebanon County has had a profound influence on the people they have become.

On Monday night at Prescott Fire Hall, the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce and Lebanon County Historical society celebrated Lebanon County’s 200 years of existence by bringing together one of the most influential groups of local sports personalities ever assembled. They called it ‘The Lebanon County Bicentennial Sports Extravaganza.’

The group of 16 included: Olympic Golf Medalist Gray; Flannery, the head coach of Lebanon Valley College men’s basketball team that won the NCAA Division Three national championship in 1994;, Engle, the vice president of international scouting for the Los Angeles Dodgers;  Lebanon County’s ‘Mr. Baseball’ Krall;  Shiner, who played 11 NFL seasons with six teams; AHL all-time leading scorer Willie Marshall;  former professional soccer player Keith Fulk; Annville-Cleona living cross-country legend George Gerber, former Phillies public relations manager Larry Shenk; eight-time ARCA Daytona winner Bobby Gerhart, Jr.; Lebanon Catholic girls’ basketball coach Patti Hower; Hershey Bears’ general manager Doug Yingst; trick-shot and long-drive specialist Ben Witter; former Palmyra athletic director and tennis guru Sam Miller; and Cedar Crest’s Beth Yocum, who was representing mentor and the ‘Godfather of local swimming’ John Davis. Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Jared Odrick was scheduled to attend but could not because of team commitments and was represented by mother Jan Falk.

Lebanon County Bicentennial Sports Extravaganza 007For the most part, that list represents the most notable Lebanon County sports personalities alive. Conspicuous by their absence were former NBA star Sam Bowie, former Buffalo Bill Frank Reich, one-time NFL quarterback Kerry Collins, former United States Olympic goaltender Amy Tran-Swensen, long-time Lebanon Country Club golf teaching professional Mike Swisher and former PGA tour professional Greg Lesher – some of whom were invited to attend and some of whom weren’t.

“It’s an honor. I’m humbled,” said Fulk, who is currently the head men’s soccer coach at Saint Leo’ s in Florida. “Everyday of my life I remember where I came from. The best years of my life were here when I was in Lebanon County. It’s where I learned my work ethic.”

“I am leaving tonight for my 350th national event,” said Gerhart. “And one of the privileges I’ve had is coming home. I’ve had 350 great moments. It’s a privilege to come back to Lebanon.”

“For me, it’s about the challenges I’ve been through and the gratitude to be able to get through them,” said Witter, who is battling cancer for a fifth time. “We live in a very generous community. It’s a town that when you’re down, someone’s going to pick you up. It makes me very proud to be a Lebanon County resident.”

About 170 fans and supporters plunked down $35 a plate for dinner, an opportunity to hear the sports personalities tell their stories and sign autographs. All of the athletes, coaches and executives paid their own traveling expenses to get there.

“I can’t thank Lebanon County enough for the support it has given me throughout my career,” said Gray. “I can tell you that not everyone receives that type of support. I shoot a gun for a living, which can be controversial. But Lebanon County has always been supportive of me.”

Lebanon County Bicentennial Sports Extravaganza 001“The thing that stayed with me most,” said Yingst, a graduate of Palmyra high school, “is being taught leadership. But I also learned that talent without enthusiasm is like having a car without an engine.”

“It’s absolutely a pleasure to be here,” said Flannery, a native of Pottsville who went on to coach at Division One Bucknell. “You never know who you’re going to meet here. The two things I learned here were loyalty and humility.”

Almost every Lebanon County athletic endeavor was represented, as was every Lebanon County school district.

“The best players from Lebanon County came to Schaefferstown to play baseball,” said Krall, who has dedicated more than 50 years of his life to coaching baseball in the eastern part of Lebanon County. “Baseball at home was a family affair. There have been so many boys who have passed through Elco baseball, but it’s all about the relationships you build over the years.”

“I played baseball for Lyle Krall in Schaefferstown,” said Engle, who has also scouted for three other major league franchises. “And I’ve always wanted to ask him: ‘Why would you always hit me ninth?’ And I think I was the only hitter who, with an 0-2 count, you would give me the ‘take’ sign.”

“As a kid in Myerstown, I fell in love with baseball,” said Shenk, a former newspaper man. “And my dream was to work for the Phillies. And I got my start at the Lebanon Daily News.”

To the audience, Falk read a prepared statement written by Odrick. In it, the 6-5, 305-pound former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year credited many of the coaches and teachers who influenced his development at Lebanon High School.

Lebanon County Bicentennial Sports Extravaganza 010“When I was at Maryland, people would ask me, ‘Where’s Lebanon?'” said Shiner, who preceded Odrick as a Cedar by 50 years. ” ‘Did you ever get Lebanon bologna? That’s where I’m from.’

“Whenever I talk about the NFL, I tell people I came back here because this is where it started,” Shiner continued. “It was great to be born and raised in Lebanon County.”

Hower, Beyerle-Gray and Yocum were the only three females of the personalities in attendance. In many ways, Hower, who counts 16 District Three Class A championships and a pair of PIAA titles among her 644 wins and 35 years of coaching, is representative of how far females have advanced in Lebanon County athletics.

“That’s how I got involved,” said Hower. “1974 was when Title IX came into play. Sometimes women don’t stay in it (coaching) long enough to get the recognition. Now girls are so much more talented. I’m fortunate to have stayed in coaching as long as I have, and it was because of my family. And I was fortunate enough to have coached my daughter (Becky).

“In Lebanon County in 1992, that (the Beavers’ first state title) really brought attention to girls’ basketball and girls’ sports in general,” Hower continued. “It’s kind of been like a snowball effect. I just think there’s more opportunities for girls now. A lot of my players have gone on to be coaches, and I feel good about that.”

There is literally no place like Lebanon, PA.

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