BY JEFF FALK
At an early age, athletics taught Sherry Capello when, where, why and how to compete. And because they did, it allowed the competitive Capello to thrive in a man’s world, and to ascend to the position of mayor in a small, conservative city.
But that is not all that that sports taught Capello.
Capello is in the fourth year of her first term as the mayor of Lebanon. And during her high-school years at Northern Lebanon High School, Capello was a pretty good scholastic athlete.
“I didn’t like to lose,” said Capello. “I still have that expectation today. I also learned to work hard, and I came to understand the difference between men and women, that mentors are awesome, the importance of staying focused and never giving up and the importance of community support and family support. I was just so fortunate to have a great foundation. I think sports played a huge role, a significant role in how I am today. I think it’s so important for kids to be involved.
“The lessons I’ve learned playing sports I used in my personal life, and how to treat people,” Capello continued. “I use them everyday in my role as mayor. With my staff, I think we work as a team. I always use ‘we’. I don’t like the word ‘I’. Sports played a significant role. It did.”
Capello, whose maiden name is Mohn, graduated from Northern Lebanon in 1981. As a Viking, Capello competed on the field hockey and track and field squads, both very successfully, one might add.
“I would say I’m very competitive,” said Capello. “I don’t like to lose. I would do almost anything to win, but nothing against my morals or beliefs. I don’t like to break rules, because integrity and honesty are important to me.
“I think the world has change in regards to women,” continued Capello. “Back in the (19)70s, I don’t know if women were taken seriously. You would never think of a girl playing football. Now we have girls’ soccer teams. There were some girls who went out for track, but not a lot. Now it’s accepted. But we had to earn that.”
In the late 70s, Capello was part of a Northern Lebanon two-mile relay team – now the 3200-meter relay – which finished third at the PIAA Track and Field Championships. She was also a junior wing on a Vikings’ field hockey team that advanced to the state championship match, and came within one ‘flick’ or stroke of bringing home PIAA gold.
“Boy, talk about devastation,” said Capello. “Everyone was crying. We put everything into it and we lost, by one flick. I played right wing and my job was to take the ball down the field and set up the inner players. I was fast on the field, and I was good at faking. I had a lot of assists. What I learned from that was team work.
“I didn’t get the publicity,” Capello added. “But I didn’t need the limelight because my team did well. I learned that you had to stay focused and to never give up. You’ve got to trust your teammates. It was the late 70s and early 80s, and before every game we sang ‘We Are The Champions’ when we pulled into the parking lot.”
Capello credited Northern Lebanon coaches and teachers Jim Weaver, Karen Miller and Bonnie Bicksler for having profound influences on her formative years.
“The first sport I actually got involved with was track in junior high, but we had no official team,” recalled Capello. “I did very well. I realized, ‘I could do this.’ Those three coaches had a big influence on me. I was used to being in a group with a whole bunch of guys. And I think it helped me later in life because it let me see how guys related to winning. There’s a difference, and there’s a difference in how guys compete. But by going to states I think we earned their respect.
“In track, my specialty was the 440 (now the 400 meters) and I never lost a meet locally,” Capello added. “In field hockey, I was a starter. In one of the games in states, I ended up scoring a goal. I was one of the top players, but we had a good team. We had a lot of good girls. I was more in the background.”
Upon her graduation from Northern Lebanon, Capello was offered eight or nine scholarships to play field hockey in college. But she turned every one down, partly because she had not yet emerged from her ‘shell’, and Capello ended up attending college locally.
“I just had to mature,” said Capello. “I kind of regret it now. I wish I could’ve experienced going away to a college. But there’s all sorts of educations. There’s so many ways to learn. But I wish I could’ve done it.
“It’s a great experience to win,” continued Capello. “Plus we had great community support, which was awesome. Also, my family, my dad, never missed a game. I remember one game when he wasn’t there, and it made me realize how important it is for parents to be there for their children.”
Capello is the mother of three Lebanon High School graduates who went off to college to play football.
“Sports were my life when I was in high school,” said Capello. “I try to keep up with the local stuff. And we watch football at home. But I don’t have as much time as I’d like.”
Capello announced recently that she will seek a second term as Lebanon’s mayor. The general election will be conducted on the first Tuesday in November.
“Overall, I think things are going great,” said Capello. “We have a lot of challenges like other Class Three cities do. I definitely keep an eye on expenditures. Everything that is spent is accounted for. When I got into office, there was an unbalanced budget, which is illegal. We had to get our house in order, and we did. I love being mayor.
“Right now, I’m just focused on Lebanon city,” Capello continued. “We have some real financial difficulties, and I’m going to get us out of them. It may take the next four years. It might take longer than four years. And we may have to make some cuts to survive.
“I think the qualities I bring to the job are important. The mayor has to be a working mayor. She can’t be simply a PR person. I spent ten or 11 years as the Palmyra borough manager, and if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be able to do this job. It’s extremely important to have experience.”
Both on and off the field of play.