BY JEFF FALK
There are those who simply aren’t concerned with the past. But history has a way of putting things into perspective and bringing others into focus.
There’s nothing like a good memory jog to kick in the appreciation.
There was a time when Palmyra High School wasn’t necessarily known for its athletics. Oh my how times have changed.
Currently the Cougars are heading down the home stretch of what is probably their most successful scholastic sports school year in school history. With recorded records being sketchy, we are left to the limitations of our collective memories for documentation.
“During my tenure, the last time we received this much media attention was in (20)05 when our field hockey and boys’ soccer teams were in state championship games on the same day,” said Palmyra athletic diretor Brian Weidler, himself a former Cougar student-athlete. “It (this season) was a media frenzy. I can not provide documentation, but the pillars in the community assure me that this (level of success) has never happened before.
“That’s fair to say,” Weidler continued. “As far as I remember, this is the most success we’ve had in athletics, possibly ever.”
To list every athletic achievement that the Cougars have collectively accomplished during the 2011-12 sports campaign would be nearly impossible. But that’s not going to deter us from trying.
Following years of toiling in anonymity, the Palmyra football program ascended to heights it had never reached before. The Cougars went 9-3 overall, and not only made their first appearance ever in the District Three Class AAA postseason, but defeated the classification’s most successful program once they got there, Manheim Central.
But while the Cougar footballers were enjoying new experiences, the Palmyra boys’ soccer and field hockey squads were re-newing old ones. In those particular sports, the Cougars have developed a very good recent traditon, a tradition that continued in the autumn.
The field hockey team captured yet another District Three Class AA championship – but its first in a while – and advanced to the final four of the state playoffs. The Palmyra boys’ soccer team reached the District Three Class AA title tilt, and then made it to the PIAA postseson for the fifth consecutive season.
“Our tradition is to win with honor,” said Weidler, who has taken on the role of his school’s unofficial sports historian. “And traditions are built over time. We challenge our kids to uphold that tradition.”
But lost on many may have been the cross country campaign the Cougars completed. With Laura Duquette and Maria Tukis leading the way, the Palmyra females captured the Keystone Division championship and finished first as a team at the Mid-Penn Conference meet. Weidler called the campaign the girls enjoyed, ‘the best by far.’
On the boys side, running machine Connor Strynkowski won the Mid-Penn invidiual championship and also advanced to states.
“It’s nice to win championships,” said Weidler. “But it sometimes goes beyond the scoreboard. The valuable life lessons that athletics instill in young people’s lives are very important. You can apply the hard work and goal-setting in everyday life.”
Just a couple of season removed from a 1-21 campaign, the Palmyra boys’ basketball team qualifed for the District Three Class AAA tournament for the first time since 2007, and actually won two playoff games there. The girls’ basketball team extended its recent success by winning its second straight Mid-Penn Keystone Division championship and finishing third in the District Three Class AAA postseason.
“While it’s true we have a lot of talent in our school, you can’t win on talent alone,” said Weidler. “I attribute our success to our coaching staff. Coaches are strong individuals. They’ve got to be good communicators and they’ve got to be positive. You put in countless hours and time away from your family. Their giving of that time makes me feel blessed to have them.
“Our overall general philosophy, our fundamental ideal, is giving the best of what you are capable of,” Weidler added. “Our coaches make that possible.”
In the pool this winter, the Palmyra girls’ swim team captured the Mid-Penn Keystone Division title and sent a number of individuals on to the PIAA meet, including Peyten Lyons, Katie Schreckengast, Kylie Hoffman, Reney Hess, Brianna Purnell and Aliana Sheriff.
“I’d love to sit here and say it’s a trend and we’re going to maintain this success,” said Weidler. “Our philosophy for next year will be the same as this year. We’ll ask our kids to work just as hard. But winning can be an attitude.
“It is very gratifying,” Weidler continued. “It just means what we’re trying to accomplish here is working. I’ve very proud of how this close-knit community embraced our sports seasons, especially in the fall. In the fall, that’s all everyone talked about. And I’ve been a Palmyra guy all my life.”
Certainly Palmyra has not enjoyed the succes on the athletic fields this spring that it did in the two previous seasons. But some of that final chapter has yet to be written.
There is, of course, the matter of Strynkowski in the 3200-meter run, state-level pole vaulter Shawn Mayer, a talented girls’ 3200-meter relay team and a very dangerous Cougar baseball club, just to touch on a few.
“Yeah, that’s fair to say,” said Weidler. “We’ve levelled off some. We’re loooking for a resurgene at the end, and making the playoffs at the end, and being a tough out.”
Populating these successful Palmyra teams have been hard-working and dedicated student-athletes, many of whom are taking their talents and committments to the collegiate level.
Want another Cougar category that is difficult to pinpoint? The exact number of Palmyra seniors going on to play college sports.
“There are that many college-bound athletes it is difficult to count,” said Weidler of the ever-growing number. “But once the final number comes in I think it’ll be a very impressive one.”
And perhaps even more history.