Photos by Kathy Reed
By Kenny Varner
BURNHAM – It was a night of celebration Sunday night as the 2022 Class of the MIfflin County Hall-Fame were honored for their legendary performances and their contributions to the landscape that is MIfflin County sports.
To celebrate the present success of the local sports scene, it was a special look back to those who created the foundation with their on and off the field accolades.
The night of the Who’s who of local sports kicked off with future MIfflin County Hall of Famer, 5-Time All-American Hayden Hidlay NC State Wrestler and State Champion for the Huskies.
Hidlay put his thoughts on how important it is in carving out a successful career.
“Tonight is an important night. Sports has a way of giving us and showing us how strong we can be. A lot has been said about NCAA performances and things like that,” said Hidlay. “But at the end of the day it I think it makes you become a stronger person. Nothing quite like sports can give you that.”
Such was the case for all the individuals honored on this night.
Leading off the ceremony was one of the pioneers in girls basketball, Wendee Booher, a 1987 Chief Logan graduate.
Booher, who was a standout three-sport athlete, participating in cross country, basketball and track and field for Chief Logan High school. She finished her high school career as a state champion and 4-time medal winner in cross country. In 1986 she led the Mingoes to the state championship, under fellow inductee Ron Sprecher.
On the track, she was a three-time District 6 Champion and state Medalist in the 2-mile run.
She surpassed the 2,000-point scoring mark.
She played college for Temple and played pro basketball overseas and has coached.
Presenting the award to Booher on this night was longtime friend John Pannizzo.
“This is a huge honor…when you leave a town, small like ours, you never expect anything like this to happen,” said Booher in her acceptance speech. “It a big deal and my neighbors in Boiling Springs asked me what was I doing Sunday. Well I get to back to my hometown for the Hall of Fame. So it’s a big deal”
Next up the Hall of Fame honored longtime sports figure, Dick Gingrich.
Gingrich was a 4-sport letter-winner while at Chief Logan. He was is probably best remembered for quarterbacking the Chief Logan football teams to win 28 of 30 games. Two of which were undefeated seasons and a 22-game winning streak.
He was selected to both the UPI and AP All-State third teams and was a Wigwam Wiseman High school All-American. He was a member of the Big 33 Classic.
After graduation, he was a stand out at Penn State for then coach Rip Engle. He finished his career as an All-Penn State 1960’s All-decade team. He ended his playing career with two interceptions in the East-West Shrine game. He was also a graduate assistant for Joe Paterno.
His presenter was son Aaron Gingrich.
“This is an honor for me to stand here this evening being an honoree of the MIfflin County Hall of Fame”, said Gingrich.
Wrestling took to the big stage after Gingrich’s speech as the Hall of Fame honored one of the true ICONS in local wrestling history in Joseph Heller.
Heller was a 1979 graduate of Chief Logan and was MIfflin County’s first 2-time state wrestling champion, winning back-to-back titles while posting a record of 55-1 over those two season for the Mingoes. He was also a 3-time state qualifier. His career record was 70-10 in just three seasons on the mat.
He was a Northwest Regional Champion and a 2-time District 6 champ. He garnered the district’s Outstanding Wrestling award as junior.
The Amateur Wrestling News listed him as an honorable mention high school All-American.
He wrestled for the University of Virginia at the college level.
Presenting the award for Heller was children Caitlin, Joseph and Ethan Heller.
“I’d like to start by thanking some folks. I’d like say thank you to the MIfflin County Sports Hall of Fame. It’s members, it’s group members for putting this all together,” said Heller. “It means a great, great deal to me. The older I get, the more it means.”
Joint the ranks representing MIfflin County on the night was Harold “Junior” Powell from the Maroon and Steel days of the Lewistown Panthers.
Presenting the award for Powell was longtime friend Edgar Parks.
Powell, a 1959 graduate of Lewistown, was a key member of the legendary Lewistown football teams that went 26-2 over three varsity seasons. Including in that run was back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1957-58.
Powell was a member of the “Dream Backfield”. He also played on defense and returned kicks. He was an All-State Honorable mention in his senior year. He had an amazing an amazing stat that he reached the end zone by catch, Carey, or return on average every five times he touched the ball.
He continued his playing career at Penn State where he was declared by Penn State legendary coach Rip Engle as one of the best pound-for-pound player he had ever coached. Something that Powell had just found out about in recent months.
“I just became aware of this that way back when, it was about two moths ago that I found out, that I pound-for-pound was the best athlete he (Engle) ever coached,” said Powell. “It just knocked me over.”
The last Individual award winner on the night was Ronald Sprecher.
Sprecher has been an active for 5-plus decades coaching in the MIfflin County area. He is synonymous with cross country, track and field across Pennsylvania.
Presenting his award was former runner Tona Williams.
He fist coached at Rothrock High School in 1968 where his runners won a District 6 title in cross country.
Shortly after that, the legendary coach moved onto coach Chief Logan and turned the Mingoes into a forced to be reckoned with.
He then spearheaded Indian Valley’s program after Chief Logan and Kish High Schools merged in 1988.
All in all, Sprechers teams reeled off 28 boys and girls District 6 cross country and track and field championships. numerous individual boy and girls district champions as well. In that he has also had quite a successful time coaching numerous individual all-state champions and state champions.
He coached coached the 1986 Chief Logan girls cross country team to a state title. Sprecher was humbled by his nomination.
“I feel honored but humbled. It’s very difficult accepting that I’m part of this group,” said Sprecher. “A group that I highly respect.”
Adding to the night was a new award that was given out, it was the Volunteer Recognition Award.
This year’s winners were longtime PR Babe Ruth historian and writer, Ray Wilde and longtime Babe Ruth coach Bill Corbin, who both have spent over 40-plus years with the Babe Ruth program.
In 40-years as a head coach, Corbin has anointed an impressive win-loss posting a 764-413 mark. He has won numerous state titles and a national runner up bid.
Wilde started out as a book keeper for Belleville in 1970. He has attended and provided sports coverage for approximately 2,024 games. He has also produced media guides to keep fans up to date on the history of such a great organization like Babe Ruth.
In a heartwarming final tribute of the night, the first team to ever win a state title was honored for its magical season in 1963.
The Rothrock High School basketball team won the County’s first team state championship that year, defeating Jim Thorpe in buzzer beater fashion, 43-41. The team, then Class C, took the title at Bethlehem, setting the stage for future teams to come. The team was coached by Harold Wertz.
Wertz and eight of his team were present for the presentation of the award.
Wrapping up the night, the MIfflin County Hall of Fame rounded out the night bigger and better with all the dynamic athletes that have led the way for others. And most of all adding the MIfflin County legacy.