2012 Year in Review: A series of goodbyes, and great performances
Moments of silence overshadowed the roar of the crowd, and tears trumped cheers in what was a sobering year in local sports.
Lit by the warm glow of candlelight vigils, the 2012 Alle-Kiski Valley sports scene, sadly, will be remembered more for its losses than its victories — the passing of several former athletes.
The area still is trying to come to grips with the troubling death of Tim McNerney, a former Knoch star running back who was four games into his senior season at Washington & Jefferson when a group of men attacked and beat him to death near an off-campus bar.
McNerney, the victim of an apparent robbery attempt, was 21. He graduated in 2008 as Knoch's all-time leading rusher.
The Alle-Kiski Valley also grieved over the loss of Jaime Vick Moran, a popular teacher and volleyball coach at Kiski Area, where she once was a two-sport standout.
Moran finally succumbed to effects of an illness she battled for more than a decade. Gone at 28, she died after an infection caused by a bone-marrow transplant.
Moran impacted countless individuals dealing with the same illness, helping to raise awareness until her final days.
The Kiski Area volleyball program had to deal with another sobering loss when junior Jenna Prusia was killed in a sled-riding accident three days after Christmas. She was 16.
The area also mourned the deaths of several other prominent names.
• Kevin Eshelman: A former two-way lineman for the Leechburg football team, Eshelman was killed near the Tarentum exit of Route 28 when a car struck him while he was attempting to change a tire. He was 24.
• John Bologna: A former basketball coach at Leechburg and Elderton, Bologna died of a heart attack. Known for his off-the-cuff remarks after games, Bologna was 54.
Highlights from the year:
• NFL head linesman Tom Stabile, 65, of Tarentum, officiated Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, the first time in his 18-year career he worked the big game.
• Kiski Area's Chuck Tursky became the all-time winningest wrestling coach in WPIAL history when he posted win No. 449, 60-14 over rival Burrell.
• Highlands basketball star Micah Mason became the WPIAL's all-time leader in 3-pointers made with 346, breaking the record held by Chartiers Valley grad T.J. McConnell. Mason, now starting for Drake of the Missouri Valley Conference, finished 12th on the WPIAL's all-time scoring list (2,224 points).
• Despite lowered expectations — a rarity for the program — Burrell's wrestling team clawed its way to a WPIAL-record sixth straight championship and eighth title overall.
• Then-junior 182-pounder Matt McCutcheon became Kiski Area's first PIAA wrestling champion, breaking through with a title in Hershey. Not long after, he joined one of the country's top wrestling programs, signing a letter of intent with Penn State.
• Kittanning sophomore wrestler Jason Nolf, meanwhile, won 85 straight matches before losing in the PIAA semifinals.
• Plum native and Central Catholic senior Perry Hills won a PIAA wrestling title at 195 pounds before moving on to college football at Maryland. A quarterback, Hills suffered a season-ending knee injury early on after being named the Terrapins' starter.
• The Riverview girls basketball team pulled a stunner in the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals, beating No. 4 seed Monessen, 56-47. The win put the Raiders into the semifinals for the first time since 1980 and secured a state-playoff berth.
• Valley graduate Toney Clemons was a drafted by the Steelers and signed to the team's practice squad. The 24-year-old wide receiver, who played college football at Michigan and Colorado, has since been signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars and is on the active roster.
• Springdale sophomore Emily Lelis became the first girl in WPIAL track and field history to win both the 100- and 300-meter hurdles at the PIAA Class AA championships in Shippensburg. That feat came after she broke a 14-year-old WPIAL record in the 300 hurdles.
• Valley senior baseball standout Zarley Zalewski was drafted by the Pirates, but the standout shortstop/outfielder opted to honor his scholarship to Kent State.
• Kiski Area sophomore Vinny Ribar returned to baseball, in a Colt League game, about 16 months after taking a life-threatening line drive to the side of the head during high school batting practice.
• Fox Chapel Golf Club hosted the Constellation Senior Players Championship. Tour journeyman Joe Daley shot 14-under-par 266 to edge past major winners Tom Lehman, Fred Couples and Mark Calcevecchia for the trophy. The tournament is signed to return to Fox Chapel for the next two years.
• Oakmont amateur golfer and Plum graduate Sean Knapp played in the U.S. Senior Open, qualifying in his first try, just after turning 50. Knapp, an assistant girls varsity basketball coach at Riverview, finished 60th but his lasting memory was playing with Hall-of-Famer Tom Watson in the third round.
• Deer Lakes captured its first WPIAL softball championship, using a last-inning rally to clip Greensburg Central Catholic, 3-2, at California (Pa.) University.
Courtney Lubick ripped a two-run single with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie it 2-2, and Sierra Sarver's sacrifice fly scored Becca Babincak with the winning run.
• Plum native and tennis phenom Bjorn Fratangelo turned professional more than a year after winning the boys' French Open singles title, the first to do so since John McEnroe in 1977.
• The Valley girls soccer team ended years of frustration by defeating St. Joseph, 3-1, to break a 96-game losing streak that dated to 2006.
• Leechburg junior Matt Barto won the WPIAL boys Class AA golf championship and took second in the state.
• Valley football also righted the ship as the Vikings broke a 22-game losing streak on opening night, then rallied to make the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2008.
• Springdale senior running back Sean Dugan became just the third player in Alle-Kiski history to rush for more than 4,000 career yards. He also broke the Dynamos' career rushing record, which stood since 2005.
• Burrell senior running back Cole Bush also had a record-breaking season. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder ran for more than 1,700 yards and scored 33 touchdowns.
• For the first time since 1993, no local high school football team reached the second round of the WPIAL football playoffs. More astonishing, a local team didn't play past Nov. 2 for the first time since 1910.
• Plum graduate and true freshman Nolan Cressler scored 20 points for Cornell in his college basketball debut, hitting 6 of 8 3-pointers. It didn't take long for Cressler, Plum's all-time leading scorer, to find his way into the Big Red's starting lineup.
• Kiski Area junior Brent Kennedy showed himself to be one of the top 40 runners in the country when he qualified for the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in San Diego. Kenney finished 34th in the national race, just more than a month after winning the WPIAL Class AAA title and finishing second in the PIAA.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-224-2696 or firstname.lastname@example.org.