It was my honor a couple weeks back to attend the grand opening celebration of the River Valley Trade and Transit Centre II and Midtown Landing projects. Tip of the cap to Mr. Bill Nichols, and believe me Mr. Nichols wears a lot of caps. Most importantly he is the City of Williamsport's Finance Director and General Manager of River Valley Transit. The job he has done in regards to the aforementioned project is second to none! A combination of a transportation centre, a local beautiful building that will hold many functions downtown, our great local sports tradition and amazing art and local music. I will have much more on this within the pages of the Webb Weekly and also a tour and interview with Bill and some of the primetime players that made it happen coming up on Webb Weekly Live.
This week the focus is on Chief Knock-a-Homer as I call him, Chief Woapalanne as he is officially known. It's hard to believe it has been well over a year ago when I noticed the Chief had left his reservation of Brandon Park. He had become near and dear to my heart if you remember by the thousands of trips I made by him, many while I was coaching at Brandon Little League.
The Chief Knock-a-Homer nickname I hung onto due to my love of Brandon Park, Brandon Little League, and his guarding the entrance in grand style to so many young ball players that used the facility and would ask me about the Chief! Chief Knock-a-Homer was the Indian Chief who loved baseball and believed the wood bats he made from the ash in the West Branch Valley were the best in the world. He was a visionary long before Louisville Slugger came along. His favorite team? The Cleveland Indians of course. I would have some fun with my young Little Leaguers. Of course I would always tell them the truth or maybe it was my assistant coach Bob Engle who filled them in.
Anyway, that early Saturday morning when the empty void filled the spot where the Chief had resided I knew there was only one thing to do, track down my 26-foot Indian friend and give him a little love. He had provided so much to Brandon Park, Williamsport, and our area and people had gotten attached to the "Big Guy" – he was part of our community.
As most know I am an early riser and quickly put on my detective shoes. It didn't take long. Mayor Gabe Campana answered my early-morning call and said give Larry Allison Jr. a call. My friend Larry was quick to help, one of his workers told me where the Chief rested and Larry straight up offered any help in the moving of Chief Knock-a-Homer and anything else that was needed. Both Larry and Mayor Gabe told me he was in bad shape.
After I went and looked at the Chief laying close to the mulch pile up on W. 3rd St. I quickly called Mayor Gabe back to make sure we didn't lose the Chief to the grinder. He said "no worries" and to give Chamber of Commerce Chief Vince Matteo a call because they actually owned what was left of Chief Woapalanne.
I didn't realize Vince was vacationing, in Las Vegas no less, so it was probably about 4:30 a.m. or so when I called him. My man Vince answered the call; the long story short, he was overjoyed about helping with the restoration effort. I think he was a little happier about that than me waking him up in the wee hours of the morning. That just seems to be a knack I have, I always seem to call Vince when he is on vacation, not to mention he is always a few hours behind, time wise that is.
Vince officially sold me Chief Woapalanne for a buck, just in case the Chief committed a sneak attack and fell over on someone or off the truck and attacked a moving vehicle. I sincerely appreciated it and accepted the responsibility. Don't tell Vince, I don't think I ever paid him. I know I sent him the paperwork but as far as the dollar, I can’t quite remember. Besides, what's a dollar amongst friends?
Now I had the Chief, who would have ever thought I would be the proud owner of a great piece of Indian art, even though he was rotten to the core? Most importantly I needed a team of talent to pull off the Indian uprising. Just what did I get myself into? I can't even draw a straight line let alone do woodworking, sculpting and most important refurbishing of a 26-foot statue without turning it into sawdust.
Everything always comes back to sports with me – the people I have met, friends and family I've been blessed to know and the great players I have had the honor to coach. And this was to be another example.
It was my pleasure to coach and watch Ben Sosa grow from a little "Moose," his nickname, into a great player and person in the Loyalsock Township. He played for me from third grade right up until "C.I." Ron Insinger took over in high school. Through Ben I got to know his mom Joanna and stepdad Brian Flynn. Great folks! Very supportive of Loyalsock basketball and baseball.
Brian, a professor at Penn College, was just the artist I was looking for. I reached out to him and his education, passion and teaching was exactly what would save the Chief. Not to mention, I got Brian's good friend, fellow Penn College professor and expert wood carver, preserver and artist, Dave Stably as a bonus. I hit the jackpot for the old Indian!
These two men are the reason the Chief was saved and looks like a million bucks instead of the one dollar I maybe gave Mr. Matteo. They put over a year’s worth of effort and donated their time and expertise. They would not allow the project to fail. I could never thank them enough.
Penn College was unbelievably committed to the project. Dr. Davie Jane Gilmore jumped in without me even asking and donated all the materials needed for Lycoming County's favorite Indian. She is a truly special lady who seems to be involved in all the good and future vision of the West Branch Valley. Where does she find the time? From Little League to taking a growing Penn College into a World leader in technology and beyond.
I must also tip the Chief's headdress to Mr. Keith Eck. I have never asked Keith for anything when he wasn't quick to oblige. The Chief's home during his makeover was Keith's warehouse behind Water Tower Square. I asked him for a couple weeks of use and it turned into eight months. Thank you my friend.
I need to give a Stihl shout out to R.D. Slingerland, Travis Ward and Thompson's Power Equipment. R.D. began the operation on Chief Woapalanne by amputating the rotted base portion. He also cut out some pieces that would be used when the Chief was put back together again. And I must not forget Gene Schurer and daughter Pam's support of the project. A special thanks to the Aquarius Pool people.
At the end of the Chief's makeover it was Mayor Gabe bringing Mr. Bill Nichols down to the warehouse on a rainy spring afternoon to check out the Chief. Mr. Nichols had the vision to see how and where Mr. Peter "Wolf" Toth's wooden sculpture would fit into the Midtown Landing project. My team had gotten the Indian, although a little shorter, now ready for his new reservation. Mr. Nichols and his professionals prepared his unbelievable new home and the rest is history.
If you haven't viewed the new Trade and Transit II Centre, the Sports Walk of Fame and all the great artwork take some time and visit Midtown Landing. I didn't even mention the "Lost Infielder" that's a story for another day. Boy am I glad he is made out of bronze!
God Bless America.