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Hopefully, a Happy New Year!

In the days leading up to Christmas, Jim Webb and Steph Nordstrom gathered the Webb Weekly team for a holiday luncheon. It has been an annual tradition since the publication was begun nearly 20 years ago. The pandemic wiped out the event last year, so it was nice to once again have an opportunity to touch base with fellow writers and staff, most of whom we don’t often see during the year.

As you can imagine, stories of all kinds filled the room. Ken Hunter was promoting his idea for a Webb Weekly ice fishing tournament. Tim Hartzell recounted stories of parishioners his church had gained after reading his weekly column. Andrea McElroy shared the delight her recipes were generating, and Larry Stout revealed the anecdotal circumstance that led him to the pages of the paper. Everyone chimed in, and for a few hours, things seemed normal like they were two years ago when we were last together.

But as we enter the final days of 2021, hoping that things will be better in the year ahead, it is a bit like we are in a twilight zone as a year ago; we were hoping 2021 would emerge much better than what we had experienced in 2020. As Father Time is about to hand over his symbolic duties to Baby New Year, he did provide us with some memorable local sporting accomplishments worthy of reflection.

Pennsylvania boys’ basketball all-time wins leader, Loyalsock Townships Ron Insinger, was able to finally capture that elusive state championship. Tom Gravish kept his Jersey Shore Bulldogs growling with another district title and a trip to the state semi-finals. South Williamsport’s Olivia Dorner continued her reign as the state’s tennis queen winning her second consecutive Class AA tennis title. The Penn College golf team became the school’s first team to compete for an NCAA national title. A bevy of scholastic squads thrilled their fans with impressive performances, many of which will be remembered with end-of-the-year media stories.

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions, but most certainly have recollections of the year past. I remain appreciative of the South Williamsport Area School District, athletic director Scott Hill, basketball coach Joe Simon, and softball coach Tom O’Malley for their support in allowing me to remain a part of the district’s sports family. It is a labor of love I greatly enjoy. I am grateful to Jim Webb for the opportunity to share my views on the local sports scene with all of you each week. I admire the dedication and the behind-the-scenes efforts put forth by area athletes and coaches that make Lycoming County such an enjoyable place to witness athletic competition.

Athletes and teams overcoming hardships have always been stories that grab the rooting attention of sports fans, and rightly so. Personally, the hardships encountered by three individuals close to me have had me rooting the hardest.

As I have related in a past column, this fall, my daughter-in-law Angie Lowery endured a month-long battle with COVID-pneumonia that included 13 days on a ventilator. As she faced the biggest battle of her life, grandson Tucker provided the family with some much-welcomed smiles with his performance on the football field that helped lead his Big Spring team into the District Three playoffs. Her recovery, to which the doctors described as VERY lucky, came just in time for her to participate in Tucker’s Senior Night and witness his accomplishment in leading the downstate Mid-Penn Conference in interceptions.

As the Junior High School softball season was drawing to a close, Mountaineer coach Tom O’Malley encountered a serious leg infection that took him off the field. His young charges rallied to win their final two games and kept their coach updated on their progress. Following weeks of rehab, O’Malley, who just celebrated his Christmas birthday, is on the mend and looking forward to the upcoming spring season.

Last year I was privileged to have longtime friend and former Lock Haven University basketball standout, Dean Kriebel, join me on the South Williamsport Junior High Basketball coaching staff. As always, we shared a lot of fun and enjoyed a successful season with the future Mounties. Just days before practice for this year’s team was about to begin, Dean shared indications of not feeling well. In the subsequent weeks, he has turned in his whistle and clipboard to deal with a much more important health game plan.

Despite his own dilemma, he has taken the time to call me, talk basketball, and wish our team well. Dean, and wife Amy, have done so much through their Andrew’s Special Kids Foundation to think of and help so many others deal with life’s hardships. I’m asking for your help to join in and root for a victorious outcome as Dean faces the challenges ahead.

Enjoy your sports, hug your loved ones, do all you can to stay safe and healthy and this time, let’s really hope 2022 will treat us all much better than the year we are leaving behind.