The last Saturday of 2017 arrived with temperatures in the single digits and an overnight covering of snow on the ground. Rather than sleeping in on a cold winter’s day, a few hundred area scholastic coaches dutifully fishtailed their vehicles up the unplowed hill to Williamsport Area High School for a day of PIAA mandated classroom work. The occasion was a new round of required certifications for those individuals responsible for coaching the various school-sponsored sports teams around the state.
On this day, the courses being taught covered the subjects of ‘Successful Coaching’ and ‘Sport First Aid.’ Due to the size of the gathering, the coaches were alphabetically divided into groups to begin their seven-hour instruction. The group led by Panther Valley High School athletic director Karen Black gave their instructor a warm early-morning ovation when she announced, “The Penn State game kicks off at 4:00 p.m. I live an hour and a half from here and want to be home in time to see it. So let’s get to it!”
Black also asked the group, “How many of you in this room are coaching your sport because of the money?” To no one’s surprise, not a single hand was raised. That very factor sends a very strong message regarding the dedication of the many men and women who are leading high school teams across the region. It was the Christmas break on a cold Saturday morning, yet hundreds turned out to improve their knowledge on subjects important to both themselves and the athletes placed under their supervision and guidance.
Among the gathered coaches was Montoursville’s Tom O’Malley currently serving as Loyalsock’s girls’ softball coach. The former Major Leaguer and Japanese League All-Star recently came close to donning the New York Yankees pinstripes during the Bronx Bombers lengthy search for a new manager to replace the exited Joe Girardi.
Hensley Meulens, a longtime friend and former O’Malley teammate on the 1995 Yakult Swallows that won the Japanese World Series, was among the candidates for the Yankees field boss position. As the Yankees interview process was reduced to the final two, it came down to a choice between Meulens and Aaron Boone, who was chosen for the job. During the process, Meulens contacted O’Malley and stated that if he got the Yankee job, he wanted Tom to join him in the dugout to work with Yankees hitters.
Meulens had signed with the Yankees in 1985 and spent parts of five seasons with New York from 1989-1993. He is currently with the San Francisco Giants (the team that signed O’Malley to his first professional contract) as their bench coach and has been with the team during their recent stretch of three World Series championships. Even though he did not get the Yankees job, prospects are good that the multi-lingual Meulens will get a Big League opportunity down the road. If he does, O’Malley could find himself with a Major League coaching position.
The Christmas break brought with it some disappointment for Tom’s niece Lauren O’Malley, Montoursville’s standout hoopster. The senior court star sustained a broken bone in her hand during a Warrior practice session putting a major damper on what was sure to be another all-star season. At the time of the injury, O’Malley was averaging 15 points a game and was well within striking distance of the 1,000-point career milestone, needing just 130 points to reach the coveted achievement.
While O’Malley’s injury was a blow to the Lady Warriors, Mike Mussina’s boys’ squad capped off 2017 with an impressive 4-1 record, including early season wins over three of last year’s local District champions, Hughesville, St. John Neumann and Lewisburg. Despite losing four starters from last year’s team, the Warriors are getting solid contributions and court leadership from seniors John McCarthy, Owen Kiess and Luke Warnecke.
Even with his energy centered on the Warriors’ on-court successes, Mussina is a much-talked-about candidate in baseball-related media circles as the January 24 announcement of the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame inductees draws closer. Although Mussina’s selection on this year’s ballot is a longshot, his candidacy has propelled upward since first becoming eligible in 2014. That year he received 20% of the vote, but that total increased to 51.8% in 2017, placing his ninth among the many vote-getters.
Baseball Hall of Fame rules requires a candidate receives 75% of the votes cast for induction. Players remain on the HOF ballot for ten years following their eligibility unless they receive fewer than 5% of the ballots cast in any given year. During his outstanding career, Mussina compiled a record of 270-153 and won more games than 34 of the starting pitchers already enshrined in Cooperstown. Hopefully, Mussina’s call to the hall will be a case of ‘when — not if.’
Even though Alabama and Georgia have decided the SEC championship and that of all of college football as well, Penn State and its Big Ten brethren can claim some bragging rights with their outstanding 7-1 Bowl record. Only Michigan failed to hoist the conference’s banner with their loss to South Carolina. Could be that not too many folks around these parts are sorry over Coach Harbaugh’s headaches.
Shaquan Barclay is gone, but thanks for the memories. It was a great ride!