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‘A slice of heaven’

Hollidaysburg fans converge on Williamsport

Hollidaysburg fans cheer as the team takes the field for Thursday’s first-round game against Pearland, Texas. Hollidaysburg came up short, falling to Texas 8-3. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

WILLIAMSPORT — Hollidaysburg is making Blair County’s first-ever trip to the Little League World Series, and its community has responded in earnest.

You can’t walk 10 feet without bumping into someone wearing Hollidaysburg gear — a Hollidaysburg “magic” t-shirt, a hat or something from the Mid-Atlantic Region championship are especially popular.

“Being here is surreal,” Angie Rabel — mother of Hollidaysburg player Beau Rabel and wife of John Rabel, one of the team’s coaches — said before Thursday’s first-round game against Pearland, Texas. “It’s unbelievable. You can absolutely feel the Hollidaysburg magic throughout the entire complex.”

Joe Dodson, Hollidaysburg’s mayor, was on hand, waiting to be seated with Williamsport’s mayor, Derek Slaughter.

“The mayor from Texas called me,” Dodson said. “He’s supposed to meet us, too.”

Hollidaysburg fans surrounded the snow-cone golf cart beyond the outfield, and many youngsters enjoyed sliding down the steep hill on cardboard, a Lamade Stadium tradition.

They were accompanied by family and friends of all ages — a three-generation experience.

“This is a slice of heaven,” said Elsie (Zengel) Gibney, one of the first employees of the Altoona Curve. “It’s nice to see friends and whole families. If there’s anybody at home, I hope they’re watching (on ESPN2).”

The stands were packed with an announced crowd of 18,352, including the crowded hill.

Jodie Albarano of the Hollidaysburg Area Summer Baseball League said two spirit buses were filled. The fans in one bus chanted “Hollidaysburg Magic” and sent the video to team manager Jim McGough and his players.

“He said they loved it,” Albarano said.

Altoona native J.R. Gearhart and fellow hockey coach James Rossi brought the Mid-State Mustangs to support Hollidaysburg slugger and teammate Chase Link, who is also a hockey player.

“We’re really proud of Chase,” Gearhart said. “Our entire team is here to cheer him on, kids from as far away as Indiana and Somerset.”

Gearhart came here with his dad “15-20 years ago.”

“This is the first time I’ve been back, and the atmosphere is insane,” he said. “It’s so exciting to have a team from Hollidaysburg. It’s a special time for these kids. … Enjoy the moment.”

When Hollidaysburg was introduced for Thursday night’s game that was delayed an hour due to previous rain delays, it was clear from the applause volume which team had a decided advantage in the stands.

“Everywhere you look, there’s PA support,” Angie Rabel said. “It’s incredible to see the way our local community has banded together.”

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