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19 scholastic teams find time for golf in May to educate area teens

05/10/21 Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic's Ethan Miller (right) watches teammate A.J. Marasco chips onto the #16 green at Park Hill Golf Club.

Central Pennsylvania was lucky enough to get most of its scholastic fall sports season in, and schools didn’t have to move any seasons to the spring like the way several football teams near Philadelphia had to do last month.

One event from September that was postponed but never canceled was finally made up Monday when Park Hills Golf Club hosted the Operation Our Town scramble for high school golf programs.

The only problem is that it’s no longer officially golf season, so the event couldn’t be an officially recognized PIAA school event.

“Because spring is not golf season, we weren’t allowed to use school names,” Tyrone coach Mike Funicelli said. “A lot of teams used their mascot as a name. We used the course we play at, Sinking Valley and our mascot but added to it.”

That led to 19 teams with names like Funicelli’s Sinking Valley Soaring Eagles, Kiski Area’s Straight Outta Quarantine, State College girls’ Happy Valley Vixens and the Penn Cambria girls’ Summit Pink Panthers vying for the $2,500 prize that goes toward a school program to educate students about the dangers of making bad decisions with drugs or alcohol.

“This event was originally scheduled for September of 2020, but several teams couldn’t play due to their conferences not allowing them to play,” Operation Our Town Executive Coordinator Shawna Hoover said. “We decided to reschedule for the spring, so our event today was technically our 2020 tournament. This event is very important to youth and teens, and it’s a way that Operation Our Town can be involved and get our message out about not doing drugs and drinking and making the right choices.”

The State College boys, led by back-to-back District 6 Class 3A champion John Olsen, won the boys title as the Wormburners, a name they didn’t live up to by shooting a 56 to top second-place Sinking Valley Soaring Eagles by eight strokes.

“The kids really like coming here, and it’s for a great cause,” Funicelli said. “It has to be rescheduled a couple times, but hats off to them getting it set up. Shawna Hoover has done a great job getting it set up and getting 19 teams here, which is pretty impressive considering that it’s out of season.”

The Red Devil Girls, Central Cambria’s squad of seniors Megan Stevens, Cydney Forcellini, Kaitlyn Lauer and sophomore Jewel Sikora, tied with the State College girls, Happy Valley Vixens, but won the team title on a card-off by making a par on the hardest hole, the par-3 No. 10.

“We were disappointed when we couldn’t come in the fall,” Central Cambria coach Keith Gilkey said. “We have three seniors on the team, so they came here with the attitude to have fun and enjoy one last tournament. Operation Our Town and Park Hills put on such a great tournament, and we feel fortunate to have won. One more match and one more time for our three seniors to get together, and they were excited to come. It was a beautiful day. The course was in amazing shape, and they did what they needed to do and made some big putts.”

Hoover presented both winning teams with checks that can be used toward drug and alcohol education programs until 2022 begins.

“Normally, when we have our tournament in September, we have more than 30 teams,” Hoover said. “Due to us playing in the spring, we were down to 19, but we were happy with the turnout. We hope that we can deter kids from getting involved with drugs and alcohol and they notice what we do for the community with grants and supporting the drug enforcement operations. We’re happy these schools participate every year, and we know they look forward to it.”

Some of the area’s top golfers, like Tyrone’s Jake Taylor who finished 15th in the state at the PIAA 2A tournament last fall, got one last chance to play with their teammates before college.

“It’s great to get out of school and play some golf and have fun with my teammates one more time,” Taylor said. “It’s been a very weird senior year. It’s been rough at times. I’m excited to go from here and get to Bloomsburg and help their golf program get started.”

Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic also participated after enjoying a breakout season last year.

“With COVID, it’s understandable that we couldn’t have it in the fall,” Bishop Guilfoyle coach Mark Scalice said. “Operation Our Town has been fantastic to us and the kids. They put on an outstanding tournament with a good message, and it’s great to get our seniors out one last time together.

“We had our sports assembly here a couple weeks ago, and when you think of Bishop Guilfoyle you think of football and basketball. To have the golf program elevated as these kids have done and finish 10-0, win the Laurel Highlands and have the first undefeated team in school history and have A.J. Marasco signed by a Division I college program (Saint Francis) is amazing. It was a good group of kids, and I look forward to next season even though we’re losing five seniors.”

The Summit Panthers and the Summit Pink Panthers finished third in the boys and girls competitions, respectively. Monday’s event was long-time Penn Cambria coach Chris Wilk’s final tournament as the school’s coach after 32 years.

“I told the kids last year I was going to retire,” Wilk said. “It was nice to have one more event with the kids. When I took over the program, it was more or less non-existent. I told our former superintendent that I wanted to return the program back to respectability. Over the last 12 years, we really did that, and it was the most rewarding. We had golfers at states, and Will McMahon was the first one to get there. I did what I set out to do, but the most memorable moment was that first trip to states with Will.”

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