Beyond the bleachers

This page was created by Billtown Banner students at Williamsport Area High School

Most people probably have attended a sporting event during their high school career. We know the drill: buy your ticket, maybe grab a snack at the concession stand, find a good seat and enjoy the show.

What many spectators may not realize, though, is that what they are watching, often is the product of blood, sweat and tears – literally.

From the bleachers, participation in Williamsport athletics can look easy and fun. The reality is that all Millionaires dedicate hours of their lives to preparing for the events that spectators come to watch for entertainment.

While the hours of practice necessary for competing at this level seems to be consistent for all sports, each sport has its unique challenges.

Track, for example, is a sport often misunderstood by outsiders.

“Track isn’t all about speed,” senior Jaid Harsch explained. “(The biggest challenge) is the mental and physical preparation.” Harsch, who runs both indoor and outdoor track, said the physical requirements of the sport can take its toll on the body. “There’s not a lot of time to recover – between practices, between meets, even between seasons.”

Like track, swimming and diving can take a toll on athletes’ bodies. Most swimmers agreed, “it is a grueling sport.”.

“Dedication makes the swimmer,” junior David Splain said. “You have to stay in shape during the season (to stay competitive).”

Many weekends and holidays, the team has morning and afternoon practices. Some days during the season, the team even practices at 6 a.m. for an hour before school. Most of the athletes believe the dedication helps build a close-knit team.

“Even if you lose the meet, you still have your teammates cheering for you and pushing you to excel,” Splain said.

Practicing to create perfection is something the cheerleaders understand. “We spend so much time memorizing cheers and dances, and we won’t perform them until they are perfect,” sophomore Jacquelynn Spenard explained. “Aside from cheering at the games, we travel to competitions.”

Just like all the other sports, “teamwork, practice and dedication” are necessary for success, sophomore Breyana Anderson commented.

The wrestling team has a unique appreciation for staying in shape during the season. Cutting weight is common practice in wrestling in order to maintain a “spot on the mat,” sophomore Eric Budnovitch said. “If there are too many [eligible] guys in your weight class, you have to beat them for the spot or move to a different weight class. Most guys don’t want to move up because it is harder to compete when the other guy weighs more than you.”

Budnovitch decided to drop weight at the end of the season last year and chose to drop back down to the same weight class again this year.

“The time after school is the hardest [when you can’t eat],” Budnovitch said. “You go home at night, open the fridge, look at all the food, groan, and close the fridge. It’s the worst!”

Junior Rashaun Cooley changes all of his eating habits during the season. “Coach tells me to eat lots of protein and no junk food,” he said.

Aside from practice and meets, the wrestlers also volunteer at the elementary wrestlers’ home matches.

One common idea that emerged from conversations with many of the athletes is that camaraderie and communication were as much a part of the game as practice and skills.

“It’s not just about the workouts,” said sophomore softball player Makenzie Tebbs. “Communication [on and off the field] between teammates is one of the keys to winning.”

Sophomore Jaime Dieffenbach offered a different perspective about the importance of communication. “The team’s success is based on how well each girl plays her position, and you rely on the other girls to communicate what they see on the field to help you be prepared for what’s coming your way,” Dieffenbach said.

Coach Scott McNeil commented that sometimes what players communicate non-verbally can be just as important. “The gains that Jaime made from the first day of her freshman year to the first day of her sophomore year were remarkable. She should be a role model to her peers and the younger kids coming up. She improved so much that I looked around and said to myself, ‘I have to find a place for her on this starting team.’ “

Sophomore football players Jerah Reeves and Frank Rose both agreed that the sport forces one to find a higher level of toughness.

Rose explained how the commitment is not just evident on the field. “It takes a lot of time to get all of your [school] work done. Playing a sport and taking honors and AP courses is hard work,” Rose said.

Reeves, who also plays basketball, attested to the high academic expectations coach Allen Taylor holds for the boys’ basketball team.

Senior basketball player Olivia Erb shared her thoughts on what it takes to make a successful team. “Basketball is not an individual sport,” she said. “It’s all about teamwork and the bonds you build with your teammates.”

The season runs from November to February, but for many of the girls, it is a year round commitment.

Coach Slaughter runs summer workouts and fall and spring workouts for any girl not playing another sport. These extra workouts are voluntary, but most of the girls show up.

“Learning to cooperate and work together as a team is beneficial now and for life ahead of you,” Erb said.