Hoop crazy

By on February 4, 2015
Andy Fasnacht

Andy Fasnacht

As a young boy, despite having constant “ants in my pants” and wanting to go outside to play basketball, ice hockey, street hockey, tackle football and of course, whiffleball, baseball and just about any ball you can imagine — I loved to read.
How I found time I’m not sure but one of my favorites was the series by Clair Bee, which featured his fictional star athlete Chip Hilton. One of the books I remember best was “Hoop Crazy.”
Though I hadn’t read the book, which was published in 1950, until after I watched my first high school basketball game in 1975, it quickly reminded me of what I saw that year in the Ephrata High School gymnasium.
If I recall correctly, my grandma took me primarily because Brad Myers, son of her friends Ted ‘’Motz” and Arlene Myers, was on the team. Little did I know, and perhaps she didn’t either, that the Mounts were in the midst of one of their most amazing seasons ever.
What I recall most about that particular night was the crowd. I guess my grandma was told that you had better get there during the JV game if you want to have a chance for a seat (this was in the smaller Oak St. high school gym of course). Even then, I remember barely finding place for us to sit…I think we may have even squeezed in next to the cheerleaders.
Next of course, as an 11-year-old at the time, I remember being in awe of just how big Gunselman, Bucher, Wingenroth and Reifsnyder were…very intimidating to me at the time
But as far as what I saw on the court, and what perhaps locked me in as a fan for life, was watching the jaw-dropping skills of the legendary Mike Matto.
Matto, much like the great Pete Maravich, played like his hair was on fire all the time and was constantly on the move looking for a bucket of water to put it out. But that is not to say he didn’t play under control or have a silky smooth jumper to boot. He was the ultimate guard…made all his teammates better, scored a bunch and was entertaining all at once. While Ephrata obviously had great basketball prior to that in several different decades and very recently before Matto’s era with Jim Flores, Jay Bucher, etc…the flashy guard seemed to ignite the fan base like never before. From those years on, even through some lean years, you had to get there early to get a good seat in that gym and the fan base, for the most part, remained very loyal. But most of all, at least for me, it ignited a passion for high school basketball games that I expect and hope will never leave me. Though I cherish every high school football game under those Friday night lights, there is something about packing into a warm gym on a brutally cold winter night (and don’t we know that right now), that just really gets the blood flowing.
Though I didn’t get the chance to follow that team on its journey to Hershey for the county championship, I did go back again and again to that gym to follow Mounts basketball through my own high school years, and then again when I became sports editor of this paper in 1986.
Those were interesting days for Ephrata basketball. The girls had just come off a district championship, with the Lady Mounts’ all-time leading scorer Carla Wenger leading the way under head coach Jan Witmer. On the boys side, a guy by the name of Dave Dubbs had just been brought in from Minersville and was in the midst of completely turning the program around. In my six years as sports editor, basketball at Ephrata was flying high. Dubbs took his teams deep into playoffs annually and the girls program remained consistently strong, peaking with an L-L finals appearance under Rick Donmoyer in the early ‘90s.
Fast forward to today and although the action has moved across Route 272 to the more expansive and modern middle school gym, there is still plenty of excitement for everyone. Though the boys teams haven’t been able to garner any titles in quite some time, coach Jason Coletti has put teams on the floor that work very hard and are competitive in just about every game — regardless of the opponent. The battles with Cocalico over the past few years have not only been played in front of mostly standing-room-only crowds, they consistently have been amazing games — often going into overtime or coming down to the final shot.
And speaking of Cocalico, head coach Travis Wealand has found a way with all different types of rosters to put out consistently high quality, hard-nosed teams, which battle for titles. Even though this year’s squad couldn’t quite get past mighty Manheim Central, the Eagles are indeed a team no one really wants to face in the postseason.
On the girls side, Ephrata’s Mike Garman has put up two section titles over a five-year period and came within a wild fourth-quarter Lebanon comeback of doing it again this season. This year’s squad is indeed heading into the postseason playing well and will compete in both the Lancaster-Lebanon and District Three championships over the next two weeks.
Tony DiMatteo has also had great success with his Lady Eagles who came within an eyelash of titles in 2013 and ‘14. This year, despite finishing behind Donegal in Section Three, they will be another team few want to face in the postseason.
So it’s easy to see there is still plenty of quality basketball to make us all “Hoop Crazy.” One week ago we talked about the amazing Tucker Lescoe and his incredible journey to 1,000 points. Less than a week later, he was helping lead his Eagles into an amazing overtime battle against state-ranked Manheim Central.
Then this Tuesday night, the excitement shifted to Ephrata, where the stage was set for Ephrata’s star guard Kelly Liebl to take aim at the magical 1,000-point mark. After pumping in 37 points Friday night at CV and Saturday afternoon at Exeter, Kelly was poised to crack the mark at home in front of a large and passionate senior night crowd.
While last week we were talking about a 6-footer with a linebacker’s physique, today we are describing a 5-foot-3 inch (maybe) who weighs —well, you should never guess a woman’s weight but let’s just say it’s — not a lot. For the past four years Ephrata fans have had the pleasure of watching Kelly perform, not only on the basketball court but also in soccer and track and field. As an athlete, she seems to keep reaching higher and higher. Last spring, she turned so many heads by winning the District Three 100-meter championship…making her in effect, the fastest girl in south central Pennsylvania. No one chasing her down the court on a fastbreak would question that. Then this past fall, she helped lead the Mounts’ soccer team into the state tournament. Now this.
Having a front row seat at the announcers’ table for these past four years, and after having watched countless girls games over the past three decades, I can say that Kelly is unlike any player I have ever seen. First, I think it is safe to say she is the smallest 1,000-point scorer in Mounts’ history — which certainly is another feather in her cap, along with the fact she plays even harder on defense and almost never comes out of the game. Perhaps though, it is the small stature with the super high energy level and intensity which makes her so fun to watch.
How appropriate that her special moment came almost exactly 40 years after that Matto guy was doing those same things and bringing everyone to their feet.
Congratulations Kelly and thanks for all the thrills.

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