HAWTHORN — Fill a room with a bunch of proud athletes and coaches, and it’s certain to be a night worth enjoying.
Last Saturday night’s inaugural Redbank Valley Boosters Sports Hall of Fame event inducted and honored its first class of at Trinity Hall. The first class included longtime coaches Ben Kundick Sr. and Dave Moore, state wrestling champions Johnathan Brothers and Mike Huffman, and Tristan Rankin Best and Alyssa Shirey.
A team entry was also part of the first class — the unbeaten Bulldogs baseball team of 1966 — but logistical issues led to the team being presented at next year’s ceremony.
Former North Allegheny wrestling star and Oklahoma State NCAA champion and three-time All-American Teague Moore was the guest speaker. He addressed the inductees and what they’ve given back to the area.
“I’m sure you created memories for this area and it gives young kids a purpose to show up for practice every day,” Moore said. “It gives them a reason to be successful when they show up in the classroom.”
Hall of Fame chairperson Matt Darr was happy with how the event played out.
“Teague started the night with a speech that I thought was so appropriate,” Darr said. “The inductees were impressive with their speeches and the common tone was how they all thanked everyone for making the night happen. I think that’s ironic since we should be the ones thanking them for all of their special moments. They set the bar extremely high for next year’s class.”
All were thankful for the induction, recognizing all of those people and athletes who helped make their career success. All of it was heart-felt.
“I am so grateful to be honored and want everyone to understand what running has meant to me in my life. It has been my outlet,” said a tearful Rankin, who’s run in two Boston Marathons and owns two school track and field records.
Two of Redbank Valley’s coaching patriarchs in Kundick and Moore left a big mark on the teams they’ve coached and had plenty to say in their acceptance speech.
Kundick, 86 and still very much a presence in the community, started his wrestling coaching career as an assistant coach under the school’s first coach Jesse Caldwell. He took over prior to the 1969-70 season and directed the Bulldogs for 22 seasons in two stints with a two-year hiatus separating his tenures. He retired after the 1992-93 season with a 207-73-1 dual meet record.
Kundick never wrestled a high school bout in his life.
“I lived with him all of those years and I never knew he wrestled a match,” said his son John “Moby” Kundick, who introduced his dad. “He has Redbank blood in him and I think if you’d put his blood under a microscope, there’d be little bulldogs swimming around.”
Kundick coached the school’s first state champion and fellow inductee Huffman, who won his state title in 1982. He coached at the school in football, track and field and volleyball. He’s already a member of the District 9 and Pennsylvania state wrestling halls of fame.
“This is the greatest honor and I have a lot of people to thank,” said Coach Kundick. “The Lord blessed me with good health, second he blessed me with a good woman (his late wife Patricia) … and a family behind me. (Patricia) was there … I was fortunate all my kids participated in sports and they knew they had to.”
And like Moore, he knew he couldn’t have done it without his players, assistants and administration.
“I was fortunate to have such cooperation,” Kundick said. “Last but not least, I hope I didn’t miss anyone, I had the privilege to work with a generation of young people who were willing to put in the time and sacrifice to make themselves great.”
Moore is the school’s all-time winningest football and girls’ basketball coach, coaching the Bulldogs football team for 19 seasons and compiling a 118-51-5 mark with three KSAC titles and one Little 12 Conference title. He was 136-85 in 10 seasons with the Lady Bulldogs.
“I thank all the people who made this possible,” said Moore, who counted up 50 sports seasons he has coached, including youth softball and baseball and elementary girls’ basketball. “Without the various people at the high school and town and the teams, I wouldn’t be here.”
Moore’s coaching career actually began on an Indian reservation in New Mexico. He returned to the area and landed in New Bethlehem, taking over the Bulldogs’ varsity program in 1979. He soon hooked up with longtime assistant Larry Shumaker, who became a longtime friend and integral part of his staff.
“He was my best friend, a defensive guru and his birthday was (Friday), so this makes this extra-special,” said Moore of Shumaker who died of cancer last September.
Moore succeeded successful Lady Bulldogs coach Ernie Black after the 1993-94 season.
“Ernie asked me to be the coach and he came to me and wanted to see someone successful take over,” said Moore of the rare double job of football and girls’ basketball. “I resisted the thought of doing it, but then I decided to try it.”
Moore hit on a very crucial point of any young athlete and his or her success.
“I came to the conclusion that heart plays an integral part in sports and success,” Moore said. “I don’t mean you have to have a large heart, but when you’re playing, you have to give heart.
“How many people who graduate from high school or college and played a sport and came to the conclusion that you didn’t give everything you have or wish you could do it over? When I started coaching, I promised myself I would never doubt myself again when it came to excellence. I would give everything I have. When I started coaching football, the philosophy was fundamentals, discipline and play with heart. I think that philosophy worked.”
Moore’s 91-year-old mother Pollie was part his family contingent. He also spoke about getting through a heart attack he suffered on April 1.
“I don’t think without my sports training I would’ve made it home that day,” he revealed. “And I give my mom credit for my goodness and my badness.”
Huffman recalled his first youth wrestling tournament experience.
“It was in DuBois and all I can remember was that the bleachers on one side went up forever,” he recalled. “I was told ‘OK, you’re up’ and I said, ‘Nope.’”
Huffman got back on the mat the next year and went on to forge a career that included an 84-15-1 record, which at the time was the program’s record following his state title season in 1982 when he won the 132-pound crown as a senior. He went 32-1-1 that year.
“Wrestling to me, it’s been something I’ve carried through my life,” said Huffman, now the owner of Penn Trafford Physical Therapy in Irwin. “I’ve set goals and reached for some, made some, not made others, but it made me who I am today. … You have to set goals. You won’t reach them all, but you’ll learn from it and move on.”
Huffman was in Hershey at a hotel 26 years later pounding on a hotel door late one night, trying to wake up his former coach who was also there watching what wound up being the program’s second state title run in 2008 by Brothers.
Both watched Brothers win the 160-pound title and finish off a 39-1 season, also a program record. Brothers won two district titles and two state medals, finishing fifth in 2007 before his gold medal season. Brothers has the program’s most wins with a 132-25 record and is the only Redbank Valley wrestler to be invited to the prestigious Dapper Dan Wrestling Classic in Pittsburgh.
Brothers, who was introduced by his mother Dianna and current Bulldogs wrestling coach Mike Kundick, still resides in New Bethlehem and lives with his wife Bailey and two children, daughter Bailey and son Lawson.
Rankin Best, prior to her trips to the Boston Marathon, established herself as a standout track and field athlete at Redbank Valley. She owns the team marks in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs she established in her junior and senior years in 2005 and 2006. She won the district title in the 3,200 in 2005 and a state qualifier in the same race in 2006.
She currently resides in the Butler area with her husband Dustin and children Emery, Kerrigan and Brogan.
Shirey was unable to attend the ceremony and was introduced by her parents Tina and Bryan Shirey. She was a two-time KSAC softball MVP as a catcher her junior and senior years while also playing basketball soccer and volleyball. Then in college, she helped Chipola Junior College and won a national softball title while earning All America honors.
Then after transferring to NCAA Division II Valdosta State, Shirey was a two-time All-American and Catcher of the Year in 2010. She was inducted into the Valdosta State Hall of Fame last year. She still lives in Valdosta and is employed by the Valdosta Police Department. She was also named State of Georgia Officer of the Year last year.
Moore, in his pre-induction words, didn’t take long to hammer home the importance of what sports really means.
“Sports aren’t always intended to fill 100,000-seat stadiums,” Moore said. “There’s a value that comes from sport that teaches very simple things. Goal setting hard work, dedication and commitment, all of the things are intangibles that come through sports. Whether you’re the best or not, there’s something on a daily basis you’re going to take from sports. Sometimes, we’re so focused on titles and hands raised that we lose sight is what are the young man or woman going to take out of that sport and will use for the rest of his or her life.”
And while there wasn’t a whole lot of failure on the final stat sheets of the above mentioned inductees, Moore stressed that knowing how to lose may be the most important lesson anyone can learn.
“There’s something lost when we have a large part of society that doesn’t accept losing,” Moore said. “Some of your biggest memories in sport are when you fail because that’s when you sit down and are honest with yourself. What do I have to do to get better?
“Succeeding leads us to nights like tonight, but it’s failure that helps get us there.”