The SportsTalk Shop: The “Other” Spring Battle

There’s plenty of good sports battles going on in the Lehigh and Delaware Valley areas this spring. The Phillies have looked decent so far and find themselves just behind Atlanta and Washington in the standings. There’s also some great rivalries at the collegiate and scholastic levels in many of the sports going on this spring, and many of the battles between the larger schools will get plenty of attention over the next few months.

But there’s one great rivalry that has been brewing in the RCN-TV viewing area. One that won’t garnish nearly as much attention as those mentioned above, and will not exactly capture the thousands of fans some of those big matchups will attract. In fact, the rivalry I would like to focus on involves two of the smallest schools in our coverage area. That of the battle between the Catasauqua and Pen Argyl girls’ softball teams.

Here’s a few statistical reasons why this rivalry has become so special in the Lehigh Valley:

• They played four times in 2013, with each team winning two games

• Catasauqua trumped Pen Argyl for the 2013 Colonial League Championship; the Green Knights returned the favor in the District XI Title game a few weeks later

• In as competitive a year for Colonial League softball as many people can remember, Catty & Pen Argyl are the two teams that nearly everyone agreed are the #1 and #2 teams in the league’s preseason polls (and the Lehigh Valley is LOADED with exceptionally good softball players this spring)

• In the first meeting this season, Pen Argyl jumped out to a 5-1 lead early, only to have the Rough Riders come back and win the game late

When Mother Nature allows, both teams have continued to rack up wins when playing other opponents, and seem destined to play each other at least two more times in very meaningful contests this spring.

I could continue comparing the on-the-field similarities, including how strong both teams’ pitching is, both squads’ ‘big game’ experience, the players’ ability to come up clutch hits, et al. Instead, I was struck by something not as clearly visible.

I had the opportunity over the past two weeks to meet with both teams as a part of the features we produce for our Thursday night sports show. In speaking with the players, I found that each of them exhibited a tremendous level of respect for the game, a passion to play it, and an incredibly strong knowledge and awareness of the game.

For people who haven’t regularly followed high school sports in recent years, this is far more unique than one might think. I have heard numerous, off-the-record stories in recent years regarding players who you’d have to drag to practice…or players who deal well with their teammates, and/or gruesome stories of an athlete not only making a bonehead play, but not understanding the game enough to realize what he or she did wrong. Living in an era frequently described as “me first” has lent itself to less team-focused play and not nearly as much desire, let alone passion, to practice or to work on improving skills and sports knowledge.

This was not the case when I stopped by the team’s practices. It was great to hear players genuinely looking forward to coming to practice—whether indoors or out, expressing a strong desire to encourage their teammates and working to improve the overall team. There was no talk about what an individual needed to do to enhance their opportunity for a scholarship (although there are a few at each school looking to do so). It was refreshing to hear the players’ insights about their school, their league and their sport.

I have to believe a large part of the credit for this team’s outlook—not to mention all the wins the last several seasons—has to belong to their respective coaching staffs. You won’t find a nicer group of coaches than the ones at Pen Argyl. Bill Schankel, Ron Singer, Tom Rosser, Brian Schriner, and James Trach, Jr. have always embodied that wonderful spirit of sportsmanship and good-nature that you find attending an event in Green Knight’s territory. I also enjoyed meeting Catty Skipper Bobby Thomas for the first time last week. He clearly “gets it” with a tremendous knowledge of softball and sports in general here in this area. The fact that the Rough Riders do not have enough players to field a JV team yet continue to produce topline talent the last several seasons is a direct result of Thomas’ coaching skills and the drive that his players have.

So while the Phillies will continue to battle the Nationals and Braves for the top spot in the National League East, Emmaus, Parkland, and a few other teams will have fierce battles on the baseball diamond, and local colleges will no doubt have their annual rivalry battles, let’s not forget about all the young ladies from Catasauqua and Pen Arygl. They will continue to make for some great on-field confrontations, and, more importantly, represent their school and their sport, with an amazing level of pride and professionalism.

What other sports programs do you feel deserve some extra attention? Which players have stood out and have overcome challenges this spring? Email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in for this Thursday’s live show at 6pm as we look back at the first half of the high school spring sports season and look ahead to the second half and the playoffs.