A surprise visitor stepped forward and proved his mettle, giving a local event deeper meaning and special significance on Sunday.

At Lansford's Coal Miners Heritage Festival at No. 9 Mine, John Bova was the grand winner in the coal shoveling competition. And rightfully so, because he's painfully invested in the mining occupation.

Bova, 51, Lost Creek, stunned the field of competition by shoveling an estimated half-ton of anthracite in 46.1 seconds.

Bova's incredible display of adrenaline can be attributed to feelings held inside every molecule of his being, feelings few can understand.

Bova is the only child of lost miner Louis Bova, the Sheppton worker who ventured 330 feet below ground and never returned.

The elder Bova was 54, working inside a Fellin Coal Company mine on Aug. 13, 1963, along with Henry Throne and David Fellin, when the entrance and shaft collapsed. The cave-in grabbed the attention of the world because the men were discovered alive, but trapped inside a small chamber with barely enough space to move and no room to stand.

Rescuers drilled bore holes, something never done before but now standard practice in deep mine rescues.

Two weeks later Throne and Fellin were hauled to the surface. Bova never made it out. To this day, his body remains entombed.

"Soon we'll have a state historical marker put there," said his soft-spoken son, whose life has been scarred by tragedy. He dropped out of school and, for a time, worked inside a deep mine where "I felt close to my dad," he said.

Bova's presence went undetected by hundreds attending the festival. However, event organizer Dale Freudenberger was aware Bova planned to be on hand.

"We actually knew he was coming," Freudenberger said.

Bova and wife Bonnie live near the Schuykill County village of William Penn.

His identity was revealed to spectators after he won the spirited competition and accepted an engraved plaque.

Second place went to Dave Calliff, Minersville, and third to Rob Coombe, Tamaqua.

The coal shoveling competition was just one of many events and offerings that drew strong attendance despite heavy, muggy air and an iffy weather forecast.

Opened in 1855, No. 9 Coal Mine, 9 Dock St., was the world's oldest continuously operated mine.

It closed in 1972, but reopened as a heritage tourism attraction in 2002. Today visitors ride safely by train 1,600 feet into the mountainside to see and experience what it was like to work underground.