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JT memories: Long delivers ... Rader’s record

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Rod Heckman has been a member of the Times News Sports Department since September 1988. In the next few weeks, he will be sharing some of his most memorable moments for each of our 10 area schools. Today’s edition features Jim Thorpe).

By Rod Heckman


It’s a time to reflect.

With the sports world on hold, the popular trend has been to think back to memorable games and outstanding individual moments.

Our sports department has followed that course, expanding our On This Dates to stories and asking area coaches to recall their “Most Memorable” games.

Recently, I started thinking about the 30-plus years I’ve spent here and what moments have stood out to me.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing those moments.

Not all my flashbacks have come from championship games (although some have) or dramatic finishes. Actually, quite a few have been specific things that occurred during, or even after a game.

I’ll detail two events from each of our 10 area schools, using my memory to trigger the event and research on our microfilm machine to provide accuracy. My criteria includes covering or attending the event, and when I think of a school, I think of ....

Today’s memories come from Jim Thorpe.

Sept. 5, 1998

Backup QB delivers for Olympians

It was opening day for Jim Thorpe.

It was also the first game as a head coach for Mark Rosenberger.

The weather was warm and sunny, and I was standing on the Olympian sidelines.

Carson Long received the kickoff and was going on offense.

On the first play from scrimmage, Thorpe’s Joe Halenar suffered a season-ending injury to his knee that would require surgery. Halenar was a defensive back, and the team’s starting quarterback.

I remember thinking how terrible it was to start the season this way, and that the Olympians might be in trouble.

But backup quarterback Matt Long responded in a big way. The sophomore stepped in and completed 10-of-14 passes for 152 yards, including touchdown throws to Mike Wernett, Gabe Robinson and Ngoyi Mukusa, in leading his club to a 34-20 victory - the first of Rosenberger’s career.

Long ended up being named the Times News Football Player of the Week and went on to enjoy an outstanding career, passing for nearly 4,400 yards and 38 touchdowns. Halenar returned and was able to see some playing time during his senior season, and wound up being an assistant coach for the Olympians for many years. Rosenberger, meanwhile, is still Thorpe’s head coach and has recorded 145 wins and 18 winning seasons.

Feb. 20, 1993

Rader becomes JT’s leading scorer

It should have been a happy moment for Jim Thorpe’s Joe Rader.

The senior had just scored 20 points and became the school’s all-time leading boys scorer.

But the occasion was anything but joyful.

Rader passed Jeff Hydro’s mark of 1,342 points early in the fourth quarter of his team’s season finale against Mahanoy Area. But the Olympians eventually fell by an 86-67 score.

The circumstances don’t trigger “classic moment,” but I can remember the scene vividly.

All the players and coaches had cleared out of the locker room and the two of us sat there on a bench. I was covering the game, but also told to write a separate story if Rader reached the milestone.

What I recall the most was how dejected this star athlete was, and how bad I felt for him. What should have been a time of celebration was anything but that.

As uncomfortable as it was to ask him questions about this great achievement, things got worse. He reminded me that earlier in the season he reached the 1,000-point plateau during a loss and prior to the Mahanoy game, he had been sick and even spent time in the hospital.

I remember him just sitting there slouched over, mostly out of fatigue but also out of disappointment that his team had just lost.

As it turned out, Rader was later diagnosed with mononucleosis and missed his team’s district playoff game. To this day, though, he is still the Olympian boys all-time leading scorer.

It’s a moment that stands out for me because of all the elements in play, he stayed there and politely answered all my questions - even when he probably didn’t want to.