Log In

Reset Password

Panther Valley, Marian track teams don’t let lack of all-weather surfaces deter them

They are rare sights, and often unlikely occurrences.

But they are circumstances and situations that both the Panther Valley and Marian track and field teams have had to navigate.

Both schools operate with cinder tracks at their facilities, a rarity in an era of all-weather-everything.

Unforgiving weather conditions have often forced changes to meet locations for each throughout the year, and this spring has been no different. The two programs each had their early season schedules turned upside down, and had their first three competitions squeezed into a short period of time.

The teams competed in the Tamaqua Invitational on April 6, both returned to Tamaqua for a league meet the following day, and each had another meet that Tuesday.

“It was strange because it seemed like such a long practice season before our first meet (four weeks), and then we had three of them in a four-day span,” said Panther Valley head coach Paul McArdle.

“To my knowledge, that’s the first time there’s been a Sunday meet in the Schuylkill League ever, or in a long time,” added Marian head coach Justin Huegel.

Finding ways to make it work is nothing new for either school. Marian has not had a home meet since 2015, and Panther Valley has not hosted one since 2021.

Both programs have utilized Jim Thorpe and Tamaqua for home meets in recent years.

Creativity in practices and scheduling competitions has been vital for each school.

Panther Valley was initially set to host Weatherly - which does not have its own track -- today, but with rain in the forecast the meet was moved up two days and took place at Minersville, though it was technically considered a home meet for PV. The date was also open because Panther Valley’s original opponent, Shenandoah Valley - another school with a cinder track - postponed its meet.

“We intended on hosting two meets at home this year, one against Nativity and one against Weatherly,” said McArdle. “Unfortunately, due to the weather that we had this year, neither of those happened and we ended up combining them into other meets.

“Each team in the league gets four home meets a year, and the previous two years we moved all of them to away locations. This year, we were hoping to do two at home, but we’ll end up doing all our meets away again.”

Marian hoped to host a meet toward the end of last season, but weather forced a move to Tamaqua.

“We were fortunate enough that last year we got the track resurfaced just briefly to be able to have a little bit better practice area as well as be able to, in the future, if we get everything squared away host a home meet,” said Huegel. “But as of right now, we are at the point where unless we have perfect weather, we’re not going to be able to do that for a little bit yet.

“In the past couple of years, we’ve tried to schedule all of our home meets as quad meets with either Nativity, Weatherly or Panther Valley - or whomever we could get a quad meet with - to be able to have those meets.”

The work required to maintain such facilities is an ongoing and evolving process.

“With an all-weather track, the lanes, exchange, zones, hurdle markers, etc. are all painted on there so they are ready to go 365 days a year,” said McArdle. “For us, the lines have to be redone regularly, and when there is a heavy rain, they disappear all together in some cases and they have to be done again from scratch.

“Our maintenance staff did an amazing job this year of getting the track ready. It was the best I saw in at least 10 years, but then they’re still at the mercy of the weather.”

And if or when their facilities might not be available, and meets are postponed, they hit the road and do what they need to do to prepare.

“We were fortunate enough that on March 26, we were able to schedule a scrimmage against ourselves at Tamaqua,” Huegel said of the original day they were supposed to compete against Nativity. “We were able to just run like an intrasquad thing to make sure that we were giving the kids an opportunity to run and compete because they were chomping at the bit to get out there.”

Navigating the time off was a crucial part of the early-season development for each team this spring, both on and off the track.

“We were able to schedule a couple days off for everybody to give them that opportunity, as well as making sure that everything we do as far as keeping the team together and also mentally fresh when you have to compete that much in a couple days,” said Huegel. “The physical aspect is one thing but the mental thing becomes another, so giving them that opportunity to be mentally fresh by giving them a couple days off and then altering our training a little bit - being hallway heroes when we need to if we can’t get outside - or just take an easy day to blow off some steam, all those things were integral in making sure that we were doing what we needed to do.”

Both coaches were keen on maintaining a balance between fun and healthy competition when the weather and schedule change.

“We have to get creative to keep them interested, especially when we go inside,” said McArdle. “You’re just so limited on what you could do in a gym for track. One day we had double-elimination sprint tournaments in groups of eight just to make it a little more fun.”

Going from a cinder track to all-weather surface also affects throwing, running and jumping events differently, going from unstable to more stable surfaces.

During Huegel’s tenure - which began as head coach in 2018 after time as an assistant from 2016-17 - the Marian girls have won two Schuylkill League division titles while the boys have won one, and both have been in contention in years they haven’t won.

“Every year, we’ve been either in the first or second position (in the division). We have also been able to earn state medals and a lot of district medals over the past couple of years,” said Huegel. “And it’s been a testament to the kids and their attitude of buying it that, no matter what and where we practice, it’s going to be able to benefit them in some way, shape or form and understanding that when we do get the opportunity to, we’re not taking it for granted.

“So anytime we have a scheduled practice where we get to be at an all-weather surface, they’re coming and making sure that they are at the point where they feel as if, OK, this is a privilege versus a right. And that’s been a huge help to our success and our attitude.”

A year ago, Panther Valley sent Brad Jones to states in the javelin. The year before, Izabella Bochicchio represented the Panthers in the shot put, while Rhianne Markovchick qualified for states in the 100 hurdles for Weatherly.

“I would like to say that, since I’ve been the head coach, the PV administration and the board have been very receptive to our needs, and have been making an effort to improve our facilities,” said McArdle. “This year we requested new throwing circles, and they poured two new concrete pads in the fall so they were ready to go for the spring. That alone has been a huge difference for the throwers. And like I said, the maintenance crew has done a great job trying to get the track in the best possible shape for us.”

No matter the circumstances or the schedule, each school has always done its best to make the most of the situation.


BOMBER NO-HITTERS ... No-hitters are a rare occurrence. Schools can go years - if not decades - without having one of their pitchers throw a no-hitter. So the odds of one high school having two pitchers throw no-hitters on the same day is something that defies the odds. But that’s exactly what Palmerton pitchers accomplished this past Monday, as baseball standout Cam Pengelly and softball ace Carly Gaffney both tossed no-hitters against Pen Argyl. Pengelly went seven innings, allowing one walk and striking out 11 in the Bombers’ 8-1 win. Meanwhile, Gaffney worked five innings, walking three and striking out nine in the Lady Bombers’ 14-0 mercy-rule victory.


SOFTBALL SHUTOUTS ... Northwestern pitcher Emma Freeman tossed back-to-back shutouts last week, blanking both Palisades and Southern Lehigh in the span of four days. The Tigers are one of six area softball teams that have had pitchers throw shutouts this season. Through Tuesday’s games, Palmerton is the area leader as ace Gaffney and the Bombers have recorded four shutouts in eight games. Northwestern and Freeman have three, Marian and senior hurler Morgan Kelly have two, and Jim Thorpe, Lehighton and Pleasant Valley have all shut out one opponent.


SCHOOL RECORDS ... Lehighton’s Elijah Pagotto broke a 27-year-old school record on Tuesday during the Indians’ track meet at Pottsville. Pagotto ran a 10:29.68 in the 3200 to top the old mark of 10:30.0 set by Leroy Gaston in 1997. Northern Lehigh’s Katelynn Barthold and Evelina Mayak also put their names in their school’s record book during a Colonial League track meet last week against Northwestern and Catasauqua. Barthold won in the 800 meters with a time of 2:21.20, and in the process eclipsed the previous Bulldog school record of 2:21.55 set by Reagan Pender in 2019. Mayak crossed the line in 15.6 in the 100 hurdles, tying the school record set by Alyson Serafin in 2007. Barthold’s mark didn’t last long as one week later against Southern Lehigh and Pen Argyl, she re-set the record by posting a time of 2:21.09.


COLT CHAMPION ... Marian’s Alex Porambo took home the gold in the 800-meter run at the 35th Annual Pan-Ram Invitational at Central Dauphin High School this past Saturday. Porambo ran the event in 2:02.12. The senior edged Daniel Naylor of Red Lion by .41.


COMEBACK KIDS ... Tamaqua’s baseball team is never out of a game, no matter the score. The Blue Raiders, coached by Jeff Reading, were recently involved in back-to-back walk-off games - one in Tamaqua’s favor and one that went against the Raiders - that featured serious comebacks. On Monday at Blue Mountain, the Raiders trailed 6-1 after four innings but rallied with five unanswered runs to force extra innings. After Tamaqua took a lead in the top of the 10th, the Eagles came up with a two-run hit with two outs to win the game. A day after that loss, Reading’s club hosted Pottsville and trailed 6-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth. The Raiders rallied for four runs in the sixth to close the gap and then won the contest in the seventh. The winning hit was a two-run double by Cooper Ansbach with two outs.


Panther Valley track team members practice on their home track. The Panthers and Marian are two of just a few remaining schools in District 11 who still run on cinder tracks and don't have all-weather surfaces. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS