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MC Sports Hall of Fame inducts five new members

Greg Williams

May 6, 2024

BURNHAM — Sports legends and die-hard Mifflin County sports fans gathered at Birch Hill Event Center in Burnham on Saturday to savor the past, as the Mifflin County Sports Hall of Fame honored five individuals and an outstanding team at its 2024 induction ceremonies.

This year, the distinguished organization paid tribute to Penn Highlands wrestling state champion in the late Rod Tate; Chief Logan and University of Delaware basketball great Brad Heckert; Lewistown, Mifflin County and Juniata girls basketball coach Kevin Kodish; Lewistown High School and Rhode Island basketball and football standout in the late Justin Henry; and Indian Valley and Penn State javelin thrower Laura Loht.

Also honored was the 1971 undefeated Penn Highlands wrestling team, as the Cougars were this year’s Hall of Fame team inductee.

It was a night of celebration full of tears, laughter and celebration as each presenter and award winner offered remarks to the audience.

Leading off the night’s festivities was guest speaker John Fritz, a former NCAA champion and legendary head wrestling coach at Penn State. Fritz, who wrestled in high school for the Hurricanes of Bethlehem Liberty, wrestled honoree Rodney Tate for the state title.

After high school, Fritz wrestled for Penn State and finished with two third-place finishes at the NCAA Championships at 126 pounds in 1973 and 1974. He would later take the gold medal during his senior year.

Fritz then became an assistant at his alma mater before becoming the head coach of the Nittany Lions in 1993.

Brad Heckert

Leading off the night was Brad Heckert. Heckert’s presenter on the evening was older brother, Brian. It was an emotional moment as Brian recalled the start of what would be a distinguished career for his little brother.

“As he moved on and went to junior high, he played as a seventh grader. There was only one team with seventh, eighth and ninth graders,” said Brian Heckert. “In his ninth-grade year Coach (Gene) Brown didn’t think it would advance his career by staying in junior high. So, he said we were going to move him up. Coach would send him up to varsity which was in my senior year. My dad and coach Brown were so concerned about me. They told me they were going to move him up and it would take time from me.

“I said absolutely,” he added. “I don’t care because he is my hero. Because at the end of the day big brother looked up to little brother.”

Heckert, who was a 1983 graduate of Chief Logan High School, finished his distinguished career as the all-time leading basketball scorer for the Mingoes.

Heckert garnered several boys basketball individual awards while leading the Mingoes to Mountain League and District 6 Championships, and Pennsylvania Elite Eight and Final Four appearances.

Heckert was also a three-time winner of the Harry Rothrock-Dick Webber Award as Mifflin County’s outstanding basketball player.

He continued his basketball career at Division I University of Delaware, earning four letters. He was the team captain and MVP in 1987.

Heckert was humbled by the award.

“I want to thank the Mifflin County Hall of Fame; it’s much overdue (the creation of the hall of fame ). When I found it was happening three or four years ago, I was really excited because there is a rich tradition of sports in Mifflin County. Just look at the turnout here,” said Brad Heckert,. “Thank you to the hall, to the nominating committee that nominated me and to the people who voted for me. It’s been 40-plus years since I ran up and down the court or took a position on the baseball diamond. To still be remembered for what you did that long ago is humbling.”

Justin Henry

Stepping up to the podium next was former Lewistown basketball standout and Richmond Spider Joe Stewart to present the award for the late Justin Henry. Accepting for Justin Henry and his family was family friend Aaron Gingrich.

“I think we can all agree that full scholarship Division l athletes in Mifflin County are rare. But for one of our own to play two Division l sports in one year makes his story truly unique,” said Gingrich.

Henry was a 1995 graduate of Lewistown Area High School.

He was a three-sport athlete and a record setter in both football and basketball. He was also a member of the Panther baseball team.

As a quarterback, he completed 300 passes for more than 4,100 yards and 37 touchdowns.

He was the all-time leading scorer in Lewistown basketball history at the time of his graduation with 1,387 points. His many high school honors included his selection as the 1995 runner-up for the Alex Ufema Award, which is the presented to the county’s most outstanding football player.

After graduation, Henry enrolled at the University of Rhode Island. He became a three-time varsity letterwinner.

While there, Henry was the 2000 recipient of the prestigious Albert LeBoeuf Award given annually to Rhode Island’s best senior male athlete.

After his tragic death in 2004, the Rhode Island football program established the Justin Henry Award, given annually in recognition of the recipient’s achievements on the field and academically.

Kevin Kodish

Mifflin County basketball coaching legend Kevin Kodish, who will be always remembered for his magical state champion Panther teams of 1997 and 1998, was the winningest coach in Mifflin County history.

Presenting his award for his lifetime of achievements was former player Cher (Rider) Harpster.

Kodish finished with eight District 6 championships, 11 league titles and 27 consecutive winning seasons among his other coaching achievements. Kodish coached the first two seasons at Mifflin County High School after the merger of both Indian Valley and Lewistown before ultimately finishing his career at Juniata High School.

“I’d like to thank the members of the sports hall of fame for bestowing this honor on me. It’s truly a salute to all the young ladies who played for me. I never scored a point in my 34 years of coaching,” Kodish said. “My basketball journey was a long one. I had a love for the game from my earliest memory.”

Kodish’s overall coaching record was an impressive 693-224. As a high school athlete, Kodish lettered in cross country, basketball and track and field for the Panthers. He medaled at the 1978 PIAA Track and Field Championships as part of Lewistown’s 3,200 relay team which finished fifth. He continued his track career for one season at Bloomsburg University earning a varsity letter.

Laura Loht

One of the youngest members to enter the Hall of Fame, was Laura Loht.

Loht’s high school coach Scott Gantz was on hand to present his former javelin thrower her award.

Loht graduated from Indian Valley High School in 2010.

“It’s truly an honor to be here and be inducted in the Mifflin County Sports Hall of Fame. Thank you to the selection committee and all the voting members for this recognition,” said Loht. “This moment is a tribute and a true celebration to the countless individuals who inspired me throughout my career.”

Loht’s achievements in the javelin at Indian Valley High School included being a three-time District 6 and two-time PIAA champion.

After her time as a Warrior, Loht took her skills to Penn State University where she captured a prestigious Penn Relays title in 2010. As a team captain at Penn State, Laura helped the Nittany Lions capture one indoor and two outdoor Big Ten Conference crowns.

Rodney Tate

Rounding out the individual awards on the night was the presentation for the late Penn Highlands state champion Rodney Tate.

Teammate and friend John Sipe was on hand to present the honor to Rodney’s brother Mike Tate.

“I’d like to congratulate all the inductees tonight. I’ve been asked to present the award tonight by Mike Tate, Rod’s brother. This means more than you know to be able to do this,” said Sipe. “Rod Tate was the first PIAA wrestling champion. I met Rod in seventh grade, and we quickly became friends and ultimately became best friends. I spent a lot of time with the guy, and I can attest that wrestling was his magic and his passion. He was rough, tough, mean, quick and strong. I can attest to that because I was close to his weight class, and I had to wrestle him every night for the next five years.”

Tate was a 1971 graduate of Penn Highlands High School. Fifty-three years ago in March, Rodney Tate became the first PIAA wrestling champion from Mifflin County.

Mike Tate was very emotional accepting the award as he quickly thanked the committee.

Tate’s opponent in the 127-pound final was undefeated John Fritz, of Bethlehem Liberty. Fritz, who was the was the nation’s top high school recruit, became an NCAA champion at Penn State and later coached the Nittany Lions. Fritz was no match for Tate. Tate ended his senior year with a 20-0-1 record.

Tate was recognized by his coaches and teammates as the leader of an undefeated 1970-71 Penn Highlands team that won the Central Wrestling Conference. Sadly, Tate died in a 1977 fire at age 23. Today, the award given annually recognizing the best wrestler in Mifflin County is named after him.

1970-71 Penn Highlands Wrestling Team

The Penn Highlands High School Wrestling Team took the stage to be honored as the 2024 team award winner.

Led by individual inductee Rodney Tate, the 1970-71 Penn Highlands Cougars wrestling went a perfect 12-0 en route to the Central Wrestling Conference championship. It remains the only undefeated wrestling season in county history.

The shine on the Mifflin County Sports Hall of Fame continues to add to its glow as the Class of 2024 inductees are officially residents of the hallowed shrine of the best-of-the best in local sports.

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