Sep 20, 2021
BURNHAM — The Mifflin County Sports Hall of Fame held its inaugural induction ceremony on Sunday evening, honoring six individuals and two teams for their inclusion in the hall’s Class of 2021 at Birch Hill.
The inaugural class included former New York Jets linebacker Ralph Baker, world-renowned racquetball player Cindy Baxter, Penn State and pro football player Dave Bradley, legendary Penn State and local sports broadcaster Fran Fisher, pro baseball player and scout Tim Thompson and the head of the Lewistown football program in its golden years, coach Alex Ufema.
Bradley, Fisher and Ufema were all inducted posthumously.
In the team category, the 1996-97 and 1997-98 PIAA Class 3A state champion Lewistown girls basketball teams led by legendary coach Kevin Kodish were the first teams to be inducted into the Mifflin County Sports Hall of Fame.
Longtime Mifflin County and Indian Valley basketball coach Roger Herto served as the emcee of the event while the radio voice of Penn State football and men’s basketball, Steve Jones, was the guest speaker for the inaugural class.
The night’s inductees were each honored by a video detailing their accomplishments and a guest speaker to introduce them to accept the award. The speakers were inducted alphabetically.
The Hall of Fame’s creation was more than three decades in the making, according to president Jon Zimmerman.
“We’ve been talking about the Hall of Fame for 34 years,” Zimmerman said. “It’s awkward not to get the dozens of people that should be in in the first class, but we will get to all of those people. I’ve been around the sports scene in Mifflin County a long time and I’m thrilled it’s finally happened.”
Jones opened his speech poking fun at the officials in the Penn State football game the night before, asking the crowd how many of them can count to four, referencing a stretch in which Penn State was only allowed three downs.
Jones spoke highly of the late Fran Fisher — who preceded Jones as the football play-by-play man — Baker and Bradley’s history at Penn State. He recalled his favorite memories of Fisher and the lessons he taught him, as well as the privilege of getting to speak at the inaugural ceremony.
“As the person who actually sits in the chair right now, I understand all the traffic that goes with that,” Jones said. “He was a master of the one-liner and the quickest wit I ever heard in my life was Fran Fisher. He was a great play-by-play announcer and he taught me that passion is important for the job and how important it is to connect with people. Nobody connected with people like Fran did. He put the excitement into every single game he broadcast, and he is forever the voice of the Nittany Lions, no matter who is sitting in that chair.”
Baker touched on some of his favorite memories with the New York Jets as well as his time at Penn State and in the Lewistown High School football program. He also detailed his decision to sign with the New York Jets after being drafted by both the Jets and Steelers in the AFL and NFL drafts in 1964.
“It is an honor to be selected to the hall of fame,” Baker said. “It’s truly an honor to be here.”
Baxter, a 1972 graduate of Penn Highlands was a stellar racquetball player who picked up the sport at 21 years old. Baxter rose to extreme heights and was instrumental in building a reputation for success with the United States national racquetball team in the 1980s as a standout athlete in international competition.
Baxter won three consecutive gold medals in the International Racquetball Federation World Games, won 16 national titles and was twice recognized by the United States Olympic Committee as the Sportswoman of the Year.
Baxter spoke of competing against men to grow in the sport and getting the opportunity to promote the game internationally as the highlights of her playing career.
“To me, all the victories, all the wins and the medals — that was OK,” Baxter said. “But the opportunities in my travels to help promote the sports in other countries when the sport was just becoming popular in world competitions. In many instances in world competition, I was selected as a team captain and I had the privilege to carry the United States flag at the opening and closing ceremonies. That’s priceless.”
In the team category, the 1996-97 and 1997-98 Lewistown girls basketball teams were inducted after winning back-to-back state championships. Coach Kevin Kodish led the Panthers to a combined record of 63-1 in two seasons with the ’97 team defeating North Schuykill 53-45 for the championship. The ’98 team defeated Berwick 71-57 to win its second title.
“I want to thank the Mifflin County Sports Hall of Fame for honoring our state championship teams,” Kodish said. “It’s a tremendous honor. The teams were magical full of hard work and thrilling games and most of all fun. The runs to the state championships were pressure-filled for the girls but their dedication to the fundamentals of the game, their strong desire for excellence and their unwavering commitment to each other, school and community, carried them to the top of the mountain for two consecutive years.”
Tim Thompson was unable to attend the ceremony and multiple presenters spoke on behalf of Fisher, Thompson, Bradley and Ufema.
More on the 2021 Mifflin County Sports Hall of Fame class will be available in upcoming editions.