Ford City grad Lizzie Suwala-Sheaffer ‘honored’ to take spot in A-K Valley HOF

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Saturday, May 7, 2022 | 6:04 PM


Lizzie Suwala-Sheaffer could hit a shot from anywhere on the basketball court.

With a layup, a mid-range jumper or a 3-pointer, the Ford City and Clarion University graduate often frustrated opposing defenses while energizing her teammates, coaches and fans of the teams she represented.

Suwala-Sheaffer probably is best known for owning the record for the most points in the history of girls basketball in the Alle-Kiski Valley — 2,266 — while leading her Sabers teams to four WPIAL playoff appearances and numerous victories during her memorable varsity run from 2002-05.

Her long list of accomplishments and contributions to basketball will be recognized and celebrated alongside nine others — Chris Como, Jeff Cortileso, Harry ‘Shorty’ Crytzer, Robert Foster, Dianne Haney, Rich Kriston, Terry Preece, Frank Phelps and Bobby White — at the 51st A-K Valley Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet May 21 at the New Kensington Quality Inn.

“I am just absolutely honored,” Suwala-Sheaffer said from her home in Carlisle.

“I’ve always just considered myself to be a small-town girl who worked hard to do her best and make her parents proud. I never saw something like this in my younger years. That sure feels like a different time than right now. But it’s been great to be able to look back and remember all of the fun times with my teammates and the great memories we made.

“I am just so thankful for basketball. Growing up, it challenged me, motivated me and it ultimately shaped me into the person I am today.”

Suwala-Sheaffer said she is excited to share the hall of fame experience with a large group of friends and family who will attend the banquet.

“That is what I am looking forward to the most,” she said. “Looking back in my album from high school, one of the pictures that sticks with me is one taken on senior night with my family and friends, my fan section in the bleachers. When I think of them coming to the banquet, my thoughts quickly go back to moments like that. They all supported me through everything, the good and not so good, and it is special to have them there with me.”

Early in her basketball experience, Suwala-Sheaffer followed the exploits of Michael Jordan.

“I was a ’90s kid, and watching him, you were struck by his will to win by any way, shape, or form. That’s what I loved about him the most. He would take the game in his hands if he had to in order to get that win. That same will to win was just innate in me.”

Suwala-Sheaffer also expressed an affinity for Ford City and Saint Vincent College basketball great and cousin Kelly Morda, who held the previous A-K Valley girls scoring record — 2,084 points — in a four-year high school tenure that ended with her 1998 graduation.

“I idolized her and looked up to her,” Suwala-Sheaffer said. “She was such an influence for me growing up, for sure.”

The record-breaking points for Suwala-Sheaffer came on a 3-pointer early in the third quarter of a game against East Allegheny on Dec. 16, 2004. Morda, an assistant coach for Ford City at the time, had a front-row seat to history.

“I always said that records are made to be broken, and she was determined to do so,” Morda said.

“There was a lot of hard work on her part, because it is not easy to get that many points. From when she was a little girl all the way through junior high to high school when I coached her, she just had the biggest drive to succeed. She was always focused and willing to put in the hours to get that positive outcome.”

A four-year letterwinner and two-year captain, Suwala-Sheaffer helped guide Ford City to the WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinals and PIAA round of 16 as a freshman in 2002. The Sabers also made the WPIAL playoffs in her three other seasons.

She earned Valley News Dispatch Player of the Year honors in 2002, ’04 and ’05. She led the WPIAL in scoring in 2004 at 29.3 points per game.

Other all-star honors and awards followed. Included in that was the 2004 Pat Blayden “Spirit of Sport Award,” which honored the longtime contributor to Chatham College athletics who worked toward achieving greater awareness and recognition of women in athletics.

The award recognized academic and athletic achievement, as well as qualities such as competitive spirit, sportsmanship and community involvement.

“Out of every award I’ve earned in high school, I think that was the one that stuck out to me the most because that award not only represented the success I found in basketball but also the success I found in the classroom and the community,” she said. “It was a very special award, and I remember to this day how I felt when I received it.”

Suwala-Sheaffer was a hot commodity to college coaches, and she signed with IUP.

A coaching change after one season there prompted her to transfer to Clarion, where eventually she earned first-team All-PSAC West honors as a senior in 2010 and also ranked nationally in free-throw and 3-point shooting. She finished her collegiate career with 1,017 points.

Clarion also is where she met her future husband, Brett Sheaffer, a graduate assistant at the time for the Golden Eagles men’s basketball team.

Brett is the current girls basketball coach at Boiling Springs High School in Cumberland County.

Suwala-Sheaffer, a former special education teacher for seven years and also a girls varsity assistant at Boiling Springs for three years, currently is a stay-at-home mom, taking care of Nathan, 4, and Emerson, 1.

Coaching, she said, gave her a new perspective on the sport.

“When I called my coaches to invite them to the hall of fame banquet, I think the first thing I said to them was, ‘I’m sorry,’ ’’ Suwala-Sheaffer said.

“I was pretty competitive and sometimes was a little hard-headed. They showed a lot of patience with me at different times. In the trenches, we had our challenges with each other. But I have nothing but good things to say about all of them.”

A-K Valley Sports Hall of Fame

51st induction banquet

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, May 21

Where: Quality Inn, New Kensington

Tickets: $30; final day to purchase tickets: May 11

Contact: Larry Lutz 724-822-3695; Bill Heasley 724-882-3079; Fred Soilis 412-736-1809

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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