Inspired by math teacher, Kiski Area grad runs into A-K Valley Sports Hall of Fame

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Saturday, April 13, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Chances are Melissa Baustert Schaeffer wouldn’t be headed to the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame without an early nudge from then-Kiski Area track and field coach Bill Halli.

Halli is credited with starting the boys and girls track programs during a long career as a Kiski Area teacher, coach and administrator. Schaeffer recalls Halli — who died in 2017 at 80 — recruiting her to the girls squad in the early 1990s.

“I had Bill Halli for Algebra II, and he asked me to join the high school team. After that, it was history,” she said. “He was hands down one of the biggest influences in my life.”

A 1992 Kiski graduate, Schaeffer developed into a PIAA and WPIAL medalist while running for the Cavaliers and Halli. She went on to Carnegie Mellon, where she set 11 school records. Schaeffer also was a cross country standout at the high school and collegiate levels.

In recognition, Schaeffer will be part of the Class of 2024 scheduled for induction into the A-K Hall on May 4 at the Pittsburgh Shriners Center in Harmar.

“I was shocked and honored,” said Schaeffer, who teaches at Kiski Area and coaches cross country and track at Freeport. “It was not even on my radar. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more focused on my students and athletes than my own accomplishments.”

Looking back, Schaeffer contends that she wasn’t the most talented runner.

“I was a hard worker, and I trained all year round,” she said. “Back in the 1990s, that wasn’t necessarily a thing that kids did. I just had a passion for the sport. I ate, slept and breathed track and field.”

As a senior, Schaeffer placed second in the WPIAL in the 300-meter hurdles, sixth in the 100 hurdles and helped the 1,600 relay team to a fifth-place finish. She was sixth in the 300 hurdles at the PIAA championships.

“I was all about hurdling at Kiski. I just liked the challenge of the hurdles,” she said.

Schaeffer credited former Cavaliers coach George Argyros with helping her branch out to cross country. She was a three-year letter winner and a PIAA qualifier.

“That helped me get into CMU to run track and cross country,” said Schaeffer, a 2007 inductee to the Kiski Area Sports Hall of Fame. “I started out in high school as a sprinter and hurdler and became a distance runner by the end of my college career.”

At CMU, Schaeffer was a four-time NCAA Division III All-American, placing second in the indoor 800 as a sophomore, sixth in the indoor 800 as a junior and third in the outdoor 1,500 and fourth in the indoor 800 as a senior. She still holds the school record for the indoor 800 with a time of 2 minutes, 15.79 seconds.

“My first two years (in college), I hurdled and ran the 800,” she said. “When I finished second (in the NCAA) as a sophomore, that sealed the deal on the 800 and middle distances because I had talent there. While my times improved my sophomore and junior years, I started to level off. That’s when I gave the 1,500 a try, seeing there was room for improvement. My speed was my strength. I could outkick anyone. I just had to focus on endurance with my training.”

In cross country, Schaeffer received first-team All-Mid-East Region honors and qualified for the NCAA championship meet as a senior. She also helped the Tartans to the school’s first regional cross country title.

Schaeffer said then-CMU coach Dario Donatelli served as a mentor, similar to Halli and Argyros.

“He was the reason that I went to CMU,” she said. “He was such a great coach. I found out that I was really talented in the longer events.”

A mathematics major, Schaeffer was an NCAA Academic All-American in 1995 and 1996. She ranked second in her senior math class.

“I really developed the same passion for math that I did for track,” said Schaeffer, who was inducted into the CMU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2021. “I knew that I wanted to coach (coming out of college), and the best way to coach was to become a teacher.”

Schaeffer eventually returned to Kiski Area in both capacities. She has been a math and computer science teacher in the district since 2000. She was an assistant track coach and head cross country coach with the Cavaliers until deciding to start a family.

A Sarver resident, Schaeffer and her husband, Joel, have two children, Jacob and Erin.

“When we had kids, coaching took a backseat for a while. When the kids were in junior high, I got back into coaching at Freeport,” said Schaeffer, the head cross country coach and a volunteer track assistant for the Yellowjackets.

Schaeffer said she is proud to have passed along a passion for running to her children. Jacob, a 2022 Freeport graduate, was a standout on the cross country team. Erin is a senior on the track team this spring.

“She’s a hurdler like her mom and will be running track at Slippery Rock,” Schaeffer said. “She’s also planning to major in math.”

If you go

What: 53rd A-K Valley Sports Hall of Fame induction

When: 7 p.m. May 4

Where: Pittsburgh Shriners Center, Harmar

Tickets: $40

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

High school student-athlete honorees

Trib Total Media will again sponsor 10 local high school students who will be recognized for their accomplishments at the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame banquet.

The hall’s 53rd induction banquet is set for May 4 at the Pittsburgh Shriners Center in Harmar.

Those scheduled to be recognized are:

• Derek Burk, Deer Lakes, 2023 Valley News Dispatch offensive football Player of the Year

• Luke Bombalski, Highlands, 2023 Valley News Dispatch defensive football Player of the Year

• Billy Lawrence, Springdale, 2023 Valley News Dispatch male soccer Player of the Year

• Lola Abraham, Riverview, 2023 Valley News Dispatch female soccer Player of the Year

• Billy Schaeffer, Deer Lakes, 2023-24 Valley News Dispatch boys basketball Player of the Year

• Braylon Littlejohn, Butler, 2024 Cager Classic boys East MVP

• Cameron Reigard, Highlands, 2024 Cager Classic boys West MVP

• Abigail Johns, Kiski Area, 2024 Cager Classic girls East MVP

• Giona Lavorini, Knoch, 2024 PIAA swimming champion 100 breaststroke

• Julie Spinelli, St. Joseph High School in two categories, the 2023-24 Valley News Dispatch girls basketball Player of the Year and the 2024 Cager Classic girls West MVP

Also, Carsson Vioral, special needs student-athlete at Deer Lakes, will receive the Allegheny County Labor Council Courage Award.

The students will complement the eight inductees and two vintage teams as part of the event.

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