Olympic hopeful Jordan Geist of Knoch headlines WPIAL Hall of Fame class

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Friday, May 31, 2024 | 10:03 PM


Jordan Geist, who smashed records as a high school thrower for Knoch’s track team, caught a mid-week flight home from Europe so he could be inducted Friday night into the WPIAL Hall of Fame.

He was overseas competing in Germany and the Czech Republic and hopes to fly back across the Atlantic later this summer for the Olympics in Paris.

“I’m definitely optimistic,” said Geist, who’ll compete June 21-30 at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. “I’m coming off some really good meets over in Europe against some really strong competitors.”

A six-time PIAA gold medalist and two-time NCAA champion, Geist was one of 12 individuals and two championship teams recognized by the WPIAL during an induction banquet at the DoubleTree in Green Tree.

Joining Geist as athletes in the 2024 class were Clairton’s Tyler Boyd (football, basketball, baseball), Mt. Lebanon’s Dr. Robert Schilken (football), Yough’s Nicole Sleith Schaffer (softball) and Connellsville’s Beth Swink (basketball, softball).

The class also featured three coaches, Aliquippa’s Mike Zmijanac (football, basketball), Washington’s Ron Faust (basketball) and Oakland Catholic’s George Rudolph (cross country, track), along with game official Jim Chacko, league contributor Bob Trautwine and heritage honoree Simmie Hill of Midland basketball fame, who was inducted posthumously.

The two championship teams selected were the 1989 Peters Township boys soccer team and the 2011-12 Canon-McMillan wrestling team.

Seneca Valley athletic director Heather Lewis, who inspired others with her battle against breast cancer, received the WPIAL Courage Award.

“The greatest gift that sport gives all of us is having teammates,” Lewis said. “I learned through my journey that there will be times in life when you need to be a teammate and there will be times when you need a teammate. In that particular time of my life, I relied on a lot of teammates.”

The event’s emcee was broadcaster Chris Shovlin, the longtime play-by-play announcer for Robert Morris athletics. The names of the inductees are enshrined at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum inside the Heinz History Center.

Schaffer, who pitched Yough to a WPIAL title in 2011, couldn’t attend Friday’s banquet but had a good excuse. The former Robert Morris star is an assistant coach for Duke’s softball team, and the Blue Devils played Friday in the Women’s College World Series.

Boyd, an NFL wide receiver who won WPIAL and PIAA football titles at Clairton, recently signed with the Tennessee Titans. He described his first time through free agency as a “whirlwind.”

“It was one of those times in life where you don’t know what to expect,” he said. “You’ve just got to sit there, be patient and figure out what your next move is. My family and my friends helped me with that process.”

Zmijanac, who coached Aliquippa to state titles in both football and basketball, said the championship desire behind the Quips’ success was passed down from one generation to the next.

“One time a college coach came in the early 2000s and said, ‘Gee, you’re going through a wonderful cycle of players here. How long has it been?’” Zmijanac recalled. “I said, ‘About 80 years.’ Go and look at the records in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Aliquippa was winning WPIAL championships back then.”

Trautwine, a 1961 Jeannette graduate and a former WPIAL athlete, coach and athletic director, has served 47 years as a member of the WPIAL track and field steering committee. He said personnel had become the hardest part of the athletic director job.

“It’s hard to keep coaches very long,” Trautwine said. “Parents think that there’s a bunch of people waiting in line to coach. They’re not out there, believe me. So, sometimes, as parents you have to be satisfied with who you have because there might not be anybody else.”

Geist, during his recent trip to Europe, twice established a new personal-best in the shot put, a distance that now stands at 72 feet, 5 inches. The former Arizona star ranks among the top 10 in the world, but that doesn’t guarantee him a spot at the Olympics.

Three Americans are ranked ahead of him in shot this season, and only three will qualify. Shot put is Geist’s strongest event, but he also will try to qualify in the hammer throw.

“All I can do is compete,” Geist said. “I just came off a PR in Europe, so I’ll just keep trying to build off of that over these next couple of weeks. It’ll be the same with the hammer. I’ll try to do whatever I can and hope I can capitalize on a couple of people maybe not throwing as far, who made the team before.”

Geist had a contingent of family and friends at the banquet including his wife, Sam Noennig, who was an NCAA national champion shot putter at Arizona State. Geist planned to return to Arizona on Sunday to spend a week training with his personal coach before traveling to Oregon.

“I’ve got a couple more weeks to fine-tune some things,” Geist said. “The technique is where we want it, so it’s just timing.”

Here’s a look at the 2024 WPIAL Hall of Fame class:

Tyler Boyd (athlete): Boyd helped Clairton to a 63-1 record with four WPIAL and four PIAA football championships from 2009-12. He held the WPIAL record for touchdowns (117) and ranked fifth in WPIAL history in rushing yards (5,755) after graduation. He ran for 2,584 yards and had 51 total touchdowns as a senior when he was selected to play in the 2013 U.S. Army All-American Bowl and earned Big 33 Classic MVP honors after scoring five touchdowns. Boyd also lettered in basketball and baseball at Clairton. He was a three-time All-ACC selection at Pitt and set school records for receptions (254) and receiving yards (3,361). He was drafted in the second round (55th overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2016 and just finished his eighth season with the team.

Jim Chacko (official): Chacko was a WPIAL official for football, basketball and baseball. He umpired pro baseball in the Gulf Coast League and MLB spring training and officiated ABC’s “Superstars” show. As an athlete at Charleroi, he lettered in baseball, basketball, football and track and field and won a WPIAL basketball title as a junior. He was all-state and All-America first team as a senior in 1959 and scored 1,188 career points. Chacko played baseball collegiately at Long Beach State. He also has been inducted into the Washington-Greene County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame and the Mon Valley Sports Writers Hall of Fame.

Ron Faust (coach): Faust finished his 36-year career with a record of 653-241 over two stints coaching boys basketball at his alma mater, Washington. His teams won 22 section championships, four WPIAL titles and two PIAA titles. The Little Prexies had 52 consecutive wins from 1984-85. He was the state’s Class 2A Coach of the Year in 1984. Faust graduated from Cal (Pa.) in 1973 and was a four-year letterwinner in baseball. He was inducted into the Washington-Greene County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.

Jordan Geist (athlete): Geist captured six WPIAL and six PIAA gold medals, completing three-peats in shot put and discus. He owns WPIAL championship meet records in shot put (73 feet, 10.75 inches) and discus (208-7) and PIAA championship meet standards in shot put (74-3.5) and discus (207-6). He won a national title at the 2017 New Balance Outdoor Championships in the hammer throw with a toss of 238-0. Geist also won the shot put at the 2017 Pan American Under-20 Championships with a record toss of 72-3. He was the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year in track and field for 2017. At Arizona, he earned 11 All-America honors and swept the NCAA shot put titles in 2023 for outdoor and indoor track and field.

Simmie Hill (heritage): Hill starred for the 1964-65 Midland boys basketball team, which won the WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A titles and was inducted into the WPIAL Hall of Fame in 2009. He was on the Parade All-America first team in 1965 after scoring 652 points, including a record 38 points in the WPIAL championship game against Aliquippa and 31 points in the PIAA championship game versus Steelton-Highspire. He scored 1,327 points over his career before playing collegiately at Wichita State, Cameron Junior College and West Texas A&M and was an All-American at Cameron and West Texas A&M. Hill was picked in the second round (16th overall) of the 1969 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls and played four seasons in the ABA. He has been inducted into the Beaver County Sports (1986), West Texas A&M Athletics (1988), Midland Sports (2010), Cameron Athletics (2011) and the Pittsburgh Basketball Club (2018) halls of fame.

Heather Lewis (courage): Lewis, who has been the Seneca Valley athletic director since 2012, battled breast cancer for 10 months from 2021-22. The school’s first female AD was named 2022 PSADA Region IV Athletic Director of the Year. She was elected to the WPIAL board of directors prior to the 2019-20 school year. She also spent time as an associate athletic director and the head coach of the field hockey and women’s lacrosse programs at Bucknell and worked with the U.S. Olympic Committee ahead of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. The Maryland grad earned All-Region honors for the field hockey and women’s lacrosse teams, and won an NCAA title in lacrosse.

George Rudolph (coach): Rudolph coached for 50 seasons at Oakland Catholic and Sacred Heart, starting the cross country and track and field teams in the fall of 1973. He led his teams to 15 conference titles, three WPIAL individual cross country gold medals, 16 WPIAL individual track and field titles and a pair of WPIAL cross country team championships (2016, 2017). He earned the Tri-State Track & Field Coaches’ Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. Rudolph also was the athletic director at Sacred Heart and Oakland Catholic, and the president of the Pittsburgh Softball Association for Umpires.

Robert Schilken (athlete): Schilken was a three-year starter for Mt. Lebanon football, helping lead the team to WPIAL Class 4A championships in 1980 and 1981. He earned Parade All-America, Associated Press all-state first team and United Press International all-state second team honors in 1981. He played at Pitt from 1982-85, winning three letters while competing in the 1983 Cotton Bowl and 1984 Fiesta Bowl. He now works as a team physician for the Pittsburgh Pirates and surgeon with Allegheny Orthopedic Associates.

Nicole Sleith Schaffer (athlete): She posted a 62-10 record with 989 strikeouts, 0.57 earned-run average and a .463 batting average and tossed 13 no-hitters over her career with Yough softball. She helped Yough win the 2011 WPIAL Class 3A title, the school’s first in any sport, and became the second student and first female student-athlete to have a uniform jersey retired at Yough. The three-time all-state selection was the Tribune-Review Player of the Year in 2011. At Robert Morris, she won three NEC Pitcher of the Year awards, three NFCA All-Region nods and was the 2012 NEC Rookie of the Year and was inducted into the RMU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2022. She works as the director of player development for Duke’s softball team.

Beth Swink (athlete): Swink was a three-sport letterwinner (basketball, softball, cross country) at Connellsville, garnering all-section accolades in basketball and softball. She scored 1,500 career points for the basketball team and helped lead it to the PIAA playoffs. In softball, she compiled 27 victories, 324 strikeouts and 11 shutouts in two seasons. She played basketball at St. Francis (Pa.), accumulating 2,127 points and 957 rebounds while making four straight NCAA Tournaments and was named to the NEC 25th Anniversary Team in 2006. Swink played professional basketball in Sweden for two seasons and was inducted into the NEC Hall of Fame in 2011, SFU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015 and Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.

Bob Trautwine (contributor): A longtime member of the cross country and track and field steering committee, Trautwine compiled a 110-56 record as East Allegheny’s track and field coach, winning 28 consecutive dual meets from 1973-76 and seven Keystone Conference championships. He coached five WPIAL Class 3A individual champions and 29 PIAA qualifiers. He also served as East Allegheny athletic director from 1989-99 and held roles on the WPIAL board of directors, as president of the WPIAL Athletic Directors Association and as a WPIAL playoff game manager in football, soccer, basketball and track and field. He received the John & Michael Ferrante Memorial Award for promoting sports and student-athletes in 2004 and the Tri-State Track & Field Coaches’ Association Lifetime Achievement Award.

Mike Zmijanac (coach): Zmijanac is the only coach in Pennsylvania high school history to win state titles in football and basketball. He spent 48 seasons coaching football, 24 as a head coach, compiling a 240-59 record. He guided Aliquippa football to six WPIAL championships (2000, 2003, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2015) and the 2003 PIAA Class 2A title and became the first coach in WPIAL history to take a team to 10 consecutive WPIAL championship games. He also helped Aliquippa win four WPIAL titles as a defensive coordinator. Zmijanac posted a 166-43 record in seven seasons as the Aliquippa boys basketball coach, winning three WPIAL titles (1998, 2000, 2003) and the 1997 PIAA Class 2A championship. He was inducted into the Minor Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015, Pennsylvania State Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 2016 and Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.

1989 Peters Township boys soccer (team): The Indians finished the season with a 23-2-2 record and defended their WPIAL and PIAA championships. They allowed just 19 goals with 15 shutouts, outscoring playoff opponents 23-0. They defeated Quaker Valley, 1-0, in the WPIAL championship game and beat Perry Traditional Academy (5-0), Fairview (2-0) and Quaker Valley (3-0) in the PIAA playoffs before drawing with Great Valley (0-0) in final. Kevin Shaeffer was an all-state selection.

2011-12 Canon-McMillan boys wrestling (team): The Big Macs captured WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A team championships with a 26-0 dual meet record. They had four wrestlers win WPIAL individual championships (Connor Schram at 120, Solomon Chishko at 138, Cody Wiercioch at 170, Cody Kiempay at 285), and Wiercioch won a PIAA title. Eight were PIAA place winners. Fourteen wrestlers had 20 or more wins, eight with 30 or more wins and five with 40 or more wins. They beat North Allegheny, 53-12, for WPIAL title and defeated McDowell, 35-20, in the PIAA final. Wrestlers went on to compete at Clarion, Cornell, Lehigh, North Carolina, Pitt, Stanford and Virginia Tech.

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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