Ligonier Valley gets ready to say goodbye to Appalachian Bowl

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019 | 7:41 PM


Football for Roger Beitel began for real as a player at Penns Manor High School, which is the site of Saturday’s Appalachian Bowl that matches champions of the Heritage and Western Pennsylvania Athletic conferences.

Football has come full circle for Beitel, who returns home perhaps for the final time as coach of Ligonier Valley. The Rams are headed to a fourth consecutive Appalachian Bowl appearance.

Heritage Conference champion Ligonier Valley (9-0) will play WestPAC champion Portage (8-1) in what likely will be the last appearance for Beitel’s Rams in the annual postseason warm-up for the start of the District 6 playoffs. Ligonier Valley is third among Class 2A teams in the Trib HSSN PIAA rankings.

“I’ll get to close out my Heritage career at the school where it all started for me as a young boy with crazy dreams and a love and passion for the game of football,” Beitel said Wednesday at a luncheon in suburban Johnstown to promote the game.

Heritage Conference schools Monday unanimously voted to approve Ligonier Valley’s request to leave the District 6 conference to join the WPIAL.

The move, expected to be finalized for the 2020-21 school year, still needs the approval of District 6 and the WPIAL, but those outcomes are widely considered formalities when the District 6 Committee and the WPIAL Board of Control meet at separate times in November.

“Next year, you’ll have a new team representing the Heritage Conference,” Beitel said.

Beitel, who went on to play at Division III Lebanon Valley, helped orchestrate pickup games behind the bleachers as a boy during Saturday night high school games.

It was then when he began to learn some of the intricacies of a rough-and-tumble sport that would leave his clothes grass-stained.

“It was well worth it,” Beitel said. “Those are some of the best days of my life. We played tackle football and learned how to avoid blockers, dodging in and out of fans returning from the concession stand with their hands full. I remember the announcer calling out the names of my high school heroes, but our game didn’t stop.

“We built grit by tackling and getting tackled into rusty steel fences because there were no defined out-of-bounds markers. If you had the ball, you were fair game.”

For years, Beitel’s teams have faced Penns Manor in Heritage Conference games at Pat Corrigan Field, a short distance from the Beitel homestead in Cherryhill. Each time, Beitel would spend a few minutes reminiscing.

His dad, Roger Beitel Sr., who died in 1998 when Beitel was 27, helped organize a movement to build the current Penns Manor field house, a centerpiece of the school’s athletics complex.

But it wasn’t until after his son went off to college that the elder Beitel and three of his friends joined the school’s football boosters and orchestrated the construction.

Beitel Sr., a former member of the U.S. Naval Construction Battalions, also known as Navy Seabees, specialized in stationary engineering. He brought his experience back to Indiana County and obtained permission from the Penns Manor school board to go ahead with the project.

“He had a dream to build a field house he felt the kids deserved,” Beitel said. “But he was very old-school. He believed that kids should earn what they get, and he wasn’t about to get involved in anything like that while I was still in school.”

Beitel said his father and friends completed the entire job with the help of donated material from local contractors and businesses.

“My kids never knew my dad. He was only 52 when I lost him,” Beitel said. “But for me, it’s great to say to them when we go there, ‘Look, your grandfather built that.’ ”

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