John Taylor Meister expressed the emotions of his fellow inductees into the Bethel Park High School athletic hall of fame when he equated the experience as feeling like a turtle on a fence post.
“There is absolutely no way I could get here by myself,” he said. “It takes a ton of people.”
For Meister, who won 382 games, two WPIAL titles and one state championship, it starts with athletes such as Geoff Oakley, Jerome Williams, Maureen Hester, brothers Scott and Craig Gob, and John Hepler, who all were inducted into the Class of 2017.
“We had tremendous talent. Kids who worked hard and came from great parents, who supported us and never interfered,” Meister said. “They provided tremendous support and because of the job they did, the kids turned out well. That’s better than any win or lose.”
Administration and supportive peers also bolstered the inductees.
For example, there was George Meyers. Meister consulted the head of student council and the duo forged a fund-raising notion that benefited everybody in the high school. For more than 20 years, Meister sold donuts before school started to raise money for equipment, uniforms, baseballs, pitching machines, anything that would enable his players to have an advantage over the competition. Between $12,000 and $15,000 was raised each year and the profits were split between the student council and the baseball program.
“In my mind that was the only way that you can do it because I think our budget was $3,000. So it took a lot of guys like Scott (Gob) to eat (the donuts),” Meister said with a hearty chuckle. “We were successful and I suppose that is how I got here. I am so happy to be here. Gee, if anybody needs a coach, I’d like to do it all again.”
So would the athletes inducted alongside Meister. They cherished their experiences at Bethel Park and the lessons they learned through their participation in athletics. They too mentioned parents, spouses, siblings and significant others who hoisted them onto the fence post of induction.
“I’ve lived her close to 50 years and I am proud to call Bethel Park my home,” said Oakley, who played baseball and soccer and excelled in hockey on the Hawks’ championship clubs and at St. Bonaventure.
Sports and the people involved in them taught Oakley valuable lessons such as “hard work” and “dedication” that carry him throughout his adult life, his dental practice, his 20-plus years of naval service to the country and his youth coaching endeavors. “Having played multiple sports gave me exposure to different coaches, perspectives, skills sets and approaches and I have taken something positive from each of them.”
Oakley grew emotional when he acknowledged his youth baseball coach. Bill Douds and Oakley’s father, Gus, were best friends. Oakley played sports with Douds’s oldest son, Bill.
“The life lessons I have learned on the fields and in the rinks have served me well but I can say that during the many years they coached my teams that they have had the most influence in showing me how important family is. I know how hard it is.”
Oakley, whose sister, Michelle, played softball at Bethel, and his wife, Marnie, who is also a dentist. They have two children, Marissa and Evan. He noted with great appreciation how the community rallied around his family when their daughter suffered a major illness that nearly resulted in her death.
“That meant a lot to us and showed just how special this place is.”
The gridiron was a special place for the Gob brothers as well as Williams. And all three learned similar lessons through their competitions at Bethel Park.
“Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something,” said Williams, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns before excelling at Morehead State University, setting school and conference records. “You can do anything that you want to do. That’s real. Bethel Park instilled that in me and Bethel Park let me know that the world is not that cruel.”
Fourth grade, however, could be harsh but Gob learned the lesson Williams espoused. Gob wanted to learn how to play the drums but was told that he had no musical talent. While he did stick to football, earning a scholarship to Penn State, he did learn to wrestle and he did eventually learn to play the drums, taking lessons for nearly two years in the early 1990s.
“Bottom line is you can always challenge yourself,” Gob said. “Don’t let someone tell you that you can’t do something. Don’t be afraid for your kids. Let them try. Let them fail. Life is always tough and they will learn. In the end, life is a ride but it is not always easy but don’t quit.”
The lessons from sports that Hester learned have not quit her since taking a position with Dick’s Sporting Goods after a successful basketball career that included 1,000 points and a WPIAL championship in high school, four tournament appearances while playing at Xavier and coaching in the NCAA tournament.
“I never wanted to be defined as an athlete,” she said, “but being an athlete and being involved in athletics has absolutely defined and shaped the person that I am today and I am incredibly grateful for what I have been able to learn through athletics: commitment, teamwork, communication, taking victories and defeats in strides.
“But what I carry with me today and what sticks out when I look back on my career is being a winner. I can’t remember the points but I remember the championship teams that I have been a part of. Every step of the way to form those memories were my teammates, coaches, parents and family. I am forever grateful for the relationships I have gained through sports and the lessons that sports have taught me. That has really meant the world to me.”
Editor’s Note: John Hepler was inducted into the hall, posthumously. A member of the Class of 1963, he excelled in swimming, setting sprinting records and winning gold and silver medals at the WPIAL and PIAA level.