Away game

Local athletes compete in Ireland

Photo courtesy of CATHY MORRISON
Tyler Clark, left, from Juniata High School, plays in the American Football Worldwide game in Dublin, Ireland in April. Clark represented the United States on the Elite team in the first game ever between high school age players from the two countries.

Thanks to their athletic prowess, two local student athletes got the opportunity of a lifetime to travel to Ireland and perform on a different type of stage.

Juniata senior football and basketball player Tyler Clark, and Greenwood sophomore field hockey star Paityn Wirth, went to the Emerald Isle in April.

Both not only got the opportunity to compete on the field against athletes from different parts of the world, but received a cultural learning experience they will never forget.

They were successful in both aspects of the trip.

Clark’s football team drubbed the Irish team 53-6, and Wirth’s field hockey team went 3-0 against international competition.

Photo courtesy of IRISH PHOTOGRAPHY
Paityn Wirth, left, plays field hockey in Ireland.

For Clark, the most exciting part of the trip was easy to identify.

“It was definitely the game,” he said. “Just waking up on game day and knowing that we were going to go out there and represent the United States of America and play against the best football players from Ireland was definitely exciting. Just to get to that moment, it was definitely something I’ve been working toward.”

At Juniata, he holds records on the gridiron for passing touchdowns in a game and season, and yardage in a season.

He threw for more than 6,000 yards in his career and surpassed 1,000 points on the hardwood.

“This is definitely one of the most exciting and biggest accomplishments,” Clark said, describing where the trip stacked up against his seemingly endless accolades at Juniata.

“Not many people get to travel abroad, let alone travel abroad and play football. It was definitely a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’ll remember forever.”

Paityn Wirth

While Wirth has been in competing as part of the U.S. Under-19 Field Hockey National Team for a few months and previously has been to Austria, she was just as thankful for another chance to represent the country.

“Team USA has given me so many opportunities,” Wirth said. “I can’t thank my coaches enough. They have brought me to where I am. As a player, I’ve grown immensely. I can’t even explain it.”

Like Clark, who was a four-year starter in two sports, Wirth has accomplished a great deal in a small period of time.

She has 41 goals just in Tri-Valley League play through two seasons and led the league in goals, assists and points as a sophomore and advanced to the PIAA meet as a freshman in track.

For her, the experience was a mixture of competing with a group of people she doesn’t play with much and seeing Ireland.

Her highlight was more about the people.

“Probably getting to see all the Ireland girls and the culture there,” Wirth said. “Being with my friends was exciting and very important to me. USA Field Hockey has given me a great chance to meet so many new people. I was excited to get on tour and get even closer with them.”

World travelers

For Clark, the trip was something totally new right from the start.

“That was the first time I’ve been out of the country,” Clark said. “In the United States, I’ve only been as far west as Ohio and as far south as Florida. It was just a very unique experience that I wasn’t going to let pass.”

It began with a memorable start.

“Right off the bat we landed in Dublin and got on a bus and got to travel all the way across the country to Galway,” Clark said. “On that ride, we got to see all the rural parts of Ireland that you wouldn’t see on a normal trip. We got to see the Cliffs of Moher, Trinity College and Trim Castle. Those are just a few of them. We also visited a lot of cathedrals.

“I definitely liked the Cliffs of Moher,” Clark said. “It was along the coast, and was very cold and windy, but it was just an amazing view. I didn’t expect them to be that big and we were really high up, so it was just an amazing view.”

For Wirth, historical areas, along with a pop culture landmark are what stood out in Ireland.

“We went into Dalkey, which is a famous town where most of the rich people live in Ireland,” Wirth said. “We visited the castles there. We saw the “P.S. I Love You” bridge from the movie. It was very pretty sightseeing. It was by far the most tourism that we’ve got to do compared to my past international trips.”

The experience didn’t end for Wirth when she left Ireland though.

Most people take a few days to readjust to their surroundings after a lengthy flight.

She had about 14-15 seconds — she was called upon to put on her Wildcat uniform practically right after she got home. She ran in a Tri-Valley League track meet against Juniata and won both the 100- and 300-meter hurdles.

“I wasn’t really planning on it until on the way home from the airport,” Wirth said. My (USA) field hockey coach said that it probably wasn’t a good idea, but when I got home I decided I needed to do something and I was tired of sitting on a plane, so I called my track coach and asked if he cared if I came. He said, “No, I already had your name in just in case,’

“My legs were definitely pretty heavy,” she said. “I wasn’t stretched out very well. I missed the whole warm up. Just getting out and being able to run was what I wanted to do. It felt good to get up off the plane and be able to run.”

Greenwood’s head track coach was happy to have her back.

“She’s very strong within those hurdles,” Barb Sheaffer said. “We didn’t know how her air travel would work, so we didn’t put her in the two relays she is usually a part of, just in case because of the team situation. If she was there, we had her available for the (hurdles). She came back and ran two solid races. It was very cool. She’s certainly a competitive young lady.”

Clark’s ending was not just to the experience, but his outstanding four-year high school career.

It was one last accomplishment for which he gave credit to everyone else.

“I would like to thank my family, friends and community for supporting my trip,” he said.