With all the focus on Juniata County's unusual athletic funding issue, we have perhaps overlooked the other monumental change that is less than a week away - the beginning of Mifflin County High School sports.
The Huskies will represent the third merger of county high schools in the modern era - the fourth if you include the absorption of Rothrock into Lewistown. Everything will be a milestone in this first year, just as it was for the attendees of Penn Highlands nearly 40 years ago, and Indian Valley a bit more than two decades past.
It's the past I want to focus on today - a narrow part of it. Little has been said about those coaches who either chose to step down or were not selected for the top job at the new school. Sport by sport, take a moment and reflect on all the good these men and women did for your children:
* Football: Steve Guthoff and Tom Shearer. Guthoff was a newcomer, but quickly restored a measure of pride to Lewistown's program. I have no doubt that a few seasons more, and we'd be seeing the Panthers back on the good side of .500 - regularly. Shearer, I surmised, would be the Husky coach - he's been part of Mifflin County football much of his life, and has ties to both Lewistown and Indian Valley. Always easygoing - well, off the field - Shearer always had something positive to say about "his" kids. I'll miss that.
* Field hockey: Colleen Snook never had quite enough on the field to produce the same kind of powerhouse teams that her Indian Valley counterpart managed, but neither she - nor her girls - quit. Their tenacity and perseverance was a reflection of her leadership.
* Soccer: Keith Yoder, who helped Gregg Kanagy make Lewistown's boys program a force to be reckoned with, chose to give up the sport. Kyle Cramer graciously offered someone else a chance as well. But the biggest loss to me will be John Stiver, who, like Kanagy, built the Lewistown girls from the ground up, finally getting much-deserved success in his final seasons.
* Volleyball: Jim Fosselman announced his retirement pre-merger, but still deserves a pat on the back for fielding a competitive team in a tough league year after year. Margie Zook took the reins at Indian Valley when it seemed no one else wanted them, and helped the team at least find an identity before her time was up.
* Golf: Aaron Bubb's optimism was deserved even if it was tempered at times by the scores carded by Lewistown's competition.
* Cross country: The harriers in this county can't imagine how lucky they are to have had someone like Ron Sprecher in their camp. Along with Indian Valley's team, he ran the Mountain League and District 6 meets, and his season has extended to the first week in November each of the past several years - a testament to the dynasty he built. Scott Falkner - and by extension, his wife Stacey - are two of the most devoted runners I know, and their love of the sport was evident in their guidance of Lewistown's program.
* Basketball: There was almost no doubt that Roger Herto's second stint at Indian Valley would be the end once arch nemesis Kevin Kodish threw his hat in the ring for the new school. In this case, Mifflin County's loss is Bellefonte's gain - the veteran mentor will be leading the Red Raiders this winter. They have a great coach in Herto. Bob Sealy, who led Indian Valley's boys, was a no-nonsense sideline general who had a big pair of shoes to fill when he took the job from Matt Shoemaker, now the athletic director. Bob and I clashed on some things, but I have nothing but respect for the way he ran a basketball team.
* Wrestling: Joe Daubert is the last link to Mifflin County's wrestling past, and ends his tenure still holding the mantle as the last state champion from the county. But if you sit down and talk to him, you'll quickly learn that Joe's goal isn't just to produce the best wrestler - he wants to produce the best person.
* Track and field: From winter into spring, the obvious choice was a unified coaching staff. And so, when Scott Gantz was hired for the indoor program, the writing had to be on the wall for Al Hepner. Hepner's reaction? To hit the spring with a positive attitude, and deliver one of the best season's Lewistown had seen since Emily Lepley was hurdling down the track - no quitting allowed.
* Baseball: Ray Hoppel was never able to return to the state championship game. But he was able to take underdog teams and make them better, and always was a presence when most teams had ended their runs. Years ago, I wrote a column about science teachers coaching baseball, and Ray was one of the reasons why. He's definitely one of my favorite coaches, and one I'll miss greatly.
* Softball: Neither Greg Evans, whose ties to Indian Valley went back to the beginning, nor Don Stonerook, a relative newcomer at the varsity level, were in the running for this job. Both had to coach a sport that tends to create more pressure - and be victim to more politics - than imaginable. If the merger had come sooner, I would have put my money on a state title - after all, the girls who just graduated formed the core of a Little League team and an ASA team that won state titles. Either of these men could have taken that team to the top.
* Athletic director: Not to be forgotten is Rick Keefer. Keefer has always been a straight shooter, a reliable source, promoted his school well - and did so even when other members of the Keefer family were wearing a different uniform across town.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.