MADE FOR TV: Meyers, GAR Put On A Show For WNEP2 Viewers
WILKES-BARRE — When WNEP decided to carry Friday night’s Meyers at GAR boys basketball game live on WNEP2, the news station had placed its bet on a rivalry game in one of the biggest cities in its 20-county coverage area.
“We got together around Thanksgiving when the football playoffs started,” said WNEP’s veteran sportscaster Jim Coles. “They were like, ‘Let’s pick a (basketball) game in each conference.’ We did a Schuylkill League, we did a Heartland, we did Lackawanna League earlier this week with Abington and Valley View.”
The safest bet in the Wyoming Valley Conference may have been one of the two times Crestwood played Hazleton Area.
That’s a heated rivalry, too, with the Comets and Cougars tied in the standings for a league championship.
However, even the risk of a blowout — Meyers entered eight games below .500, GAR seven games above .500 — could not deter Coles and WNEP from the historically significant finale before Meyers, GAR and Coughlin merge and play next season as Wilkes-Barre Area.
“It was something special when Meyers and GAR got together for football,” Coles said. “So if we could be part of that occasion for basketball, that would look good on WNEP and it would also look good on the Grenadiers and the Mohawks.”
No program director could have authored a more compelling 90 minutes of basketball than the 58-56 overtime win for GAR, which celebrated with a court storming shortly after Will Johnson’s game-winning layup on an assist from Jared O’Day.
“This atmosphere is unbelievable,” said GAR head coach Jerry Altavilla. “This is what GAR-Meyers is all about. That’s why people cherish this tradition and they’re going to miss it so much, because you can’t replicate an atmosphere like this.”
Two hours before tipoff, Coles was basking in the atmosphere that already featured a few hundred fans through the doors and some students dancing to music.
Coles thought back to his early days at WNEP, including when he covered a 1990 state championship tripleheader that included Nanticoke Area’s girls team and GAR’s boys.
The Bob Sura-led Grenadiers were among the greatest teams Coles has ever seen, he said.
The head coach of the 1990 Grenadiers, John Hopkins, was among those in attendance Friday night. He was honored during a stop in the action.
“We had a good time here,” said Hopkins, who retired in 1996. “We had good kids to coach. They worked hard and the atmosphere was great when I was here.”
People like Sonya Mercadante are among those who put in countless hours in hopes of bringing the crowd to life.
Mercadante has been Meyers’ varsity cheerleading coach for 18 years. She, too, was a cheerleader for Meyers.
“When we play Hanover, we still have that high,” Mercadante said. “But when it comes to playing GAR ... they worked three hours a day for three days this week, just to make sure they had everything down. Our hours are more increased when it comes to playing the GAR game than any other game that we play in the season.”
Mercadante described Friday night as being bittersweet.
The same could be said for the Rev. Shawn Walker, pastor at Dr. Edwards Memorial Congregational Church in Edwardsville.
Walker played basketball and graduated from Meyers in 1994.
“We had so many good times in this gym and at our gym,” Walker said. “That 1994 year was, I think, the first year we started to beat GAR again. We went on a nice run in the ’90s and ended up winning a bunch of championships. But that 1994 year was the first championship we won since my uncles (Al and Duane Walker) won it in 1974.”
What made Friday all the more meaningful for Walker was that his son, Cole Walker, is a sophomore for the Mohawks. He played one of his best games Friday with 16 points.
“It does mean everything,” Shawn Walker said. “We really didn’t know how this was going to play out, in terms of the consolidation and sports consolidation. We had no idea. So I’m just really grateful that we were able to get him in the blue and gold uniform for the two years he was in it. It’s something that he’ll cherish forever, just like I did.”
Meyers head coach Pat Toole acknowledged the many great games against GAR over the years, back when Jim Williams and Joe Caffrey coached the Mohawks.
But, as he told his players, people always remember the last game.
Even though one side had to lose, Toole’s Mohawks and Altavilla’s Grenadiers played a game that inspired pride and lasting memories for all who watched it.
“There’s probably been a lot of great Meyers-GAR games, ones that I’ve been lucky enough to coach in and be assistant coach,” Toole said Saturday. “But that one was really special. The crowd, the lead changes. It’s always fun to see alumni. So many former players contacted me, former assistant coaches, Mark Williams and Mike Elias were in attendance at the game. I saw John Hopkins there. It was quite an atmosphere and it really exceeded the hype. Usually, that doesn’t happen.”
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