The grand pageantry and splendor of the Winter Olympics is upon us. From the revered Miracle on Ice and the “Cool Runnings” of the Jamaican bobsled team to the ice-skating death-match between Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, the games of the winter Olympiad are entrenched in American sports and cultural history.
South Korea hosts the world’s best this time and, of course, there is at least one Pittsburgh connection, speed skater John-Henry Krueger. If we can wave towels at a televised dance competition like we did for Hines Ward and Antonio Brown when they appeared on Dancing With the Stars, then we can certainly get behind a 22-year-old kid from Peters Township going for gold in speed skating. Pittsburgh hockey fans will wonder aloud, “What if we give those speed skaters a hockey stick and see what they can do?” If sprinters can convert to football, then maybe it could happen. Until then, we have to appreciate it for what it is. Krueger, however, is not the first athlete to make it to the big time from Peters Township.
Krueger grew up skating at the Mount Lebanon Ice Center. From there, he has competed in World Cups and has won medals in competitions in Seoul, Shanghai, Budapest, Montreal and Moscow. He dominated in the Olympic trials this year, winning the 500-meter, 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter races, as well as the overall competition. Crazy metric system. In this country, we only use it for bottles of watered-down high-fructose corn syrup, pills and cocaine. But it’s the standard unit of measure everywhere else in the world. We just don’t want to learn it. Anyway, Krueger is headed to the South Korea (the best of the Koreas) and hopes to bring back some Olympic hardware in short-track speed skating.
Peters Township High School is not very big. Only about 1,400 students go there, but they are known for producing some pretty good athletes.
Like Steve Bell. He is the voice of the Fox Soccer Channel and leads its fair-and-balanced coverage of the world’s favorite sport. Before that, though, Bell had a pretty respectable career as a player. He led the Robert Morris Colonials to a perfect 8-0 conference record in 1995 and went on to play professionally including a stint with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. He also donned the uniform of the Tampa Bay Mutiny (great name) and the Washington WartHogs (a not-so-great-name). All the names of every team that plays in Washington are stupid — Capitals, Nationals, Wizards and the racist football one.
Alison Riske has won over $2.6 million in prize money as a pro tennis player. Riske led the Peters Township girls team to the state finals in 2006 and won the singles title while she was there. She’s been good enough to compete at the U.S. Open, Australian Open, French Open, and has even advanced to the third round in Wimbledon. She’s accrued a WTA title, and six singles and a doubles title in the ITF.
Matt Clackson was good enough to be drafted by the hated Philadelphia Flyers in 2005. Maybe it’s just the Flyers system, but Clackson racked up over 800 penalty minutes and 24 points in his career in the minor-league American Hockey League. Apparently, Philly emphasizes goonery over scoring in its farm system. He never made it to the big time, but got paid to play hockey for the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms, Chicago Wolves and Hershey Bears.
Brian Simmons made it to the show. He played for the Chicago White Sox in 1999, hitting four homers, stealing four bases and knocking in 17 runs. The year before, he hit a home run from both sides of the plate faster than any player in baseball history. Take that, Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose and Chipper Jones. If you’re going to make a brief splash, make it count. Unfortunately, Simmons was injured and missed the entire 2000 season; he wound up in Toronto in 2001, and that was the end of his brief career.
Chris Peters made it to the show, as well as landing with the Pittsburgh Pirates after playing college ball as an Indiana Hoosier. Peters became a Pirate when they weren’t very good. I realize I should be more specific than that. When they were late-’90s bad. He was a bright spot in 1998, when he went 8-10 with a 3.47 ERA. He even went 5-4 in 1999, but with an ERA north of 6.00. Like his fellow Peters Township brother, Simmons, Peters played one year for a Canadian team before bowing out of the bigs. Peters finished his career as a Montreal Expo.
Peters Township isn’t exactly an Aliquippa, Upper St. Clair or Woodland Hills when it comes to producing superstars, but it’s not bad for little McMurray, Pa. We all wish John-Henry Krueger the best in his speed-skating quest. We hope he brings back a medal, so we have something to hold over Philadelphia Eagles fans and their Super Bowl.