Class of 2022 inducted into Shaler Area Athletic Hall of Fame


Seated: Tim Kotkevich, Bill Heinz, Tori Soeder, Sam Bair, Jr., Ben Yeckel, Ken Yurek Standing: Kevin Walsh, Jack Gralewski, John Kuzemchak, Ken Roman, Dave Fortun, Dan Neimetz, George Matthews, John MIller

Andrew Deal

The Shaler Area School District recently inducted three former athletes, one former coach, and a former WPIAL championship baseball team into the Shaler Area Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2022.

All-WPIAL baseball player Bill Heinz, record setting track and field athlete Victoria Soeder, two-sport star Ben Yeckel, the 1981 WPIAL champion baseball team, and track and field coach Sam Bair Jr. were inducted.

The class was honored on October 15 at the Shaler Area Varsity Football game.

Heinz played a huge role on the 1982 and 1983 section title winning baseaball teams. In 1983, he led the Titans with 45 hits, still a team record to this day. Heinz also led the team in doubles, triples, home runs and batting average. He was named to the All-Section Team and the All-WPIAL team. He then went on to play at the University of Iowa and was recognized as an All-Big Ten member his senior year.

Soeder still holds multiple records in indoor and outdoor track and field. She is already part of  the Hall of Fame as a member of the 2012 Varsity Girls Track Team, but her individual accomplishments make her worthy of an individual induction, as well. She won three PIAA medals in the hurdles and triple jump, and seven WPIAL medals in the hurdles, long lump, and triple jump.

It’s a huge honor.  There are so many great athletes that have come through Shaler Area.  To be mentioned with them it’s quite the honor.

— Mr. Ben Yeckel

Yeckel earned an impressive seven varsity letters in wrestling and baseball. On the mat, he had a career record of 83-15, and played a major role in three consecutive section championships from 1998-2000. However, Yeckel really stood out as a baseball player. As a pitcher and captain, he led the 1999 Titan Baseball team to a WPIAL Championship and PIAA runner up. He ranks 4th all time in career record among Shaler pitchers, 22-9. His other school records include 224 innings pitched, which ranks first, and 197 strikeouts, which ranks second all time. He was named the 1999 Post Gazette North Player of the Year. He also was named to the USA Today Honorable Mention as one of the top 25 players in Pennsylvania.

“It’s a huge honor.  There are so many great athletes that have come through Shaler Area.  To be mentioned with them it’s quite the honor.  Getting to come back and teach and coach at Shaler has made this an even greater memory,” Yeckel said.

All the accomplishments throughout Yeckel’s playing career are very impressive. However, his coaching career has added an even more impressive accomplishment.

“Winning a WPIAL baseball championship as both a player and coach at the same school in 1999 and 2019 is a pretty amazing accomplishment,” Yeckel said.

The 1981 Shaler Area Varsity Baseball was coached by two Hall of Fame Inductees, Jerry Matulevic and Dave Fortun. The team compiled an overall record of 29-2 and were crowned WPIAL Champions before being eliminated in the PIAA state quarterfinals. Six players were named to the Post Gazette’s All North Team. 12 players went on to play in college, and three played professionally. The team had a huge veteran presence throughout their starting lineup that helped them throughout their long run. About half of the 1981 team players were also on the 1980 state championship team, as reserves.

“These guys were determined to create their own identity and show that they also had what it takes. And they did,” Fortun said.

Matulevic led this team to be recognized as not just one of, but the premier team in Western Pennsylvania. The pitching staff was what really put fear into other teams. Starter Chip Peluso never lost a game on the mound in high school. Ken Karcher was 24-0 until he got the loss in the state quarterfinals.

Bair Jr. distinguished himself first as a runner and then as a longtime Track and Field and Cross Country coach for Shaler Area. At Scottdale Joint High School he earned nine varsity letters and was a two-time state champion in the 800 meter.

He went on to run at Kent State University where he was a seven-time NCAA All-American. He also was a silver medalist in the Pan-American Games in the mile. In 1969, he ran the second fastest mile time in the United States at 3.56.7. As a coach at Shaler Area, he was a year long coach and trainer for Shaler runners who won multiple WPIAL and PIAA medals. Sam and his son, Sam Bair III, who has already been inducted in the Hall of Fame, are only the 14th father and son combination in the world to run a sub four-minute mile.

Originally created in 2000, the Shaler Area Athletic Hall of Fame can consist of teams, individual athletes or coaches. The class of 2022 features all three in a well-rounded class.