Sunday, December 16, 2012

PT baseball's unique tradition

If you haven't had a chance to check out Christie Campbell's A1 story Sunday on the Wreaths Across America tradition that hit home Saturday at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Bridgeville, check it out. Link is here.

It's a cool tradition, one that assuredly was made even more emotional because of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., and one that, as I found out Sunday, has a pretty neat sports component as well.

For the past four years, the Peters Township baseball team has sent a group of players to the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies to place wreaths on veterans' graves.

The idea originated with 2011 graduate Ryan Minteer and has been passed down to current senior Bill McLuckie, a pair of starting pitchers.

Minteer, who's now at Heidelberg, helped start the program -- one that held special meaning given his grandfather, Donald, was a veteran.

"Whenever I went there, I saw the families’ faces and how much it meant to them to have a wreath on the tombstones for Christmas," Minteer said. "It just meant a lot to me."

According to Campbell's story, more than 1,000 people joined together Saturday, placing more than 5,000 wreaths that were donated and funded by various organizations. The program started in 1992, in Harrington, Maine, and will include an estimated 400,000 wreaths nationwide.

At Peters, the event, which has grown from about a dozen people the first year to about two dozen players plus another 10 or 12 parents this year, has become a tradition; McLuckie has already tabbed sophomore Ryan Tassone as his replacement.

"It’s a nice way to honor those who served for our country," McLuckie said. "I did it my sophomore year, and I thought it was really cool to learn about stuff like that, just honor those who served their country. "I’m glad that our team is continuing on with it."

McLuckie has two uncles -- Paul and Mike Byrne -- who are veterans, and a close family friend (Brad Nevin) served in the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq. Mike Byrne is actually buried at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies, making Saturday's event even more special for McLuckie.

"It means a lot, just seeing all the different tombstones, the names on them, the wars that they served in and the year that they died and everything," McLuckie said. "It’s amazing to see that some of them were only 18 – our age. I just can’t imagine what that would be like only living 18 years of your life."

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