About this series
Coming up with a short list and then ranking the 10 greatest athletes in the history of each YAIAA high school was a daunting task. For sure, there is no scientific approach. But after two years of interviews, research and roundtable discussions, we are presenting as fair an attempt as possible to create an objective list on a decidedly subjective topic.
OUR CRITERIA: 1. The only accomplishments considered were those achieved while competing in high school varsity athletics. If an athlete earned a college scholarship, that was also factored in. 2. Accomplishments outside the setting of high school varsity sports and accomplishments after high school were not taken into account. 3. Athletes who attended more than one local high school were only evaluated at the school where they had the most varsity success. 4. Female athletes were rated by how they dominated their own sports not how they would fare going head-to-head against male athletes.

Your turn
If you d like to comment or offer a differing opinion on this list, we d love to hear from you. Each Sunday, we ll present your feedback on opinions on page 2 of the York Sunday News sports section - The Rundown. E-mail your thoughts to Sports Editor Chris Otto at cotto@ydr.com or mail them to: Greatest Athletes, c/o Chris Otto, 1891 Loucks Road, York 17408.

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Check out the full series

Sitting in her office, York College women's basketball coach Betsy Witman can easily hear the thump of bouncing balls. If it's quiet enough, she can also detect the shouts from the young girls swarming the Grumbacher Center floor below.

It all makes her think about how different it was when she was growing up in Hanover 30 years ago.

"There was no AAU back then," Witman said in June during her annual camp for girls between third and eighth grades. "Everything is organized now for these kids. Back then, we just called our friends and got on our bikes and rode to the Hanover Street playground with our ball and just played pickup all day long."

Like all girls her age in the Hanover area (and many communities across the country), Witman never even had the chance to play organized basketball until the sixth grade.

THEN: Betsy Witman, right, went from pickup games on area playgrounds to standout varsity basketball player at Hanover High School in the early 1980s. Now,
THEN: Betsy Witman, right, went from pickup games on area playgrounds to standout varsity basketball player at Hanover High School in the early 1980s. Now, she's the longtime head coach of the York College women's basketball team.
(Submitted)

Her love of the game developed quickly. After growing into a 5-foot-11 center, Witman became a force in the paint in high school, compiling more than 1,400 points and 1,000 rebounds. The 1983 Hanover graduate also earned a scholarship to play at Division I James Madison University.

She knows there was luck involved. If she hadn't heard about an all-star showcase camp in Philadelphia before her senior year, top college coaches would have never seen her play. The offer from JMU didn't even come until April her senior year, just a few weeks before graduation.

Now each summer she holds a basketball camp to help area youngsters seize the opportunities she never had. Then in the fall and winter, she refines the skills of some of the top Division III college players in the country -- players who have more fans and exposure than Witman ever did at the Division I level.

"It's really great to see all of these young girls, and that's one of the reasons I love doing these camps," said Witman, who has compiled a 166-126 record in 11 years at the York College helm.

"I like to see them take an interest at an early age, and that's why the talent is so great today. They are starting so young, and they are learning the fundamentals at a really early age, and they have these really great female basketball role models."

Without any role models of her own growing up, basketball for Witman started as something fun to do with her brothers after school. Once she started to excel in middle school competition, coaches began to tell her she had the potential to do great things -- even earn a college scholarship.

"From that point on, it really became my life," Witman said. "That's what I wanted to do. Anytime I had time, I'd be in the backyard."

When she wasn't in the backyard, she would head to the playground to meet up with a group of other top high school players, including former New Oxford standout and current York College assistant Sue Kuhn.

"You'd win a court, and if you kept winning you would play all night," Kuhn said. "It was our own AAU basically, before they started all of that stuff. We would play just about every evening that we could."

Witman stood out among even those top players and helped the Nighthawks to the YAIAA championship game in 1982 by scoring 26 points in the first half alone against Red Lion.

It was lack of exposure that was Witman's biggest problem, but after a Dallastown coach told the Hanover standout about an elite camp in Philadelphia, Witman decided to sign up.

A strong performance there led to an offer from JMU, where Witman helped the Dukes to two Sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA tournament.

After a brief stint as a graduate assistant and several years working at medical fitness facilities, Witman came back into coaching full time. An assistant gig at Millersville led to the York College job in 1997.

More than 100 girls signed up for her camp this year. Witman gives all of them a word of warning: With so much opportunity comes tougher competition when it comes to reaching the next level.

"When we have our awards ceremony, I tell them they did a great job, and now they have to go home and practice," Witman said. "There's only a very small percentage of high school players that will ever get a scholarship, much less play in college."

As Witman speaks, a white and green sign propped up against the window is visible over her right shoulder. It reads: "No excuses, just results."
smclernon@ydr.com; 771-2045

OTHER NOTABLES

   --- Ashley Beans ('05) excelled in the classroom as well as the softball diamond at a level rarely seen. She was named Hanover's salutatorian by finishing second in her class academically and hitting .593 with 43 runs scored her senior season to help earn her a spot on the squad at Division I Bucknell University.
   --- Al "Jack" Bemiller ('55) was little more than a 6-foot-3, 173-pound project in high school, but the center went on to star for an undefeated Syracuse team that won the Cotton Bowl. He had a noteworthy career in the American Football League with the Buffalo Bills.
   --- Jeff Duncan ('64) set a school record for rushing yards in a season (1,099) that lasted for 22 years before Corey Hahn broke the mark by only 25 yards. Duncan's total is still third-best in school history.
   --- Ralph Hartlaub ('54) won a district wrestling title his senior season and went on to become a high school wrestling official who was still active in 2008 and is known for his patented "slap and roll maneuver" to call a fall.
   --- Jim Heilman ('61) earned a spot on the Big 33 football all-star team during his senior year and played baseball well enough to secure a professional contract and spend some time in the minor leagues. He ended up abruptly retiring to enter the business world and become a women's clothing designer.
   --- Hugh "Lefty" Hoke ('26) scored three touchdowns, including a 50-yard punt return, to help Hanover defeat Elizabethtown, 61-7, on Nov. 11, 1925, and clinch the first winning football season in school history.
   --- Chelsea Kehr ('08) won two consecutive YAIAA Division III Player of the Year honors in softball, pitching the Nighthawks to their first playoff victory in six years and wrapping up her career with 42 victories.
   --- Tom Lyster ('77), in addition to having an impact on the Hanover football and baseball teams, had a ton of success on the mat and was the first Nighthawk wrestler to place at the PIAA tournament. After helping Hanover with the District 3 Class AA team title, Lyster finished third in the PIAA competition in the 185-pound class.
   --- Dave Rodman ('57) was the first Hanover football player to be named to the Big 33 All-Star team as a defensive end and went on to become a captain in the Air Force. He was killed in action while serving in Vietnam.

ABOUT THIS SERIES

Coming up with a short list and then ranking the 10 greatest athletes in the history of each YAIAA high school was a daunting task. For sure, there is no scientific approach. But after two years of interviews, research and roundtable discussions, we are presenting as fair an attempt as possible to create an objective list on a decidedly subjective topic. OUR CRITERIA: 1. The only accomplishments considered were those achieved while competing in high school varsity athletics. If an athlete earned a college scholarship, that was also factored in. 2. Accomplishments outside the setting
of high school varsity sports and accomplishments after high school were not taken into account. 3. Athletes who
attended more than one local high school were only evaluated at the school where they had the most varsity success.
4. Female athletes were rated by how they dominated their own sports -- not how they would fare going head-to-head against male athletes.

YOUR TURN

Our list and ranking of each school's greatest athletes is just the starting point. Now the fun part begins: the debate. If you'd like to comment or offer a differing opinion on this list, we'd love to hear from you. Each Sunday, we'll present your feedback and opinions on page 2 of the York Sunday News sports section ("The Rundown"). E-mail your thoughts to Sports Editor Chris Otto at cotto@ydr.com, call 771-2064 or send a letter to: "Greatest Athletes," c/o Chris Otto, 1891 Loucks Road, York 17408.