After leading student section in winter, junior will take baseball field as Rockets' first baseman this spring
Spring Grove basketball star Eli Brooks takes the ball with nothing but space in front of him, barreling down the court as the crowd rises in anticipation of yet another emphatic dunk by the junior standout.
Austin Piety lives for those moments.
As the leader of the Rockets student section, Piety relishes the dunks, touchdowns and pins — the crowd-goes-wild moments in any sport. Those moments make worthwhile all the pre-game planning about what the student section will wear for the big game. And those moments provide the energy Piety funnels into the student section's next chant.
“I love leading the student section. It’s just an adrenaline rush,” Piety said. “No matter how good our team is, I just love it. It’s a school spirit thing, I like to see people show up and support our teams. They work hard to play and do what they do, so we need to support them.”
The energetic, enthusiastic redhead led the student section's support of some of Spring Grove's marquee athletic feats of the school year: an upset win over rival South Western in the final week of football season; key victories during an undefeated wrestling homestand; and wins by the boys' basketball team in the YAIAA final and in the district tournament.
But this spring, it's his turn to take the field and do his part as an athlete, not a fan, to continue the Rockets' successful year.
Piety starts at first base for the Spring Grove baseball team, which is coming off a surprising YAIAA Division I title and PIAA tournament appearance.
"When he’s passionate about something, he’s passionate about it," Spring Grove assistant coach Nate Wertz said. "Getting the kids fired up for basketball games and things like that, he does a really good job with that, and I think he does that well for our team. The kids kind of look for him to get everybody fired up because we’re not a team that talks a whole lot. We kind of stay within ourselves, but if we need that fire, he’s the kid that we look for.”
Even though Piety is a junior this school year, last fall he took on the role of student section leader — a post traditionally held by a senior — when none of the seniors showed much interest. Last year's leader, former Rockets soccer player Jake Guinn, encouraged Piety to take charge and still stays in touch with him.
"He kind of handed the sticks down to me," Piety said. “I just feed off energy. I like our community because it's so tight-knit; everybody knows everybody, and everybody gets excited about stuff. I like to feed off the good things we do and get excited.”
He's carried on several chants from past years, including the universally popular "I Believe" chant, and arranged student section themes such as whiteouts or lumberjack night. Along with a few friends, he also helped design, produce and sell new white student section T-shirts during basketball season.
“What I love about these shirts is that I didn’t just sell them to students," Piety said. "The whole community has these shirts; we probably sold over 250 of them. Our teachers bought them for their kids, our youth basketball team bought them. There were even people from the 1971 county championship team that wanted some.”
Piety said he hopes to see a student section out at his baseball games this season, but he knows it might take another district title run to make that happen. Regular season baseball games typically don’t draw much of a crowd. But last year, a group of about 50 students, led by Guinn, came out to cheer on the Rockets in the District 3 championship game at PeoplesBank Park, a game they lost in extra innings.
“If we do make another district championship appearance, there will be a student section," Piety said. "I’ll make sure that happens.”
All but one Spring Grove player from last year's baseball team will return for this year's squad, and the Rockets have their sights set on a YAIAA championship, a District 3 title and a deeper run in the state tournament after last year's first-round knockout.
Not much was expected of last year's Rockets, who lost all but one starter from a league-champion team. But this time, they know they won't sneak up on anyone.
“We know we have a target on our backs," senior Caleb Ruth said. "So we know we have to be working harder than every other team out there.”