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That Championship Season

The 1956 Lebanon High baseball team recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of its Central Penn League championship

The Lebanon High baseball team enjoyed one of its best seasons in recent memory this spring, winning 12 games and breathing substantial life into a long-struggling program.

The timing of the Cedars' resurgence was impeccable, in that it came exactly six decades after one of the most successful and memorable seasons in LHS baseball history.

The year was 1956, and Lebanon was knocking heads with the best the area had to offer in the old Central Penn League - William Penn and John Harris of Harrisburg, Steelton-Highspire, York, Lancaster, Milton Hershey and Hershey.

And, of course, Lebanon, which rode the pitching of a future Detroit Tigers farmhand, the late  Jim "Pork" Boger, to the Central Penn championship that year.

It all culminated on May 10, 1956, when Boger tossed a shutout to lift Lebanon to a title-clinching 3-0 victory over York.

Many years have obviously gone by, and a numbers of members of that team have passed on, since that fateful season, but the memories endure.

"I have scrapbooks and I go back and look at them every so often," said 1956 Lebanon third baseman Bill Dissinger, who went on to a lengthy and distinguished baseball coaching career at Cedar Crest. "It's a lot of good memories. I have all good memories of Lebanon and the team we had. They were all wonderful guys."

And talented, too, according to catcher Hal Donley, the former Elco and Lebanon High football coach.

The Cedars, coached by legendary LHS figures Harry Matala and Frank Kuhn, Sr, were, as noted earlier, led by Boger on the mound, but boasted a potent lineup that also included Bruce Benninghoff at first base, Eddie Johnson at second,  Hal Templin at shortstop, Dissinger and Art Klepper at third base, Irv LeGay, Ken Wolfe and Neal Reich in the outfield, and Boger, Jim Arnold and Bill Peiffer anchoring the pitching staff.

"We had a solid team," Donley said of that Lebanon team, which played its home games at the south end of what is now Alumni Stadium. "Good pitching, solid infield and a fast outfield. The coaches didn't have to do a whole lot."

The strength of the team, Templin believes, was in the outfield, where the speedy LeGay, Reich and Wolfe roamed and took away many a would-be opposing base hit.

"I remember we had a good defensive team," said Templin, who's still active in athletics as an assistant coach with the Lebanon  Catholic girls basketball program. "Those guys (in the outfield) were all pretty fast. We just took care of business, played pretty solid baseball."

It was a group that was also very tight-knit, something Dissinger attributes to the fact that they all played Legion ball together the previous season with the exception of Johnson, who played for Annville.

That paid significant dividends in a talent-rich Central Penn League that included mostly bigger and more acclaimed schools than Lebanon. There also weren't any league or district playoffs back then, so the Cedars had to take care of business in the regular season if they wanted to call themselves champions. And they did.

"Every game was a big game for us," Dissinger said. "Because no one thought Lebanon would ever accomplish something like that. Especially against teams that were a lot bigger than us."

Because of those good old days and what they meant, and still mean, long-ago Cedars like Dissinger were happy to see this year's Lebanon team bring some positive attention to the program again.

"I was glad to see Lebanon play ball like they did this year," Dissinger said. "I commend (Lebanon coach) Mike Toomey for the job he did there. I'm just glad to see that."