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HEISER: Celebrating five inspiring York-Adams sports stories from the 2019 calendar year

STEVE HEISER
717-505-5446/@ydsports
  • Courtney Coppersmith overcame depression to excel in softball for UMBC.
  • After two disappointing seasons, Eli Brooks has emerged as a standout at Michigan.
  • Despite multiple health issues, Ben Bills is now a star college baseball player.
  • Erik Harris has gone from a factory worker to a starting safety in the NFL.

“Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”

That inspiring quote is a personal favorite and has long been attributed to former British prime minister Winston Churchill.

Whether or not Churchill should actually be credited with the quote is of little importance. The sentiment expressed in the statement, however, will forever ring true.

Churchill navigated Great Britain from the brink of humiliating defeat to the peak of complete victory over the Nazis in World War II, so he knew a little bit about overcoming adversity, beating the odds and proving his doubters wrong.

All of us, at one point or another, have dealt with adversity and doubters. It’s the stories about the folks with the determination to overcome those obstacles that we rightly celebrate.

Here in the York-Adams region, there were a number of inspirational sports figures in 2019 who lived up to the words attributed to Churchill.

As we leap into a new year, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on some of those stirring stories. They remind us that resilience and perseverance may be the most essential of all human qualities needed to find lasting success.

Here are five such local stories from 2019.

Central York High School graduate Courtney Coppersmith enjoyed a standout freshman season for the University of Maryland-Baltimore County softball team. PHOTO COURTESY OF UMBC

An ace with a secret: Courtney Coppersmith enjoyed the kind of a freshman season that dreams are made of.

The former Central York High School softball standout earned a scholarship to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

It was a major step up in class, going from the York-Adams League to an NCAA Division I program. Coppersmith, however, proved more than ready and became the dominant pitcher in the America East Conference.

She helped the Retrievers advance to the NCAA D-I playoffs, finishing the season with 21 wins, a 1.97 ERA and 346 strikeouts in 238 1/3 innings. She had five no-hitters, including a perfect game.

COLLEGE NOTES: Coppersmith leads UMBC to NCAA playoffs; No. 1 Sooners next for Retrievers

Despite all her success, however, not everything was perfect for Coppersmith. In fact, while flourishing on the field, she was battling anxiety and depression off the field. She even contemplated suicide.

Coppersmith decided to open up about her issues in an essay for the Jackie Robinson Breaking Barriers contest, which honors those who've overcome life obstacles. Not surprisingly, Coppersmith won the essay contest, too.

Writing about her feelings of “worthlessness” proved cathartic for Coppersmith and she said she’s now in a better place.

Coppersmith said she hoped that other depression victims will find comfort in her revelations.

Spring Grove High School graduate Eli Brooks is averaging more than 11 points per game and shooting 47% from 3-point range for the University of Michigan men's basketball team.

No quit in Eli: A few years back, Eli Brooks left Spring Grove High School as a York County legend.

He was the most highly recruited prep basketball player in the history of the county.

Eventually he settled on the University of Michigan, one of the premier programs in the nation.

That’s when things started to go sour for Brooks. He lost his shooting confidence. After starting early in his freshman season, he became a role player off the bench who saw limited minutes. Things didn’t get any better his sophomore season. He averaged 1.8 points per game as a freshman and 2.5 ppg as a sophomore.

Then, the man who recruited him to Michigan, John Beilein, left the Wolverines for a head coaching job in the NBA.

HEISER: Spring Grove High grad Eli Brooks overcomes struggles to thrive for Michigan

For many players, that would have offered the perfect opportunity to pull up stakes and transfer to another school where he could see more playing time. Brooks, however, saw it as the perfect opportunity to remain in Ann Arbor and try to impress the new coach, former Fab Five member Juwan Howard.

Consider Howard duly impressed.

Brooks has regained his shooting confidence and is now entrenched in the Wolverines’ starting lineup as a junior, averaging 11.5 ppg and shooting 47% from 3-point range. He’s helped No. 12 Michigan to a 10-3 start.

Transferring would’ve been the easy out for Brooks. Instead he decided to stick it out at Michigan.

Now, Brooks’ perseverance has paid off in a big way.

Christian School of York graduate Ben Bills, left, has overcome some major health issues to excel on the baseball field both in college and for Conrads in the Susquehanna League. John A. Pavoncello photo

Overcoming “haters” and hurdles: Ben Bills’ name may not be familiar to a lot of York County sports fans.

He was a standout baseball player for the Christian School of York. Unfortunately for Bills, CSY is a small private school that plays in the Commonwealth Christian Athletic Conference. The bigger public schools in the York-Adams League tend to get the lion’s share of the local headlines.

Bills talked candidly about the “haters” who doubted his baseball ability because he excelled vs. other small schools in the CCAC, where the competition is not highly regarded. He even had a guidance counselor who told him his dream of playing college ball was a pipe dream.

Still, he continued chasing his passion.

Christian School of York grad overcomes 'haters' and hurdles to find baseball success

Then he got hit by a one-two health punch to the gut.

First came an injury to his throwing arm. There was speculation he would need the dreaded Tommy John surgery. Eventually, however, acupuncture and a new throwing motion helped him overcome that problem.

Then he started dealing with unexpected and frightening weight loss. In a matter of months, he went from a robust 197 pounds to a sickly 137. Turns out that Bills is a type-1 diabetic. It’s a condition he will have to manage for the rest of his life.

Despite his hurdles, Bills became an all-conference performer for Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Texas last season. He also excelled for Conrads of the Susquehanna League this past summer.

The “haters” and doubters don’t have much to say anymore.

New Oxford High School graduate Erik Harris is now the starting strong safety for the Oakland Raiders. He was second on the team in tackles this past season.

From the Utz plant to the NFL: Erik Harris left New Oxford High School in 2008 as a good football player who was considered better college prospect as a track-and-field athlete.

Harris, however, wanted to play football, and with some help from a letter from his mother, he earned a walk-on roster spot as a defensive back at NCAA Division II California University of Pennsylvania.

After a strong career with the Vulcans, he went undrafted by the NFL. To make ends meet, he worked a factory job at Utz and as an overnight supervisor at UPS, but he never gave up on his football dream.

New Oxford grad Erik Harris living out his NFL dream with the Oakland Raiders

He eventually tried out for the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Again, once given a chance, he excelled. That earned him a shot with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints. He made the team, but an ACL injury ended his brief stop in New Orleans.

Again, Harris persevered. He rehabbed and earned another shot in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders, where he’s flourished. He’s now the starting strong safety with the Raiders. He signed a two-year extension to stay in Oakland in March, which could be worth as much as $6.5 million and includes $2.5 million guaranteed.

In 2019, he was second on the Raiders in total tackles (74) and solo stops (64), and he led the Raiders with three interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

Not bad for a guy working in a chip factory just a few years ago.

The Delone Catholic girls' basketball team celebrates after winning its 2019 PIAA Class 3-A state championship. John A. Pavoncello photo

David slays Goliath: The Delone Catholic girls’ basketball team was very good last season.

The Squirettes won York-Adams Division III and advanced to the District 3 Class 3-A title game.

No one, however, thought the Squirettes were a state championship-caliber squad. No one, of course, except the Squirettes.

Delone lost to rival Trinity twice last season by double digits, including the district final. That sent Delone to the western half of the state bracket.

That turned out to be a blessing. The western bracket featured good teams, but the programs considered the true state powers had to slug it out in the east. That included Trinity, which got pounded, 50-24, by an unbeaten Dunmore powerhouse in the eastern final.

HEISER: Delone Catholic girls offer needed reminder about beauty of high school athletics

Delone Catholic girls pull off stunning upset in PIAA Class 3-A state title game

The Squirettes, meanwhile, seemed to discover newfound confidence out west en route to making the state final.

In that final, however, Dunmore was waiting and considered an overwhelming favorite. If Vegas had put a line on the game, Delone likely would’ve been considered a 20-point underdog.

None of that mattered to the Squirettes, who shocked the Pennsylvania basketball world with a 49-43 triumph over the Bucks.

It served as a reminder of the greatest underdog story of all time. It was another tale that was possible only through faith.

David slays Goliath.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.