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Eastern York sports community mourns the loss of basketball institution Ken Stoner

ROB ROSE
717-505-5418/@robrosesports
  • Ken Stoner died on Jan. 2.
  • Stoner coached at Eastern York for 25 years.
  • He led the Golden Knights to a 302-278 record.

When Don Knaub walked into the Eastern York High School gymnasium on Saturday night for a boys' basketball game, he knew something was off.

It wasn’t the sparse spectators in the stands or the players and coaches wearing masks that most struck the Eastern athletic director. Sights such as those have come to be expected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, the most significant change that Knaub noticed on Saturday was a missing friendly face — a face that Knaub had grown accustomed to seeing in the Golden Knights' gym over over the decades.

That face belonged to Ken Stoner, an Eastern York athletics institution, who died on Jan. 2. He was 89.

“It was certainly odd for me, not having him there Saturday night at our first home game,” Knaub said. “Not seeing him at the (scorer’s) table. He’s just been a staple with our athletic program and he is certainly going to be missed. Anybody that knows Eastern York, knows who Ken Stoner was. He left a legacy here at Eastern York. He was a tremendous person.”

Ken Stoner

A sideline fixture: For the last several years, Stoner could be found running the clock at Eastern York basketball games or behind the microphone working as the public address announcer. Before that, Stoner spent three decades teaching and coaching at the school.

From 1956 to 1981, he led the Golden Knights boys’ basketball team and recorded a 302-278 record. Stoner guided his teams to three division titles and a pair of York County championships.

Stoner also coached in the highest-scoring game in York County history, when Eastern York defeated York Suburban, 107-106, in double overtime in 1979.

Eastern York, York Suburban commemorate a game for the ages from York County hoops history

Before Saturday’s boys’ game and Monday’s girls’ game, Eastern held a moment of silence to honor Stoner. For Eastern boys’ basketball coach Justin Seitz, the emotions of the first game without Stoner started before the gym fell silent.

Building a bond: Seitz grew up a few houses away from Stoner and would pass by his house regularly on the way to the local basketball court. The two would talk about the sport they loved and developed a relationship.

When Seitz took over the team, that relationship continued to grow.

The team wears striped warm-up pants that resemble the famous Indiana Hoosiers pants and are an ode to Stoner’s time with the Knights. As Seitz stood and watched the players practice pregame, the realization that his friend and mentor was gone set in.

Eastern York High boys' basketball players get ready for a game wearing the retro warm up pants designed to honor former coach Ken Stoner's teams.

“It was definitely a strange feeling,” Seitz said. “It really hit you at that point. The kids all know those pants were kind of a tradition at Eastern when he coached, so it became real at that point. It was definitely on my mind watching the kids warm up.”

Seitz added that he will miss being able to sit with Stoner before the team’s games would begin and catch up.

“It was really special to me to be able to be at the gym at 5 o’clock and sit there at the scorer’s table and talk to him for 20 minutes before the (junior varsity) game and talk life, talk basketball,” Seitz said. “Just pick his brain and get insight. It was always an enjoyable conversation.”

Eastern York boys' basketball head coach Justin Seitz

Knaub also knew Stoner in his youth, but not on the court. Stoner taught Knaub biology, and although he was never coached by him, Knaub could understand what those who were coached by Knaub cherished about the man. They said he was challenging, but kind to those under his watch. And he loved Eastern York.

“He was just a caring individual,” Knaub said. “As a student, he was a tough teacher and my understanding is he was a tough coach. He was demanding, but caring. He never missed a game that he was scheduled to work. He just genuinely cared about Eastern York. You could go to him at any time and he would help anybody. That’s just the type of person he was.”

Knaub added that the school hasn’t officially decided how, but it will be creating something in the future to honor Stoner’s legacy at Eastern York.

Joe Hasenfuss, left and Ken Stoner shake hands in January of 2020 before a York Suburban-Eastern York boys' basketball game. On Jan. 15, 1979, Hasenfuss coached York Suburban and Stoner coached Eastern York. On that day, Eastern earned a 107-106 double-overtime thriller over Suburban.

Leaving a legacy: In addition to coaching, Stoner was a PIAA baseball and basketball official for more than 40 years. He is a member of the Millersville University Hall of Fame for basketball and baseball and the Susquehanna Valley Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.

From running the clock during basketball games, working in the press box on football Friday nights and having a scholarship in his name for an Eastern York senior each year, Stoner influenced the lives of hundreds of students in the six decades he spent as a part of the Golden Knights’ community.

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For Seitz, Stoner’s 25-year run as a coach is unlikely to ever be surpassed. The current coach knows that the legacy that Stoner left behind will be as the ultimate ambassador for Eastern York. That legacy continues to be felt, despite the loss of his presence at the scorer’s table on game day.

“Anything that he could do to help the school he did, and that was his first priority,” Seitz said. “There’s a lot of kids that have come through that school that might not even know him, but he left an impact on so many kids whether they realize it or not.”

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.