Central York boys' volleyball turns to familiar faces after beloved coach's death

After Todd Goodling's passing in January, the Panthers will be led by multiple former players this season.

Ryan Vandersloot
For The York Dispatch

Sudden death. Do or die. Life or death. An untimely end.

Those are just a few cliches from the sports vernacular used to describe an ending to a game or season for a team.

None of them, though, have anything to do with the reality of death — they are just merely expressions. While many athletic squads find themselves in situations where these terms come up, the results are never actually fatal. At the high school level, when the reality of death does come to light, players and coaches may not know how to cope and deal with the grim reality that someone that is revered is gone.

The Central York boys’ volleyball team has been a powerhouse both locally and statewide over the past 40 years, and the Panthers have been in a slew of season-defining moments. It is fair to say that with seven PIAA titles and 13 state championship appearances since 1975, the program has had its mettle tested quite a bit over that time.

That mettle, however, is being put to a brand-new challenge this season — a challenge unlike any other the program has faced.

Much of the Panthers' success over that time period can be a attributed directly to Todd Goodling, who coached the team as an assistant for many years before taking over as head coach in 2016. Goodling exhibited an unbridled and contagious passion for the game. His players and fellow coaches often looked up to him not just as a coach, but also as a father figure.

In January, Goodling died after years of battling an undisclosed illness. He was 63.

Central York boys' volleyball coach Todd Goodling awards players their medals following the PIAA championship game on June 8, 2019, in State College. Goodling died in January at age 63 after years of battling an undisclosed illness.

The news was difficult for the players and coaches alike. All were devastated to lose someone who had such a positive impact on their lives.

Life, as they say, moves on, and so will the program with which Goodling had such a massive involvement ever since he became an assistant in 1984 with legendary Central York coaches Barb and Bruce Koller. But while sporting setbacks, injuries and other issues over the years have befallen the squad year after year, never has the team had to deal with the uncertainty after the death of a coach.

“For a lot of the kids — maybe not all of them, but for a lot of them — this is the first time a loved one has passed away,” said Landon Shorts, who was a former all-state attacker for Central and won a state title in 2014. “It was definitely hard for some of them. Different kids took it different ways and we took some time as team where we would have team dinners at the houses of several upperclassmen for anyone who wanted to join, just to be there together and share memories.”

Central York boys’ volleyball co-head coach Landon Shorts during spring sports media day in West Manchester Township, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Shorts, along with former Central York standouts John Feldmann and Brock Anderson, will take over the coaching duties this season. While he was hoping his moment would come someday down the road, the time to step up to lead the program came much sooner than even he anticipated.

“Todd was one-of-a-kind guy,” Shorts said. “We (Feldmann, Anderson and himself) are not going to be like Todd, but we’re going to bring our own perspective to the program while keeping the core principles that Todd and Brad Livingston and the Kollers have instilled in the program. We’re going to keep this legacy going moving forward.”

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One of the coping mechanisms the new Central York coaching staff used was for players to sit down and write a letter to Goodling after his passing.

“I think that probably helped with the grieving process,” said Shorts, who graduated in 2015. “Just writing down memories and thanking him for stuff.”

That idea of writing letters actually arose from several years ago when Goodling was initially diagnosed with his ailment.

“I think it was 2018 and Todd was given only a few months to live,” Shorts said. “A whole bunch of alumni got the idea to write a letter, so I actually wrote a letter to him. We were all kind of scared at that point. … It was pretty bad, but Todd’s a true fighter. He never gave up.”

Central York boys’ volleyball co-head coach John Feldmann during spring sports media day in West Manchester Township, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

That is exactly the type of attitude — never give up — that Shorts, Feldmann and Anderson hope to see from their program this year and beyond. Imparting that and all of the other lessons Goodling taught over the years will be a challenge for the new staff, but one they all seem ready to take on.

“What haven’t I learned from Todd?” said Feldmann, a 2010 graduate. “Todd was such a great mentor and a friend. I feel like a lot of the philosophies of the program will remain the same. And it’s not just about the type of systems that we will run on the court and things like that, but also about what we want the players that come through the program to be about. Things like acting with humility and trusting the coaching and the training. We’re ultimately here to compete and try to get to that last game of the year.”

Goodling was known for his meticulous attention to detail, which included a calendar of practices and matches that was booked all the way up to the state final every season. That’s something that won’t change either.

“We have to practice every day like we’re going to be in that last game of the year,” Feldmann said. “Todd would always say, ‘It’s hard to achieve great things with mediocre effort,' so we want to put forth the best effort that we can and that always starts with our preparation.”

Brock Anderson of Central York attempts to block a kill by Luke Babinchak of York Suburban during the York-Adams League boys' volleyball semifinal game, Monday, May 13, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

While Feldmann and Shorts are by no means old, Anderson — a 2020 Central York graduate — brings plenty to the table that his fellow coaching peers may lack. The Panthers' volunteer assistant was a two-time all-state setter for the Panthers who went on to play Division I men’s volleyball at Quincy University.

“I think our main focus, as coaches, is to keep instilling the traditions and culture that Todd helped create,” Anderson said. “That’s a big thing that we all, as coaches, take pride in. Of course, we want to develop great players and even better humans, but that culture and tradition is the big focus of what John, Landon and I are trying to do.”

Central York begins its 2023 season Saturday morning in a tournament at North Allegheny. The Panthers will then host reigning York-Adams League champion York Suburban next Tuesday for their first home match since Goodling's passing.