Bethlehem Sports Rock: Part One

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer IJuly 9, 2008

I'm talking Bethlehem, Pennsylvania not the biblical Bethlehem. Actually I'm talking the entire Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania that encompasses Bethlehem, Easton, Allentown (ya know the city Billy Joel sang about), and much more.

The Valley sits smack dab in between New York City and Philadelphia. It seems like half the people that live here commute to either city every day for work.

This dynamic has created a large fan base of Philadelphia, New York, and even some Pittsburgh fans.

It allows fans to be around 90 minutes from two of the greatest sports cities in America.

But the mix of NYC and Philly fans isn't even the beginning of what makes this area a sports paradise.

It's amateur basketball tournaments, high school football, and professional sports. In part one, I'll detail the great amateur sports history of the Lehigh Valley.

Starting tomorrow one of the top amateur sports competitions in the country begins. Think of a sport, there's probably a tournament for the sport during SportsFest. 10,000 amateur athletes will compete in over 40 sports ranging from arm wrestling to celtic games to flag football.

The premier event? The 13th annual Stellar Construction "Catch A Rising Star" basketball tournament. It's four days of 64 high school boys varsity teams, 23 girls varsity teams, 20 JV teams, and 14 adult/college teams.

Teams from hundreds of miles away compete in the, "Catch A Rising Star" Tournament. Just two years ago, a squad from Glen Falls, New York located outside Albany made the five hour trip down to Allentown to take the title.

SportsFest is only a taste of the amateur sports in the area.

The high school sports in the Lehigh Valley are some of the best in the country. The Emmaus girls soccer team in 2006 had one of the best seasons in the country. They allowed five goals all season, but lost in the state playoffs despite their number one ranking in the country.

The Lehigh Valley also features according to Gatorade, the top track and field athlete in America. Chanel Price won the Gatorade National Scholastic Track and Field Athlete of the Year. She'll attend the ESPY's as a candidate for Girl's High School Athlete of the Year.

What did she do to earn this accolade? Finish in the top five percent of her class and run the second fastest scholastic 800 meters ever.

The Lehigh Valley is one the most scorching spots in the country for wrestling. Several area programs are routinely ranked first in the state, if not the country every season. Lehigh University's wrestling program has also been one of the nation's most reputable.

While I'm on the subject of Lehigh, they've played Lafayette in football a mere 143 times. This rivalry is so deep that it's nickname is well "The Rivalry." It's the rivalry to end all rivalries. 143 games since 1884 make it the longest running football rivalry in the country. This rivalry is so old that the winning team keeps the ball because the first game was played before trophies were hip.

And the games usually mean something. The Patriot League Championship was decided three of the four years based on the outcome of the game.

The Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry isn't the only football rivalry that calls the Valley home.

Northampton and Cattasauqua have been playing on Thanksgiving for years, but their rivalry ranks far behind the two premier match ups of the area.

In 1967, Bethlehem High School split into two schools, Freedom and Liberty being the original school just renamed. The Freedom Patriot's first year of exist they were barely able to fill out a full football schedule with a meek football team.

But in the first contest between the schools, Freedom won the game on a field goal. The field goal being the only points of the entire game. The Patriots won 3-0.

Each year over 10,000 people cram the Bethlehem Area School District Stadium to witness the game. If the game isn't shaping up to be great, the fans still come see one of the greatest high school battle of the bands in the state. Both schools' marching bands redesign their field shows adding in violinists on cherry-pickers and drum solos you wouldn't think were possible.

As great as the Freedom-Liberty rivalry that I grew up with is, the Easton-Phillipsburg is the greatest of them all.

They've been playing for over a century. A Pennsylvania powerhouse vs. a New Jersey powerhouse. The Red Rovers vs. the Stateliners. A rivalry that's been on ESPN on Thanksgiving multiple times.

USA Today called it the greatest High School Rivalry in the country. State playoff schedules usually force both teams to play three games in only six or seven days.

Most players will admit they'd rather have a win on Thanksgiving than a win in the state playoffs.

Over 15,000 usually attend the game and in 1946 attendance reached its highest point when 23,000 saw P-burg win 19-0.

The Lehigh Valley is amateur sports. Amateur sports are the Lehigh Valley.

Part Two detailing the professional sports aspect of the Valley will appear in the coming days.