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A Discussion With Jerry Johnson

Patrick Weider sits down with Lancaster PA's own Jerry Johnson; La Academia Basketball Coach and Former Pro Athlete.

The La Academia Basketball Team just completed a remarkable season where they won the PIAA District III-A title and made it to the final four in the state tournament. It’s a great accomplishment considering it is only their second season as a basketball program. The man who leads this program is Jerry Johnson, a 2001 McCaskey graduate who went on to star at Rider University and to play professionally overseas for a decade. Before he ever became a star basketball player, he was just a kid who grew up on the southeast side of Lancaster City.


As Johnson grew up in Lancaster City, he enjoyed playing sports. At an early age he started to play basketball on a daily basis. The one place he spent most of his time playing basketball was the Boys & Girls Club. Johnson said “I spent a lot of my time in the Boys & Girls Club. I was always in the gym trying to get better.”

Johnson then attended Southeast Middle School (formerly called Hand Middle School) and then J.P. McCaskey High School. As a freshman, he started on the varsity team and led them to success on the hardwood floor throughout his four-year career. Johnson enjoyed his experience at McCaskey and talked about the excitement of playing in front of large groups of fans. Johnson said “my high school career was so entertaining and exciting. Being at McCaskey was like going to a Penn State game, that’s how crowded it was. People took off work to come to our games to watch us. Every game was sold out.”


After High School he then went on to play four years at Rider University. Again, as a first-year player he started and excelled on the court. He earned the MAAC Rookie of the Year title. He went on to make three straight first team all-conference selections and own numerous school records. The mindset he developed at the Boys & Girls club and then honed at McCaskey continued at Rider University. It is a mindset of hard work and never-quit attitude. Johnson said “I took no prisoners. I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity. I wanted to out work everyone”.


After graduating from Rider University, Johnson then embarked on a remarkable pro career that led him throughout Europe. He finished his last five years at Kazakhstan where he excelled so much on the basketball court, he was the first person to be granted citizenship so he could play on the National Team. He also was part of a title winning team in Spirou Charleroi. The same work ethic and drive that Johnson had at McCaskey and Rider University is what brought him success playing professionally overseas. Johnson said “go and take advantage of opportunities. Do your job and be respectful to everything.”

Once Johnson’s pro career ended, he always knew that he wanted to return to his hometown of Lancaster and impact people in the community in a positive way. He understood how it is to live in Lancaster and wanted to get back to his roots and make basketball a central focus of it. Johnson said “I knew I wanted to come home. I’d been everywhere in Europe. I wanted to show some kids how to play basketball and to make an impact in this community”.

Johnson wasn’t sure how he would impact the community, until he got a phone call one day about being Athletic Director and Basketball Coach at La Academia Charter School. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to take on this task, but his love for the community drove him to want to take this position. Simply put Johnson said he couldn’t turn down the “opportunity to give back to the community.”


With the same focus of playing on the basketball court, Johnson went about creating a culture of basketball around the school. He focused on always trying your best and putting in hard work to be successful. In La Academia’s second year as a program and first year in PIAA, they won a PIAA District III-A title and made it to the final four of the state playoffs. This win was not about Johnson, but about the community and the people of Lancaster City. Johnson said “It just means so much. It just shows if you put your mind and heart into something you can achieve your goals. Hard work and grit. Not even just our school but the community. It is going to carry them forward”.


Johnson grew up in Lancaster, traveled the world and returned home to lead a school to a District Title - it is something dreams are made of. Johnson’s drive and dedication to the city of Lancaster and the community that gave him everything is inspiring to many in the community. Johnson said, “I am just a Southeast Lancaster kid.” After all these years he is still that Southeast kid at heart but has achieved so much for the community and is an inspiration for all to see. 

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with Quintin Pfautz

Interviewed by Collin Richardson

Collin Richardson: After beating Warwick last year, can you tell me the level of intensity the team has now that they defeated a dominant team like Warwick? Is the team more confident in themselves as a whole?


Quintin Pfautz: Beating Warwick was a huge accomplishment for our program. We worked hard for several off-seasons to finally flip the script and come out on top. It was a huge confidence booster for everyone and showed us that we can compete with anybody when we play as a team.


CR:  Can you talk about the relationship of you and Sam McCracken? You guys are both very talented football players, and I wanted to know what that relationship is like between you two as you go into your senior year.


QP: Sam and I have been best friends ever since we met in 5th grade. It's really fun to go out on Friday Nights and catch passes from a guy like Sam who I have been close with for years. We use that to our advantage and often know what is going through each other's heads on any given play. It's also beneficial to have friends out there with you who can calm you down when things aren't going the way you want them to. We are excited to show everyone what we are capable of this fall.


CR: How has the recruiting process been for you and your family? Touring colleges? Meeting coaches?


QP: The recruiting process picked up for me following my junior season. Despite breaking my arm and having to sit out half the year, I put up good enough numbers to earn all-section 1st team LB/TE. Many Ivy, NEC, CAA, and Patriot League schools have reached out and expressed interest. I have had extreme highs and lows in the recruiting process. I performed well enough at schools like Maryland and Temple for them to invite me to a gameday visit this fall, but also didn't get offers yet from schools I felt sure of going into camps. Sometimes I have to sit back and remind myself how fortunate I am just to be in this position. I’m excited to prove myself this fall.


CR: Do you have any memories from when you were younger about playing football where you either fell in love with the game, or felt confident in yourself after a win/nice play/etc.?


QP: I always loved football as a kid but wasn't allowed to play until 6th grade. My first year was extremely challenging, but I have progressed to love the game and become more and more confident each year. I think the moment I truly realized how much I love this game is when I was forced to sit out because of my broken arm. In that moment I would have done anything to get back on the field.


CR: As a senior now with a big leadership role, how will you lead the team when the games might not be going the best?


QP: It is an honor to be chosen by my teammates as one of our captains for this fall. I have led by example all summer and I'm not afraid to say what needs to be said when guys aren't doing what they should be. I love constantly encouraging my teammates when we're on the field, and we do a great job of rebounding after a bad play or series. We know that we have spectacular talent and have a special bond. That will carry us far this year.

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with Lancaster Catholic Football Star Josh Acker

Interviewed by Collin Richardson

Lancaster Catholic had a great run last season all the way to a section title, undefeated regular season and district playoff appearance. The Crusaders return a number of stars but will be replacing dynamic quarterback Will Cranford. Josh Acker appears to be next in line under center for Coach Mairono’s squad, he stopped by to chat with Collin Richardson about that, his love for the for the game and a few other topics below:


Collin Richardson: Being a former Hempfield student, how has the impact of your brother Adam been a helping force in your love of football? Do you guys work out together? How has that relationship and love of football been for you and your brother?

Josh Acker: Adam and I have always been close. Growing up as the third in line of five kids, and one of four boys, there is always a competition of some sort at our house; someone to always make you try harder. Adam plays for Lebanon Valley College, so he and I are able to attend each other’s games and support one another. We continue to lift together, outside of my team lifts, and do field work together as well. He encourages me on and off the field.

C: Has last year left a bad taste in Lancaster Catholics mouth? Does it light a
fire for the team to succeed past last year’s team? Talk a little bit about coming back from last year's rough ending.

J: Last season was a great season for us. We had a great regular season and a great season overall. We are locked in and ready to battle week 1. Nothing else matters moving forward but going 1-0 each week and that starts with York Catholic.

C: How has the recruiting process been for you and your family? Have you
toured many colleges?

J: I’ve been in contact with some coaches, but I haven’t toured many colleges yet. I am currently focusing on preparing for my senior year in regard to both the football season and my academics. I plan to make my college decisions later in the year.

C: With Will Cranford graduating, how have you and whoever the new QB for
catholic will be gelled together? Has it been smooth going with a new quarterback under center?

J: David Stefanow is an upcoming junior who has been working hard to transition to the starting quarterback position. He and I are working well together and have been able to build chemistry this off-season. We both have high expectations for the team this upcoming season.

C: How have you specifically prepared yourself for this season? Do you have
any outside of workouts/lifts that you do to condition your body?

J: I am always looking for ways to improve my game. I work out almost every day, whether that’s lifting, conditioning or field work. Coach Maiorino and the rest of the coaching staff have created a workout program that has helped us prepare for this season. I also enjoy playing recreational basketball, which helps with endurance and stamina.

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with Ephrata Quarterback Sam McCracken

Interviewed by Collin Richardson

Question 1: You’ve done very well in your junior year, what are some goals you have this year for yourself specially?

My goals as a senior this year are to have 2150 passing yards, 25 touchdowns, and no less than a 70% completion percentage.

Question 2: After finally getting over the hump and beating Warwick last year, how stoked are you to play them this year? Are they a highlighted game on the schedule?

I am pretty excited to play Warwick again. It’s always a hard fought game on both sides.

Question 3: College Coaches see everything you do when they are recruiting, as you know by now. How do you balance school, football, wrestling, and track that you do in the spring? What goes into your work ethic?

Balancing everything I do isn’t an easy thing. There are sacrifices you have to give, like hanging out with friends. Football is my main sport so I try to practice or train once a month outside of football season. For the other sports I try to go to everything I possible can. Lifting and conditioning is a huge part of it. School is obviously the number one priority over all sports. Getting my homework done and studying is always first on my list. Then I try to go to as much extra activities as I can. I try to be the best athlete in every sport I play.

Question 4: You’ve seen leadership from some great players ahead of you in Ephrata’s organization. Is there anything you will be doing specifically to lead the team, and keep everybody focused?

4.As a leader on my team, I try to get my guys there at every single morning lift and conditioning. Lifting is a huge part in any sport because it helps prevent injuries. I also like to focus on a lot of team bonding. Our team is like a family.

Question 5: Do you have any colleges giving you looks? Have you toured any? Let us know about this time of your life and how that has been for you and your family.

I have been in touch with a couple schools. Over the spring I went to Syracuse’s spring practice and took a visit at Eastern. I’ve gotten multiple camp invites from schools including Temple, East Stroudsberg, Bloomsburg, Lehigh, Lafayette, Princeton, Syracuse, and Kutztown. I’ve been getting looked at by Bloomsburg, Millersville, Eastern, Gettysburg, and Ithaca

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with Penn Manor Coach Nick Loreto

Interviewed by Carl Frederick

Penn Manor has hired Nick Loreto who takes over after a successful run with Conestoga Valley. Coach Loreto takes over a Comets program that has struggled in recent years and competes in one of the tougher sections in the state. Coach knows the tall task at hand and is looking forward to the challenge. He stopped by to discuss that among a few other topics:


Carl Frederick: You have years of coaching experience, what prompted you to take on the Penn Manor Job?

Nick Loreto: The main reason is applied is because I live in the district and have ties to a lot of families that are involved with the program. I am just hoping to bring some stability and help the team be more competitive on a local level to start with the end goal being competitive on the district and state level.


Carl Frederick: Sitting in a section with the likes of McCaskey, Hempfield and Manheim Township, what has your message been to your squad so far?

Coach Loreto: There are some really good teams and athletes in the LL League, specifically in section 1. We are just going to focus on what we can control and that is our own performances. I think to even compete with those teams our main goals must be to get better each day and focus on the details. We’ll see how things fall once we get into the meets.


CF: Are they any under the radar names we should keep an eye come the Spring season?

Coach Loreto: It’s probably still a little to early to tell but I am happy with how things are going with our winter practices. The turnout has been good (about 60 kids) so that is very encouraging. We only started on 1/3 so we are only a few practices in but I think we will have some athletes to keep an eye on. Check back with me in a few weeks.


CF: Your reputation is well respected amongst the LL League, is there anyone in particular you go to for words of wisdom or guidance?

Coach Loreto: Obviously, I will discuss everything with my current staff that has very experienced coaches on it, Joe Herman, Dave Hess and Kevin Kabakjian. I still talk to the coaches at CV almost daily and I consider some of the best coaches in the area, if not in the state, Rick Periandi and Steve Banh. In addition to them, Derek Jennings at McCaskey is another coach that I will bounce ideas off of.


CF: Coming from Conestoga Valley to Penn Manor what has been the biggest adjustment for you and your family?

Coach Loreto: For me personally it has been different just getting to know a new coaching staff and kids. I was at CV for a long time and coached with the same people for years so that has been a small adjustment. For my family, it’s probably been easier because I am closer since I live in the district. Time to get home or to one of my sons’ practices is cut down so that helps for sure.


CF: Give us a fun fact about Coach Loreto that our audience may not know?

Coach Loreto: I was state runner up in the long jump in 1998 while competing for Lancaster Catholic.

Any track coach will tell you getting your kids involved in the winter season is tricky, the fact that Coach Loreto has so many kids already bought in is an encouraging sign.

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with Millersville Field Hockey Head Coach Shelly Behrens

Interviewed by Stephin McCloskey

Millersville Field Hockey has been arguably the most successful D2 Field Hockey team in the PSAC over the last decade, especially between 2014-2019. In that span they won a D2 National Championship and accumulated a record of 97-30. The Marauders have since been trying to recuperate after losing many key playmakers to graduation and COVID years.


With the pandemic all but behind us, I decided to catch up with the Head Coach of the Marauders. Shelly Behrens is excited about the future of the Field Hockey program, and believes the team is ready for another championship appearance. Behrens also spoke about what she looks for in individuals looking to join the Marauders one day.


SM: What has been behind Millersville Field Hockey’s success over the last 8-9 years? It seems the team is always in it to win it.

SB: That is a great question – I think it is a culmination of several things. It is important to me that we always have the right people here at Millersville representing our program. I truly think we have the right best people that want to be here.


If you look back, I will say it is a huge credit to the 2012 & 2013 teams – we did things with them that completely revamped our program. Then from covid on I think I made some intentional player development choices that have really created a better relationship with the players and coaches. To be consistently in the top 4 of the PSAC and in the mix for NCAA selection when only 3 go in our Region for the past 11 years is a testament to the players and their ability to elevate our program.

SM: As a coach what do you look for when recruiting individuals?

SB: I look for many things. Athleticism and Hockey IQ matter, Some things stick out right away, but truly it is seeing in them their growth potential as well. I am always looking for that “IT” factor too – and hard to put into words, but when they have “IT” I am a fan. I changed my whole recruiting class around our current freshman here. There were several kids that just had that “IT” factor. So, I went with them, and I could not be more pleased with their current contributions on field and off. It is a class to look out for for sure.

SM: Millersville Field Hockey has sent waves through the local high school teams with Penn Manor being at the top of that list going 11-4. Do you think Millersville success has impacted the local field hockey community?

SB: I think yes and no. We have benefited for sure from the local teams. Sometimes we are too close for some, but then when they want to transfer, they reach out and we have had some great local transfers, some on the team now. I think we do benefit from the connections in the LL & Mid Penn league especially, but that ripple effect has truly gone throughout the state. I feel as if when I first arrived the local fh coaches and kids looked past Millersville and now we are a part of the conversation with Division I and II programs.

SM: Finally, what are you most looking forward to this coming season?

SB: As any other season is always the challenges – the challenges of creating a new team to compete and elevating our play and continuing to build a program that is successful and competing for a championship. We don’t just want to chase a championship; we want to catch it and go from there! We were a goal away, trust me that is in my and the returners heads!

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