Lehigh Valley high school football: Whitehall gets pep rally and boost from residents at Community Fellowship

About 24 hours before they were set to take the field at Zephyr Stadium to play Bethlehem Catholic in the Pennsylvania Eastern Conference opener, the Whitehall football team got a boost from some new fans Thursday night.

Team members and cheerleaders visited the Fellowship Community, a retirement and assisted living facility just down the road from the school.

Residents made signs and hung balloons and other decorations to welcome the Whitehall kids home and wish them luck on home turf against Becah and throughout the season.

“The team gives back to their community and we wanted to give them a little pep rally right before the season starts,” said Fellowship Director of Activities and Volunteers Kim Cseh. “We’ve never done this before, but I’m glad we did. Our residents are really happy to see them. They’re excited and wish the team well. We hope they make it to the state championship.”

Whitehall went 4-7 last year and hopes to do better this season.

Whitehall football players and cheerleaders stand with Fellowship Community residents Evan Burian and Elizabeth Hess (seated right). The Fellowship Community organized a rally for the Zephyrs on the eve of the 2022 season opener against Bethlehem Catholic on Friday night. (Keith Groller / The Morning Call)

Fellowship Community residents include area sports historian Evan Burian. She smiled as she met the cheerleaders and players. Burian has written numerous books on Lehigh Valley sports history, several devoted to the region’s rich football heritage. One dealt with the great Thanksgiving rivalries that once abounded in the region.

Burian was a quarterback at Emmaus in the early 1960s, when the Green Hornets played in Whitehall every Thanksgiving and the two were considered arch-rivals in the Lehigh Valley League. He smiled as he realized the irony of a former Emmaus player surrounded by Zephyrs.

Melissa Hudak, mother of Zephyrs senior player Carter Hudak, helped organize the gathering.

“Anytime we have an opportunity to get our players out of the community to give back, we take that opportunity,” coach Matt Senneca said. “I really believe it’s just as important to teach these kids life lessons off the field as it is to teach the Xs and Os. Whitehall is an extremely tight and close-knit group, so the joy these kids can bring to the residents was great to see. I think that our children enjoyed it as much, if not more, than the residents.

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Alexis Freedman, who is in her first year as Whitehall’s cheerleading coach, said she was happy to bring her student-athletes to meet new friends when asked. She wants to find ways for her girls to represent the school and strengthen their connection to the community.

“Our girls were excited because it’s time for the season to start and they wanted to come out and do something in front of the crowd,” Freedman said. “We wanted to bring the spirit and create a positive atmosphere.”

Senneca said that while there’s a lot of interest in soccer, especially in a community as steeped in tradition as Whitehall, it’s important that his kids are seen as positive representatives of the school.

“We’ve got some really good kids at Whitehall,” he said. “They do a lot of great things on and off the pitch. I’m just happy that the team can give back to a community that supports them endlessly.

Freedman noted that his team spends many hours preparing for games, just like Zephyrs teams do.

“I’m super excited to coach our team because I’ve been here and cheered all four years, as have my assistants Alyssa Boyer and Cora Peters, and Mandy Peters is our middle school coach,” Freedman said. “We want to bring back some of the traditions we had when we were here and Jean Marsteller was our coach. We expect great things for our team this year. Go Zephs!”

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