A. C. Cain

Finding the major stories in the minor leagues

Tag: Exeter Eagles

An expectation to win: How Exeter girls’ tennis changed from unnoticed to undefeated

Abby Rutt (Photo: Dr. John Pankratz)

Abby Rutt (Photo: Dr. John Pankratz)

At first glance, Abby Rutt looks more like a high school student than a teacher. On the tennis courts during practice she could easily be mistaken for a member of the team, not the coach. With a petite frame and a nearly permanent smile, she isn’t often described as intimidating. Underestimating her as a coach, however, could be a big mistake.

In the nine seasons Rutt has been a coach, the Exeter girls’ tennis team has gone from being one of the weakest sports programs in the school district to one of the strongest tennis teams in the state.

The journey began in 2007, when Rutt filled the new assistant coach position.

“I needed a job,” Rutt says, laughing at the unglamorous start to the story. “Plus I was going back to school for teaching, it would look good on my resume, and it was kind of the same thing as teaching, coaching, so it was a good way to step into it.”

Abby Rutt coaches a player in her first year as head coach. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

Abby Rutt coaches a player in her first year as head coach. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

Rutt’s carefree attitude as a coach matched that of her players, even when she became the head coach in 2008.

“A lot of those girls at that point were just doing it to have fun and be part of a team. They didn’t expect to win,” Rutt said.

Not only did the players have low expectations, a lack of success throughout the program’s history had formed very low expectations for the team in general.

“I think part of it is that nobody else expected them to win, so they didn’t have that kind of motivation, so it was a little hard to motivate them to push themselves harder to get better and try to get those wins,” Rutt said.

The path to the high school from the courts at the community park. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

The bridge toward the high school campus from the courts at the community park. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

When Rutt began coaching, the team practiced and played on courts owned by the school, but located in a neighboring community park.

“We were literally over the river and through the woods,” Rutt joked, thinking of the trek the girls had to make to get to practice each day.

The community park courts, marked as property of the school district. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

The community park courts, marked as property of the school district. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

On their isolated courts, the team received occasional cheers from the cross-country team passing by, but very few other spectators a part from parents. Several times the police had to be called to settle disputes happening elsewhere in the park during matches.

When Exeter made the unexpected decision to resurface the courts on the high school campus, Rutt made the decision to shift the practices and matches out of the park. While the high school only had four courts compared to the park’s five, Rutt felt the move would be beneficial for the team. While her thoughts were about safety and convenience, the move paid off in more ways than she anticipated.

The high school tennis courts lie just past the football field as a spectator approaches the school.

The high school tennis courts lie just past the football field as a spectator approaches the school. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

“I fully believe that made a huge impact,” Rutt said emphatically. “As far as mentality, and attitude . . . and just feeling part of the school, of the whole athletic program. And having a lot more support. You have the football team walking by and their coaches are calling out to you, and field hockey. There’s so much more support and motivation, and just that sense of belonging that motivates you to want to be a good part, a successful part, of that community.”

Slowly, the team began to improve. As Rutt realized that the team could be competitive, she knew something had to change for them to succeed. That change began with her mentality. Rutt transitioned from being admittedly uncompetitive to creating what she refers to as “an expectation to win.”

“Not just that we as coaches expect you to win, or, you know, the district expects you to win, but you want the players coming into the team to already have that expectation. I’m joining this team and I expect to be a winner and I expect that I will contribute to that winning record for the team,” Rutt explained.

New players joining the team helped to bring this expectation to the players who had grown accustomed to not winning.

“It took a couple years and having one or two really strong players that brought that mentality with them, and set that example. In a lot of ways it’s easier for a player to motivate other players than it is for a coach to motivate the players, in different ways,” Rutt said.

Team members celebrate and commemorate their first county championship in 2014. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

Team members celebrate and commemorate their first county championship in 2014. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

The expectation paid off. Rutt’s proudest memory as a coach is the first Berks County Championship her team won.

“At that point, it was a huge achievement, and it was still somewhat unexpected. Very much unexpected as far as anyone else in the county went, but even as far as us, there was definitely still some part of me that didn’t quite fully believe that we could do it or would do it,” Rutt said. “To see them achieve that, and to see how excited and how happy they were just with that, not even realizing how much more they would go on to achieve.”

Now, the team boasts back-to-back county and district championships, the county and district singles champion and the county double champions. The county singles and double championship matches boasted only Exeter players. Under Rutt’s guidance, the team has gone from unnoticed to unbeatable.

“People know we have a tennis team, for one thing,” Rutt said. “People come to see our matches, which never happened, other than parents. People start following our scores in the paper.”

The girls' tennis team has earned its own corner of the trophy case.

The girls’ tennis team has earned its own corner of the trophy case. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

The team has been recognized at school board meetings and football games. They’re garnering attention for more than just their ability to win, however.

Rutt’s focus on team building and having fun has created one of the tightest teams in the school.

William Cain, Exeter High School principal, is impressed with their development as a team, more than their ability to win.

“How they all pull for each other,” Cain said, when considering what has impressed him the most. “It’s almost as if being a team is more important for them than being winners.”

With numerous players graduating this year and next, the future of the team is uncertain. Rutt takes a stance that all sports teams need to understand when faced with a rebuilding period, and she hopes their fans will understand as well.

“No one’s gonna win forever, everybody has a down year,” Rutt said, but even if the team doesn’t reach the same level of greatness, they now know what is possible and Rutt now has an expectation to win.

Audrey Dickman keeps Exeter’s athletes safe and moving forward

Every sports team deals with its share of injuries. When Exeter High School’s athletes get injured, they turn to Audrey Dickman, Exeter’s head athletic trainer.

With a training room full of laughter and smiles, Dickman keeps the students moving forward through injuries. She approaches every student and injury in a way that keeps the students positive and optimistic.

Dickman refers to the students as her kids, and makes sure to keep them as safe as possible.

Thanks to her work, and her dedication to protecting the students, Exeter was recently awarded the NATA Safe Sports School Award, 1st Team.

The award is an initiative by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association to ask schools to raise the bar when it comes to sport and athlete safety.

“It was like a five or six page double-sided checklist of things and requirements that we had to meet, and do like a self- assessment of whether we met them. There was so much on there,” Dickman said of applying for the award.

Her determination to achieve the standards set forth by the NATA got the entire school involved.

“Thank goodness for administration, the coaches, everyone made becoming eligible for this very easy for me. And it was because everyone was so into it that we could write these emergency action plans and have the coaches train with us on it; that we could have concussion protocols in place with administration, teachers, and guidance counselors. Without that, without everyone else collaborating, we wouldn’t have won it,” Dickman said.

The efforts of the trainer and the entire school paid off.  As Dickman said, “The school won the award, I just facilitated it.”

“It was kind of like the culmination of the last decade of my work here,” Dickman said, “Which was neat that it all came to fruition at once in time for the award.”

Exeter athletes take the stage

At Exeter Township Senior High School the spring musical gives many student athletes the opportunity to perform in a different way as they take to the stage.

Rehearsals general have some students running in late, fresh from practices or games, stopping only long enough to change their shoes, and sliding into their spots on stage. Other students are quietly slipping out early for dance lessons.

With so many different schedules to coordinate, director Kathy Galtere admits that planning rehearsals can be difficult.

“We have so many people running in so many different directions. It can get pretty crazy,” Galtere said.

Exeter’s community and administration has always strongly supported both athletics and the arts, and students are given every opportunity to pursue numerous interests.

The students in the musical cast represent numerous different sports, including wrestling, basketball, tennis, lacrosse, soccer, cheerleading and more.

The students are grateful for the opportunities they receive from their teachers, coaches and directors, work hard to make the final product the best it can be, whether on the stage or on the field.

Exeter is presenting Anything Goes! Friday, April 15 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, April 16 at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm. For tickets, call Exeter High School at 610-779-3060, or visit the high school website. All tickets are $10.00.

Come out and support your local athletes as they trade their uniforms for costumes and their cleats for tap shoes.

Exeter baseball brings spring fun to community

As spring training begins, bringing hope for warmer weather, the Exeter Township Senior High School baseball team prepares to bring a little bit of spring to the community.

On February 20, 2016, the team hosted its annual Winter Carnival, an event started about ten years ago to raise money for the baseball parent’s club. Tired of the same fundraisers every other team was doing, the parents decided to host a carnival. The event has become the equivalent to May Days, an outdoor carnival hosted by the township every spring on the school grounds.

The Winter Carnival is an event that allows parents to get their kids out of the house after a long winter and let them have some fun. Activities range from typical carnival games, such as a moon bounce and ring toss, to a football toss, a session in the batting cage, and even an opportunity to pie a teacher in the face.

Head baseball coach Justin Freese says that the carnival is a great way for the players to interact with the community, and vice-versa.

The carnival is staffed by the baseball players, who are required to work from 10-5 and assist with set-up and cleanup, as well as staffing every game and activity. Players get the opportunity to interact with the community, especially the youngest members of the community, and create some new fans. They also earn community service hours, which help them to fulfill a graduation retirement.

“It makes me happy to see how they are, not only as students, but then also working with kids in the community,” Freese says.

Exeter residents play games at the annual Winter Carnival hosted by the baseball team. Photo: Ariane Cain

Exeter residents play games at the annual Winter Carnival hosted by the baseball team. Photo: Ariane Cain

Exeter High School transforms for the carnival, with the cafeteria, main gymnasium, and auxiliary gymnasium all used to hold the various games and activities. The gym lobby becomes a necessary pit stop, with the concessions stands selling all of the necessary ballpark foods throughout the day.

The raffle is one of the biggest moneymakers each year, with every prize being donated by local community businesses. The Reading Fightin’ Phils offer support by providing raffle prizes including ticket packs, bobble heads, T-shirts and much more. The raffle also has prizes sponsored by local stores such as Boscov’s Department Store and Coventry Corners.

The carnival is always a popular event, and one that is greatly appreciated by the members of the community.

“Just the opportunity to get the kids out in the winter,” Freese says when considering what the community enjoys the most about the carnival. “This year unfortunately it was a sixty degree day, so I don’t know if that helped or hurt us.”

The unseasonable weather did not seem to hurt too much, with the event raising about $2,000 for the team.

With the baseball players, ballpark food, and baseball theme the Winter Carnival serves as a symbol to Exeter residents that spring is on the way.

Exeter Wrestling Makes History with State Win


For the past three years, the Exeter Township Senior High School Wrestling team has been rather successful. The team earned a spot in the PIAA State Tournament each of the past two years, but was unable to bring home a win. This year, coming off of a county team victory and six individual county victories, the team had a third opportunity to win a match at the state level, something no wrestling team from Exeter has ever done.

On February 8th, fans packed the Exeter High School Gymnasium for a match against Downingtown East, all hoping for the chance to witness history.

The wrestling team gave them what they were waiting for. The Eagles won the match 51-15.

The match, which was expected to be tight, turned out to be one-sided with Exeter winning 11 of 14 bouts, including a run of 8 consecutive bouts after losing the first bout. Downingtown won 2 of the final three bouts, but by then it was too late.

As Exeter Athletic Director Thomas Legath pointed out, the amount of success the wrestling team has had is surprising to almost everyone, except, perhaps, the wrestlers and coaches.

“Anytime you accomplish something for the first time it’s surprising. But also, when you see how hard these kids worked and trained in the off-season, you can now kind of appreciate that they expected this. And the way their coaches worked them, they expected it,” Legath said.

This winning mentality, this expectation to win, has been brought to the program by Coach John Rugg, who has managed to make Exeter’s wrestling program a program to respect. Legath said that everything begins at the top, and with the wrestling team that means everything begins with the coaching staff.

“With our wrestling program it starts with Coach Rugg, and he, and his coaching staff which is probably about 8 people, work and train these kids very tough every day, and all that hard work, in this case, when you say hard work pays off it did for the Exeter Wrestling team,” Legath said.

Legath continued to point out that the team works so hard, the competition in matches is almost easier than the practices. The team trains for success, and they found it with this victory.

The Eagles made history with the match, and brought their school the state-level victory they had been fighting for. Exeter lost the next two matches in the double-elimination tournament at the Giant Center in Hershey, PA, but for their fans the triumph at home was the victory they had been waiting for.

As the team continues to showcase its talent and determination to succeed, next year the Eagles may be fighting for a State Championship instead of merely a state-level win.

Exeter’s athletic success causes the community to pay attention

On January 29th the Exeter Eagles defeated the Wilson Bulldogs to win the school’s first County Wrestling title. For a school that, until recently, was never known for its athletics, the maiden championship seems to be a symbol of the school’s recent successes. As far as Exeter is concerned, winning is certainly contagious.

The front of Exeter Township Senior High School with its signature eagle.

The front of Exeter Township Senior High School with its signature eagle. Photo: Ariane Cain.

In 2014 the girl’s tennis team won the schools first district title in the sport, and repeated as District III champions in October.

The football team won the Berks County Championship, and hosted the school’s first home district playoff game in November.

In the past few years Exeter has begun to emerge as an athletic threat, and the effects are being felt throughout the entire community.

William Cain has been the principal at Exeter Township Senior High School for five years, after joining the district as an assistant principal in 2007. He has had a front row seat for the athletic transformation. In his first two years at the school the football team had a 1-19 record.

The trophy cases outside of the senior high gym celebrate all of the school's athletic accomplishments. Photo by Ariane Cain

The trophy cases outside of the senior high gym celebrate all of the school’s athletic accomplishments.
Photo: Ariane Cain

“It’s really amazing when you look at it,” Cain said. “What the tennis team has done, and the football team, and now the wrestling team. It’s great.”

According to the 2010 US Census, Exeter Township has a population of 25,550. It is a large community, and boasts the 4th largest school district in Berks County. Exeter Township Senior High School has just over 1,400 students, with a senior class of 388 students according to the 2015-2016 school profile.

Exeter Township School District Athletic Program supports 14 different sports and boasts 67 different teams within these 14 sports. According to the 2014-2015 Interscholastic Title IX Disclosure Form, the high school alone has 757 student athletes.

These student athletes have recently brought their community together to support the athletic program and the schools.

Now when one drives down Rt. 422, the central road in Exeter, signs of the school district’s presence are everywhere.

The Exeter Dairy Queen sign congratulating the wrestling team on their recent championship. Photo by Ariane Cain

The Exeter Dairy Queen sign congratulating the wrestling team on their recent championship. Photo: Ariane Cain

The electronic sign outside of the local Dairy Queen boasts of recent athletic accomplishments and honors specific student athletes each week. Every team that wins a championship is honored on the Dairy Queen sign, as well as specific athletes being honored each week. The restaurant’s owner, Hamid Chaundry, donated a new video scoreboard for Exeter’s Don Thomas Stadium over the summer.

The local Giant grocery store has a spirit wear display, where it offers Exeter Eagles merchandise alongside Philadelphia Eagles and Philadelphia Phillies merchandise. With the recent rise in success, the community of Exeter has found new home teams to rally behind.

The rack at the local Giant selling Exeter spirit wear. Photo by Ariane Cain

The rack at the local Giant selling Exeter spirit wear.
Photo: Ariane Cain

Abigail Rutt, Exeter’s girl’s tennis assistant coach and an Exeter alumna, has noticed the impact the athletic success has had on both the community and the students.

“It gives them a sense of belonging, of being part of something,” Rutt said. “For all of them it provides a shared experience that gives them a connection to each other, to the school community, to the athletic community, the list goes on.”

The Reading Fightin’ Phils have hosted “Exeter Night” for the past two seasons, and will again this coming season, to recognize the school’s athletic accomplishments. Residents are offered free tickets, and it has become one of the busiest nights each season.

“It has even been more unifying within the school community,” Cain said. “It has brought together all different groups to support each other and share the success.”

This past season, for the first time, the high school had to pre-sell football tickets in order to eliminate a backup at the gates on game night. The athletic program’s recent successes have given the community something to brag about, and all of Exeter Township intends to make the most of it.

For local scholastic athletes, community recognition helps

Nearly every professional athlete, at some point in his career, thanks the fans and the city for contributing to his success, but is the connection between a community and a player or team really that important?

Many studies answer yes, and a quick look at the Exeter Township Senior High School Girls’ Tennis program shows that the relationship between a team and the community is a lot more important than one might expect.

When Abigail Rutt began coaching Exeter’s girls’ tennis team as an assistant coach, the team was far from the best. Now, 9 years later, the team is division, Berks County, and District III Champions for the second consecutive year.

For several years the team played at the community park across a creek from the school. Their matches were sparsely attended, and many other teams overlooked the small program.

When the on-campus courts were resurfaced, the team relocated to its original home next to the football field. Suddenly every team knew when the team had matches. The football team walks past on the way up from the practice field and doesn’t hesitate to clap and cheer for a good point or a concluding match.

Suddenly, the team had once again become a part of the school community, and as their success began to grow, so did the community’s awareness.

ExeterGirlsTennis

Graphic created by Ariane Cain. Graphic created using easel.ly. Data gathered from PennLive and Berks Game Day.  Graphic shows each tennis season and the team’s record for each year.  Years the team made the playoffs show an individual regular season record, which excludes any county, district, or state tournament results.

In 2014, after becoming the first Girl’s Tennis District Champions in the school’s history, the team was honored during halftime of a football game. Coach Rutt, who served as head coach from 2010-2013 before switching back to assistant coach, references the moment as the time the team began to notice the community’s support.

“Using one of the biggest athletic programs to bring attention to one of the smallest really created a sense of belonging and community within the student-athlete population, and gave the girls a wonderful experience of being recognized and supported by their peers.”

The football game was the first, but not the only, major recognition the girls have received.

The team’s accomplishments have been recognized at school board meetings multiple times. For the past two years the Reading Fightin’ Phils have recognized the team’s accomplishments on the field at FirstEnergy Stadium during “Exeter Night.” The tennis team, along with other Exeter teams, will be honored again this June.

The rise in community attention has had a large impact on the team. Rutt says the support gives the girls great motivation, and the recognition gives them a sense of pride and achievement. They work harder every year to be able to share more accomplishments with the community.

“Their interest in following our program has grown,” Rutt says, talking about the community. “We’ve certainly gotten more recognition as a program, and I like to think the popularity of our sport is growing, all due to our achievements over the past few seasons.”

The girls have done their part to foster the growing relationship between the team and the community. Rutt says the girls have not only helped to expand the high school program, but have also encouraged interest at the younger, developmental levels with a strong presence as volunteers and instructors at local camps and clinics.

Hopefully the success and recognition will prevent the program from fading back to the forgotten team it once was. The smiles that fill the girls’ faces at each event prove that the increased community support has meant a lot to each member of the team. For Rutt, everything is captured by the first public recognition at the football game.

“Walking back into the stands with the girls and watching them being stopped and congratulated by complete strangers was really a thrill.”

Exeter finally makes Districts on home turf

On a blustery November night fans packed Don Thomas Stadium for a District 3-AAAA football playoff game between the Exeter Eagles and the Cedar Crest Falcons, and were treated to a 49-0 victory.

For Exeter, hosting a District play-off was the victory of an undefeated season. When head coach Matthew Bauer took over the team, the Eagles were coming off of three consecutive winless seasons. Bauer led them to one win his first season, and the Eagles never looked back.

With over 1,000 tickets pre-sold, there was not a seat to be had when the Berks County Champion Eagles took the field. The “Blue Crew,” Exeter’s student section, all decked out in blue and white, filled one end of the home stands. The other end was filled with Exeter’s 200 student marching band, resplendent in tuxes, bowties and blue and white parkas.

The Blue Crew huddles for warmth as the team stretches.

The Blue Crew huddles for warmth as the team stretches. Photo: Ariane Cain

“I was so cold,” Ellie Doughton, a sophomore member of the marching band, said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to play when we took the field!”

The game started slowly, but when Exeter’s Nick Bentz kicked a 40-yard field goal with 6:55 left in the first quarter, the crowd erupted. The momentum remained with Exeter as college recruit Michal Menet recovered a Cedar Crest fumble on fourth down. Exeter quarterback Gabe Schapell followed with a 73-yard pass to Leroy Longenecker.

Exeter scored on a one-yard keeper by Schappell, and Bentz made the extra point to give Exeter a 10-0 lead. By halftime the Eagles held a 24-0 lead.

The Eagles huddle before beginning the second half.

The Eagles huddle before beginning the second half. Photo: Ariane Cain

“They were taken completely by surprise,” Exeter principal William Cain said. “They came out fully prepared to stop our run game, and Bauer had a completely different game plan. All season we’ve run, run, run, but we came out passing and they weren’t prepared to stop it.”

The Exeter fans didn’t let the seemingly one-sided game dampen their spirits.

“It’s exciting,” Exeter’s camerawoman, Kassandra Scheese, said. “Normally a game like this gets boring, but it was exciting the whole time.”

The Eagles did everything, including a two-point conversion, on their way to a 39-0 lead that put the mercy rule into effect.

Even freshman Michael Stout got to contribute, throwing a 70-yard touchdown pass for Exeter’s final touchdown of the night.

“Everyone was screaming and chanting, it was really great,” Doughton said.

“My hand was so cold, it hurt so much,” Scheese added, “but it was worth it!”

The victory has Exeter fans looking ahead to the rest of the District 3 tournament.

“When you think about it, Wilson only beat Cedar Crest by 15 points,” Scheese said, referencing school rivals, the Wilson Bulldogs, “and we held Cedar Crest scoreless, so we really have a shot!”

The Eagles have to get past Cumberland Valley before they get a chance at Wilson, but the details were lost on fans who finally believed that their team could win.

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