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Twin Valley’s Paul Lepage has been playing baseball for many years, but this summer he enjoyed an experience that will remain with him for a lifetime. Lepage, who will be a senior at Twin Valley with the commencement of the 2012-13 school year, was selected to participate in the Inaugural Big 26 Baseball Classic, an all-star event which took place from July 19 through 22 in Harrisburg and York.
The Big 26 is baseball’s version of the longer-running Big 33 Football Classic, the Pennsylvania-hosted football game which features top players, and is recognized by many as the Super Bowl of high school football.
Lepage was nominated to take part in the Big 26 tryouts by Randy Gibson, who coaches the PA select Showcase team which Lepage belongs to. The tryouts took place at Lebanon Valley College, with over 60 top-notch Pennsylvanian ballplayers turning out to vie for one of the precious roster spots.
He was selected as one of the 26 Pennsylvania all-star ballplayers (the origin of the ‘26’ in Big 26) which would take the field for a three game series against an all-star team from Maryland. Lepage made the team as one of two first basemen, the same position he plays for Twin Valley baseball.
“Competing in the Big 26 taught me a lot, the level of talent was high and I made good connections with a lot of great people,” said Lepage.
The Big 26 Baseball Classic was held at two venues, Sovereign Bank Stadium in York, and Harrisburg’s Metro Bank Stadium. The event was attended by proud parents, baseball lovers, and even scouts from major league squads looking for future pros.
The tournament games took place Friday through Sunday. Pennsylvania took the first game - a game in which Lepage has a crucial RBI single which contributed to a 7-5 win. Maryland bounced back and took the second game by a score of 15-4, and then went on to edge out Pennsylvania late in game three with a 5-4 victory that captured the series.
“The big 26 was a phenomenal experience,” said Paul’s mother Joanie Lepage, “they treated Paul like a professional ball player. They created a baseball card for him and printed out great-looking programs for the games. It was great being in the stands and meeting the other parents. We are all very proud of our kids. Paul was out there representing Pennsylvania, but we see it more as him representing Twin Valley.”
As part of the event, both teams also took part in a Big 26 Challenger Baseball Game, where each player was partnered with Big 26 Buddy (a person between the ages of 5 and 21 that has special needs and receives special educational services due to their disabilities). One the day before game one of the Classic, the All-Stars met their Buddies at a Welcome Picnic, and then played ball together in the Challenger game. The next day, the All-Stars and their Buddies were introduced together before the series opener. They also participated in pre-game activities before games two and three. Throughout the Classic, the Buddies also cheered on their players and teams, created lasting memories for all involved.
“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I really enjoyed being able to give back to our Buddies. It made the whole experience even more amazing.”
While this all-start experience was clearly a great accomplishment, Lepage said it still comes up short against his personal favorite baseball memory – being a part of last year’s Raiders baseball team that went deep into the state playoffs.
“To represent Pennsylvania in in the first ever Big 26 was just phenomenal… …but still, what takes the cake was playing with my Twin Valley teammates in the state playoffs. I’ve known so many of those guys for so long - a lot more emotion went into that.”
Lepage offered his gratitude to those who supported him throughout the experience.
“Most importantly I want to say thanks my parents and my grandparents,” said Lepage. “I also want to thank my select coach Randy Gibson for nominating me, and my host family (the family of Big 26 PA Team coordinator Nicole Whitmire) for all they did.
He said he also owes thanks to his sister Kelee, herself a gifted athlete and rising Freshman at Twin Valley whose U16 Club field hockey squad, Xcalibur, recently finished second in the National Club Championships in Virgina Beach, VA.
“Kelee and I have always had a fun rivalry. I always push her to strive and do her best. As her brother I am tough with her, but I really love and appreciate her.”
Visit the Big 26 online at www.big26.org
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